Crisp Skin Chicken
2 small roasting chickens, preferably spatchcock size, about 750 g/1 1/2 lb
2 teaspoons five-spice powder
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons honey
For serving 1 lemon
salt and five-spice mix*
Rinse and dry the chicken, removing any excess fat from cavity. Rub inside with 1/2 teaspoon five-spice mixed with 1 teaspoon salt and place in a bowl or saucepan just large enough to hold it. Bring 2 litres (4 pints) water to the boil with the remaining five-spice powder, salt and the ground cinnamon, and pour over the chicken. Cover and leave them in this while bringing 3 more cups of water to the boil with the honey.
Drain chicken and remove to a colander placed over a large bowl. Ladle the honey mixture over, making sure it coats the entire skin. Place chicken on a wire rack in front of an airy window, or tie legs firmly with strong string and hang in a safe place to dry for 4 or 5 hours.
Heat about 6 cups oil in a wok, and when it is hot but not smoking, lower the chickens one at a time into the oil and ladle oil over, turning it so it becomes evenly brown all over. Keep the heat to medium so chicken cooks through before it becomes too brown. It should be cooked in 10-12 minutes.
Remove from oil and pierce with a fine skewer where thigh joins body to see if juices that run out are clear, indicating that chicken is done. If juices are pink, it needs further cooking.
Drain chicken briefly while repeating the process with the remaining chicken, then place on wooden board and cut in halves lengthways down the centre. Place halves cut side down on board and chop across into strips.
Assemble on serving platter and put wedges of lemon and a small dish of salt and spice mix to sprinkle over the pieces of chicken just before eating.
* Combine a tablespoon of fine salt with 1/2 teaspoon five-spice powder or 2 teaspoons Szechwan pepper husks and roast in a dry pan until very hot and fragrant. Allow to cool and, if using Szechwan pepper, crush using a mortar and pestle.
Recipe excerpted from Encyclopedia of Asian Food by Charmaine Solomon (Periplus Editions, 1998)