Soy Sauce Chicken and The Squash Player

We have a lot of drought in Australia and when we’re not in drought, it’s flooding.

About a six or seven hour drive north of Sydney is a town called Coffs Harbour.  When I was about 15 my parents announced to us with great excitement that we were going to Coffs Harbour for a very modest two-week holiday where we’d be staying in a apartment within a complex.  They warned that the apartment was a tad small for all seven of us (being only two bedrooms) but that we’d hardly be there as the complex was on the beach and we’d be spending all of our time on the sand or in the water.

Soy Sauce Chicken

Our family car was typical of the day and only contained seating for five so two of us were lucky enough to be spared six or seven hours of misery on the roads and were dropped off at the airport while the rest of us endured the trip.  And I mean endured because my father is somewhat of an impatient person who would drive with great focus and determination to beat all previous time-travel records and have us there at least an hour earlier than anyone else making the same trip.  And this also meant we couldn’t stop for any breaks for fear one of the cars he had just overtaken suddenly sped past us while we were taking that very necessary stop at the public amenities.

When we arrived at the complex in Coffs (early and ahead of schedule) there was a wee bit of sunshine.  We took a look around the apartment and that didn’t take long.  The second bedroom had two bunk beds that you could just squeeze between and there was a day bed in the lounge for the fifth child.  As soon as we were unpacked we took the short walk to the beach.  It probably is a pretty beach on a lovely day but the clouds suddenly came over turning the sky dark and the ocean gloomy and the temperature plummeted so we were underwhelmed with the vista and hurried back to the little apartment.

The optimists amongst us said, ‘Cheer up, the clouds are just passing, the sun will be out tomorrow’.  But the clouds weren’t gone by the morning and they weren’t just passing.  They were rain clouds and they opened up and bucketed down with tremendous force leaving us nothing to do but look at each other.

My sister, Em and I went for a wander around the complex and discovered there was a squash court.  We’d never played squash before and we weren’t that interested in the sport but we thought we’d give it a go.  We’d play for a few hours then run back to the apartment trying not to get soaked, then have something to eat then.  With few other options I’d yell out, ‘Does anyone want to have a game of squash?’  And my sister would agree so off we’d go again to kill another few hours.

Simple Chinese

And this went on day after day after day with us not being able to even walk on the beach, let alone swim or sunbathe.  We spent most of our time either in the tiny apartment or confined within the four walls of the squash court.  It’s amazing how having never played before, how well we were playing by the end of the first week.

But we were bored with our one activity and the rackets were owned by the complex and the handles were sweaty and smelly and we would have loved to have been doing anything else and Em and I were so looking forward to getting on the plane and coming home.

However, before we reached the end of our holiday a State of Emergency was declared.  Coffs Harbour was under water, flood levels were rising dangerously and we were ordered to evacuate.  I was so happy to be heading to the airport.  However, when we got there, the airport was closed.  No plane could take off on a flooded tarmac.  There was no other option but to drive home and we had that one five-seater car.  All seven of us squeezed into the car and drove for seven hours in sheet rain and flooded conditions back to Sydney.

And we never visited Coffs Harbour ever again.

And I have not played a game of squash since.

Chicken cooked in a Red Master Stock

Back then, Coffs Harbour had lots of Chinese Restaurants but none cooked Chinese like this authentic recipe from Kylie Kwong.

Soy Sauce Chicken

Serves:  4-6 as part of a banquet

Degree of Difficulty:  3/5

Cost:  This is a very reasonably priced family meal

  • 3 cups shao hsing wine or dry sherry
  • 2 cups dark soy sauce
  • 1 cup light soy sauce
  • 2 cups brown sugar
  • 12 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 cup ginger slices
  • 8 spring onions (scallions), trimmed and cut in half crossways
  • 1 tspn sesame oil
  • 10 star anise
  • 4 cinnamon quills
  • 7 strips fresh orange zest

Place all stock ingredients, plus 6 ltrs (6 quarts) of cold water, in a large stockpot and bring to the boil.  Reduce heat and simmer gently for 40 minutes to allow the flavours to infuse.  Meanwhile, rinse chicken under cold water.  Trim away excess fat from inside and outside cavity, but keep neck, parson’s nose and winglets intact.

Lower chicken, breast-side down, in to simmering stock, ensuring it is fully submerged.  Poach chicken gently for exactly 14 minutes.  There should be no more than an occasional ripple breaking the surface, adjust the temperature, if necessary, to ensure stock does not reach simmering point again.  Remove stockpot immediately from the stove and allow chicken to steep in the stock for 3 hrs at room temperature to complete the cooking process.

Using tongs, gently remove chicken from the stock, being careful not to tear the breast skin.  Place chicken on a tray to drain and allow to cool.

Chop the chicken Chinese style and arrange on a platter.  Spoon over some of the master stock and serve at room temperature.

This recipe is from Kylie Kwong, Simple Chinese Cooking.

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  1. Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella says:

    Ha! Now I’m wondering what year this was and whether Mr NQN was living in Coffs Harbour at the time 😛 Soya sauce chicken is one of my favourite childhood dishes 🙂

  2. FiSh SzeHui says:

    your chicken is so asian 🙂 delicious! i hope it doesnt flood much there..

    Latest: GIVEAWAY: The Thai Specialist

  3. Amy @ Elephant Eats says:

    Man, I can’t even stand a few hours…in a house…with my parents and my ONE sibling…I don’t know how you guys managed 😉

    This chicken sounds yummy!

  4. That chicken is absolutely amazing looking, Charlie! Being an only child, I just can’t imagine being stuffed in a car like that for 7 hours…and what a terrible vacation. I usually don’t mind a little rain at the beach, but that was ridiculous.

  5. A_Boleyn says:

    Another amazing combination of herbs, spices and flavours to take the sometimes boring chicken to new levels. What else do you serve the chicken with rice/noodles, sides?

    Sounds like your family was lucky you were still speaking to each other after being trapped in such close quarters after the vacation trip. 🙂

  6. Sweet Posy Dreams says:

    The chicken looks wonderful and flavorful with the anise and the cinnamon.

  7. Glamorous Glutton says:

    The chicken looks delicious, I’ve wanted to try cooking with a masterstock for a while. This will be my first try out. The weather in Coffs Harbour sounds much like ours here at the moment. Festivals are being cancelled and the hose pipe ban that was in place in April was over by June we’d had so much rain. GG

  8. TheSquishyMonster says:

    I’m loving all the garlic in here, never can have too much =D

  9. yummychunklet says:

    What a tasty dish! Can’t wait to try it!

  10. InTolerantChef says:

    Delicious indeed, such a winner!
    We traveled the country with 6 of us squeezed into the station wagon so I certainly relate Charlie! Crossing the Nullabor, moving states every couple of years, Brisbane to Cairns….. All like little sardines, with no air conditioning or even FM radio. Now there are climate zones within the cars, dvd players in the seats, and strictly enforced seat belt laws. Talk about spoilt! 🙂

    • hotlyspiced says:

      Kids just don’t know how good they’ve got it. I remember going on long drives with cars with no air conditioning and being squashed for hours on end and no radio or tape deck or i-pod or i-phone or i-pad or inbuilt dvd player etc. Sounds like we had similar no-luxury childhoods! xx

  11. Is it the plague that causes you to remember this disaster? LOL

    I love Coffs Harbour but then I’ve never been flooded there. I’m sure nobody could make this dish as well as Kylie or you. It’s outstanding!

    • hotlyspiced says:

      Thanks so much Maureen. It’s actually quite simple to do, but the tricky part is cutting the chicken Chinese style. Absolutely no clue what I was doing despite some great photos and instructions in the cookbook xx

  12. how funny!!!!! I can imagine the seven of you getting back home in the car hahahaa I could never play squash, I always get scared the ball will hit me hahaha

  13. oh my gosh that’s not a very nice way to end a holiday 🙁 Having to all squish in a car for 7 hours >_< but i agree we're either in a drought or its flooding even in Melbourne last year it was flooding sigh ~

    That looks like an amazing chicken dish definitely gonna share it with Mr Bao and hope he'll make it for me soon ~

  14. Tina @ bitemeshowme says:

    Oh no.. that doesn’t sound like what a holiday should be. But the good thing is you and your family made it out of Coffs Harbour and were unaffected by the floods. The poor down must’ve been devastated. That ride home could not have been… comfortable….

  15. ChgoJohn says:

    Your father and mine went to the same driving school, apparently, and I can easily understand why Coffs Harbor and squash lost their appeal.
    What an interesting method of cooking a chicken. I bet it is one of the most flavorful means of serving the bird.

    • hotlyspiced says:

      That’s so funny John. Maybe they did. My father spent some time in the USA when he finished school. Perhaps that’s where he learned that ‘never be overtaken’ rule! And if you can get Kylie’s book I’d really recommend it. She really does show Westerners how they too can cook Chinese (and make it taste good!) xx

  16. Victoria at Flavors of the Sun says:

    It is always horrible to have a vacation ruined because of the weather, although it seems like you kids made the most of it. Still…I do love the beach during a storm…from the inside of the house, o course.

    This chicken looks GREAT.

  17. Claire @ Claire K Creations says:

    Sounds like a family holiday to remember!

  18. Goodness … I had to laugh at your line “nothing to do but look at each other”! My sisters and I did a lot of that when we were growing up – what a painful laugh! The chicken looks amazing, and suddenly I am hungry. (I like the kind of squash you eat, not the kind you play.)

    • hotlyspiced says:

      Ha, ha. Yes, squash is for eating, not for playing! I find it a bit claustrophobic. Much prefer outdoor sports xx

  19. As bad as the weather sounds, it is awesome how your sis and you found such an awesome sport to play instead 😀
    Now I am hungry and want to try my hand at squash 😉


  20. I think that would put you off squash for life, which is a pity really, as you probably could have been quite good after the amount of practice you got in your first week playing!! What a story – and what a good reminder for today’s youth (I love that word, which means I am officially Old) of how things used to be before electronic entertaintment was everywhere.

    • hotlyspiced says:

      I know. It’s just not a problem these days. The ‘youth’ just get on their lap tops and their i-pads and their i-phones and their i-pods and don’t even notice the floods.

  21. That’s a lot of star anise! And I’m just shaking my head at your story, I’m sure your dad was just in the best mood driving home.. 🙂

    • hotlyspiced says:

      Ah yes. Didn’t really like the long car trips with dad! We were all in a pretty foul mood driving home from that holiday!

  22. Juliet Batten says:

    What a sad holiday story. Do hope you’ve had some better holidays since.

  23. Oh hun this so made me laugh as whilst we didnt have as many in our family as you guys, I did have a dad who hated being overtaken by anyone so we would travel white knuckled along the freeways. Your post brought back so many memories. And come to think of it, I do not think I have ever been to Coffs Harbour when it hasnt been raining. Oh I have missed reading your blog – way better than the Fifty Shades book I have been hiding in 😉 xx

    • hotlyspiced says:

      What is it with Coffs Harbour! I’ve never holidayed there again but I have driven through it and stopped overnight on my way to other places and yep, it’s always raining. Does it ever stop???

  24. Eva Taylor says:

    You have such a wonderful story telling ability; I was totally right there with you.
    That chicken looks incredible; I’ve never had authentic Chinese food before, I’d love to try this one.

    • hotlyspiced says:

      Thanks so much Eva, that’s very kind of you. If you can get a hold of Kylie’s book it’s so worth it. She makes Europeans feel like they can cook Chinese. I’m loving her book and cook from it often. I forgot to say the stock can be kept for 2-3 days or frozen for up to 3 mths. xx

  25. Minnesota Prairie Roots says:

    I don’t blame you for not every returning or ever playing another game of squash. It is rather a funny story, though.

    Also your story reminded me of my family of eight (while growing up) squishing into our car, along with grandpa. We made an annual trip from the farm to Minneapolis, about a three-hour drive, once a year to visit relatives for the day. That was about the extent of our vacations except for one trip to Duluth, Minnesota, and another to the Black Hills of South Dakota. Just to difficult to find someone to milk the cows and leave the farm.

    • hotlyspiced says:

      That is so sad that you couldn’t have any family holidays because of living on a dairy farm. I just don’t think city people appreciate the sacrifices farmers have to make to give us ‘our daily bread’.

  26. That sounds like a family vacation that movies are made of! 7 people in one car! Eek! I would have gone nuts. Definitely will be trying this chicken soon. Mr. N will love it!

  27. Jed Gray (sportsglutton) says:

    oh man Charlie…that chicken looks like rich deliciousness to me. Tow plates please! 😉

  28. You and your family have some amazing stories…and apparently some are of survival! 🙂 What a big disappointment, and your parents must have been at their wits end holding you all together. Who would have predicted that so many years later you’d be sharing this story with all of us! Your near-catastrophes are great stories for the telling now! And another wonderful recipe. You have given me a whole new outlook on asian cooking…I love the cuisine, but haven’t cooked it at home until I started seeing your step by steps! Delicious!

  29. Haha, I played loads of squash at school when I was younger. It was one of the few places I could go at break times to be “safe” from the school bullies. Every break time for several years, on my growing knees… well, know my knees are pretty much screwed over for life and hurt every winter… sigh… such is life!

    • hotlyspiced says:

      It seems we were both playing squash for the wrong reasons. Sorry to hear about your knees. I take glucosamine for mine! xx

  30. Loving your simple Chinese recipes!

    I remember taking a family trip to Coffs Harbour back in 2003 with another family. Thankfully, we enjoyed great weather though my squash skills to this day is questionable… heh.

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