Chinese steamed chicken is a flavorful meal, made with wholesome ingredients. Make this recipe for juicy, steamed lemon ginger chicken; it's a fantastic Cantonese meal!
This is one of my all-time favorite Asian healthy chicken recipes. It is easy to prepare, and the lemon, ginger and cilantro add a ton of fresh flavor.
There is no sauteing or frying involved either. Rather, the chicken is steamed in a bowl over boiling water. The fresh lemon flavor shines brightly in this steamed chicken dinner!
It is delicious with a serving of rice and vegetables for a healthy and flavorful meal.
If you're aching for a heartier chicken dinner, I think you'll love this Indian recipe for Butter Chicken, or this Jordanian Roasted Chicken with Pomegranate Sauce.
Chinese steamed chicken
Cuisine: Asian / Chinese
Steaming is a popular cooking method in Chinese cuisine, and it's an incredibly healthy way to prepare foods.
In the Guangdong and Guangxi provinces, Chinese steamed chicken is generally served without a sauce or gravy. The people place higher value on the natural flavors of the chicken.
In addition to steamed chicken, they steam vegetables, rice, and other proteins as well.
Difficulty: Easy 🥄
Ingredients + substitutions
Don't let this long ingredient list worry you.
Other than some fresh boneless chicken and a few spices, there really isn't much you'll need to make this steamed chicken breast dinner. It proves "less is more"!
- boneless chicken- Feel free to use 2 pounds of boneless chicken thighs, chicken breasts, or 10 chicken tenders
- freshly squeezed lemon juice- Don't use lemon concentrate; it just doesn't provide the fresh flavor that this dish depends on.
- oyster sauce- You can find this in most grocery stores, or any Asian market. If you need a substitute, Bon Appetit's recommendation is to combine equal parts of soy sauce and hoisin. It provides the sweet and salty flavor and thick consistency of oyster sauce.
- soy sauce- I like to use a low-sodium variety. If you're not going to use that, it's best to reduce or omit the amount of salt you add to this dish.
- sugar- It's just a small amount of sugar, but you can omit it or use a granular sugar-free substitute if you need or want to.
- rice wine vinegar- If you need a substitute, either champagne vinegar or white wine vinegar are your best options
- Ginger paste- you can get ginger paste in a tube in the vegetable department, or substitute with ground ginger instead.
- sesame oil- This oil is an Asian pantry staple, and it provides a unique flavor that can't be replicated with anything else. Although, you can definitely substitute olive or walnut oil, or even tahini if you need to.
- salt and white pepper- white pepper has the same flavor as black pepper. It's just nice to use in dishes where you don't want to see the black specks.
- cornstarch- If you need a gluten-free option, arrowroot is a perfect substitute.
- chopped cilantro- Oddly enough, to 10 percent of the world's population, cilantro tastes like soap! If you are one of those unfortunate souls, substitute with flat leaf (Italian) parsley or omit.
Video: Making Chinese Lemon Ginger Chicken
To watch us make steamed chicken from start to finish, check out the video located in the recipe card at the bottom of this post!
Equipment for steaming chicken
If you have a bamboo steamer basket, definitely use it. Not only is bamboo the perfect vessel for steaming, but the baskets are stackable. This means you can steam more than one food at a time.
Steam the chicken in a lower basket and rice or other non-meat foods in the higher baskets.
You can find wooden steamers at most Asian markets, or they're available everywhere online, too.
NOTE: I don't have stackable steamer baskets, so these instructions are written for a single basket steamer.
- Steam the rice.
Steaming rice only takes about 20 minutes, so I like to start that first. While that's cooking, I prep everything I need for the steamed chicken.
This way, the steamer is available to use on the chicken when I'm ready for it.
- Prep the chicken.
Cut the chicken into bite size pieces. To ensure even cooking, keep them as similar in size as possible.
- Peel the lemons.
A potato peeler works great for this.
Keep in mind that you want to remove JUST the yellow peel, leaving behind as much of the bitter white pith as possible.
To remove any white pith left on the lemon peel, use the blade of a small paring knife to gently scrape it off.
- Marinate the chicken.
Marinate the poultry for at least 20 minutes, but no longer than an hour.
After an hour or so, the proteins will begin to break down. This can cause the Chinese steamed chicken to be mushy and overly chewy.
- Steam the chicken.
Place the chicken pieces and lemon peels in a baking dish inside of the steamer basket. It should take 15 minutes or so to cook.
Serving Chinese steamed chicken
Before serving, remove the lemon peels and garnish the lemon ginger chicken with chopped cilantro.
I usually serve Chinese steamed chicken with healthy sides like steamed rice and vegetables.
If you'd like a light appetizer or salad, consider making pork pot stickers or Pai Huang Gua, a Chinese cucumber salad.
This post, first published on Silk Road Recipes Dec. 24, 2020, was updated on Dec. 17, 2021.
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Steamed Chicken with Lemon Sauce
- 2 lbs chicken (breast or thigh meat, See Note 1)
- ¼ cup lemon juice (See Note 2)
- 2 tablespoon oyster sauce
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 3 teaspoon vegetable oil
- 2 teaspoon rice wine vinegar
- 2 teaspoon fresh ginger paste (or 1 teaspoon ground ginger)
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ⅛ teaspoon white pepper
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- 1 cup cilantro chopped
- Cut the chicken into bite size pieces. Set aside. Start the steamed rice, this should take 20 minutes.
- With a potato peeler, remove the lemon peels in strips, making sure not to take the white, bitter rind and set aside. Juice the lemons. Chop the rinsed cilantro (reserve a ¼ cup for garnish)
- In a medium mixing bowl whisk together the lemon juice, oyster sauce, soy sauce, sugar, vegetable oil, vinegar, ginger, sesame oil, salt, white pepper and cornstarch. Mix well, then add lemon peel strips.
- Add the cilantro to the bowl along with the chopped chicken. Toss to coat and let marinate for 20 minutes, covered.
- Place the chicken mixture in a heat-proof dish and place in steamer. I use a bamboo steamer that can be stacked and the vegetables (optional) placed in the other (See Note 3). Steam the chicken for 15 minutes, or until the chicken turns white and sauce thickens, stir occasionally.
- Remove the lemon peel strips. Serve chicken and sauce over steamed rice with vegetables of your choice and sprinkle the remaining chopped cilantro over chicken.
- Feel free to use thigh meat, 10 chicken tenders or 4 boneless chicken breasts.
- Freshly squeezed, about 2 medium lemons.
- Wooden steamers can be purchased from an Asian market or online.
*The information shown below is an estimate provided by an online nutrition calculator. It should not be considered a substitute for a professional nutritionist's advice.
Very lovely and healthy recipe. I have tried many different lemon-based recipes but this is my favorite. Thank you so much.
Thank you for the nice review, Christina. I'm so happy you enjoyed it!
Although I replaced the lemon with an orange and the oyster sauce with more black soy sauce it was yum.. I am waiting for the end of confinement to try the recipe as is.
I hope you enjoy it as much as we do Ket!
Wonderful, light and delicious. Love it
Thank you Dave! It really is!