The Perfect Instant Pot Soy Chicken & How it Came to Be

Winner of our most recent recipe contest, GGWang reinvented a homey Cantonese dish with the help of some slow-cooker magic.

January  9, 2020

When we put out the call for our latest recipe contest, we asked you to send in your most "settable-and-forgettable" (but not, you know, forgettable) slow-cooker recipes. (Pajamas not required, but strongly encouraged.)

And you all hugely delivered. Our test kitchen was set ablaze (electronically) with melty meats, complex curries, and saucy sandwiches. The competition was fierce; the top recipe was not immediately apparent, which meant for vigorous rounds of re-tastings testings.

GG Wang's winning recipe has the home cook plop an entire raw chicken (!) into an Instant Pot, only for it to emerge perfectly soy-braised 90 minutes later. We sat down with the IP wizard herself, Wang Jie, to hear how she developed such a winner of a chicken dinner.

Food52: Describe an early food memory.

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GG Wang: Having been former aristocrats, my grandparents survived unimaginable atrocities since the Communist Revolution. Everything we owned was destroyed, except my grandma’s commitment to cook the family recipes she inherited. One time, my grandma served her signature dish, Braised Fish. For some reason, grandpa turned to me with a grin and said: “You see, granddaughter, no one else in the world can braise a fish better than your grandma.” Only six years old at the time, I wasn’t even sure I liked Braised Fish that much. I was nonetheless struck by the affection between the two of them, and the love around the sharing of food. I wish my grandpa had lived long enough to witness my life’s work and taste my Braised Fish.

What’s your favorite thing to cook?

My favorite thing to cook isn’t tied to an ingredient. I am guided by the freshest, most in-season ingredients. Some of my best recipes happened unplanned.

How does cooking actively connect you with your family and heritage?

My Mom lives in Shanghai. I live in N.Y.C.. We exchange pictures of our meals on WeChat. A typical exchange goes like this: A picture pops up featuring an ingredient unavailable in N.Y.C.; a text from her reads, “look what’s in season at the farmer’s market today? Haha, all for me and none for you!” I immediately order a rack of pork spareribs from my buddy at the Harlem Shambles. I cook them to perfection and send my mom a picture. She replies with a crying emoji: “the price of pork went up again. Now I miss your spare ribs even more. Tell Fred to eat a piece for me!” And then, two weeks later from my mom: “Ms Panda Bear, look at these handsome spring bamboo. All for me and none for you. Haha.” I'm often tempted to buy a flight to Shanghai just for those spring bamboos.

Tell us about the first time you had soy chicken.

As I’m typing this, my mouth is watering because I can still taste my first soy chicken. I was 14 years old, arriving into Guangzhou Railway Station after a 42-hour train ride from Shanghai. I had butterflies the entire trip because I took this long journey to visit my cousin, whom I was excited to see! Sure enough, the very cousin showed up to meet me at the train station. The first sentence out of his mouth was, not surprisingly: “You hungry?” And voila, a lunch box full of the most delicious soy chicken appeared in front of my face!

...and about the process of developing this recipe!

Asian foodies love debating on how to dress up American supermarket chicken, which isn't as gamy or intensely-flavored as chicken is in Shanghai. I've now lived in N.Y.C. for 20 years, and have had to make peace with the fact that a plate of authentic soy chicken will just never taste the way it did back home.

Like most of my recipes, this one was discovered by accident: a dinner guest left his “smoked bacon ends” in my fridge next to the chicken legs. Originally, I was planning on making Chicken Tikka Masala but had a light bulb moment—I decided to add them to my soy chicken recipe. The result surprised me. It tastes different from traditional soy chicken. But I really liked it. And then I made it for my friends at dinner parties and they told me they liked it too.

What’s been the best thing (aside from your winning recipe of course!) to come out of your slow-cooker/IP?

The best thing to come out of my IP was actually something my husband, Fred, made! One day, I was mad at him about something. So he threw a bag full of mysterious ingredients into the IP and ordered me to stay away from the kitchen, lest the surprise be ruined. A couple of hours later, we dined on the most amazing Moroccan Chicken. He asked me if I were still mad at him. I was like: “Eh? What? Mad at what?"

If you were stuck on an island, and could only bring one kitchen tool, which would bring you the most joy (joy, not the most utility)?

No doubt, my 15-inch carbon steel wok.

Who are your biggest cooking inspirations?

I've recently started watching Mark Bittman’s Minimalists. I'm most inspired by simple, comfy foods.

What are the top 5 recipes you turn to again and again?

Piglet in a Basket (a recipe I'm most proud of!), Monday Night Spare Ribs (another of my top recipes), Kimchi Ji-gae (following Eric Kim’s kimchi recipe), Coffee Braised Beef Short Ribs, and Stir-fried Duck with Szechuan Pickles.

What’s your kitchen project you’re ready to tackle in 2020?

Just a few weeks ago, we upgraded our kitchen with a brand new gas range and hood. I’m so ready for 2020 to be my best year for home cooked meals and dinner parties. Now that I know how to work the Food52 website, I also look forward to sharing some of my recipes with friends at Food52.

Congratulate GGWang, the winner of our latest recipe contest, in the comments section below!

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • HalfPint
  • Grace Hallett
    Grace Hallett
  • gideon bronte
    gideon bronte
  • Coral Lee
    Coral Lee
Coral Lee is an Associate Editor at Food52. Before this, she cooked food solely for photos. Before that, she cooked food solely for customers. And before that, she shot lasers at frescoes in Herculaneum and taught yoga. When she's not writing about or making food, she's thinking about it. Her Heritage Radio Network show, "Meant to be Eaten," explores cross-cultural exchange as afforded by food. You can follow her on Instagram @meanttobeeaten.


HalfPint January 11, 2020
Guess what I’m making for dinner tonight 😀
Grace H. January 10, 2020
I completely agree with gideon B and wonder as well how an instant-pot recipe can win a slow-cooker contest. A lot of pre-cooking on the stove using several pans plus the saute function of the instant-pot more than once. A mere 90 minutes of "slow cook" time which could be easily accomplished stove-top. This is a recipe which is probably delish, using a lot of ingredients I (nor anyone I know) will purchase, that dirties every pan in your kitchen, and is cooked briefly in an instant-pot... Of course it is the winning slow-cooker recipe!?!?
Coral L. January 10, 2020
Hi Grace! From the recipe rules: "This contest is alllll about using a slow cooker, or the slow cooker setting on an electric multicooker." GG Wang's recipe, while developed in an Instant Pot, is made using the "Slow Cook" function, and yes—can be made in a slow-cooker. All slow-cooker recipes can be easily accomplished on on the stove-top—that's how people did it before SCs were invented, after all! :) This recipe came out on top not because it used *many* ingredients—most of which are familiar and cozy and homey to some!— but because it proved to be most popular among F52ers.
gideon B. January 9, 2020
winning criteria should include complications...chinese black vinegar??? im sure my local a&P has shelves of it lying around. Also, the cost to prepare the winning recipe is exorbitant..and so much never to be used again. 1/2 cup bacon, one teaspoon white peppercorns, one, ONE???cinnamon stick etcetc...LOL
Coral L. January 10, 2020
Hi Gideon, I hear you—the selection in the "ethnic"/"global" aisle at most supermarkets can be limited and hugely marked up. I would recommend visiting a local Asian grocer, if you are able—there, I'm confident you can source above ingredients at a reasonable price and small enough quantity.