This Pakistani Chicken Steam Roast recipe, also known as Degi Steam Roast, leans into an ancient South Asian cooking method called "dum". This is basically a method where a whole chicken or chicken pieces are cooked in a heavy-bottomed pot on a low flame. The pot is tightly sealed so that steam forms and cooks the meat in the marinade and its own juices. The result is a flavorful, juicy, and healthy steamed chicken roast.
This delicious recipe is historically popular at wedding functions and special occasions like Eid in South Asia. Today steamed chicken is gaining popularity and we see it more and more as a popular street food in Pakistan and India. In my house, growing up, we ate the spicy chicken roast as a Friday afternoon feast (a holy day for Muslims and the equivalent of a Sunday Roast).
This unique recipe was inspired by my roasted-leg-of-goat-raan which is also cooked using the "dum" method and is on this site. It pairs well with this spicy-masala-smashed-potatoes recipe and these chili-lime-potato-stacks.
The main highlight of my Steam Roast Chicken Recipe is the 2 part marinade. The poultry marinade injection helps insures that the steamed chicken roast will be juicy all the way through.
The picture below shows the ingredients that go into this injection. When preparing the injection it's important that the ingredients used should be able to pass through the syringe easily. I use a combination of flavorful liquids and soluble powdered spices listed below:
- Chicken Stock
- Melted Butter
- White Distilled Vinegar
- Turmeric Powder
- Red Chili Powder
- Coriander Powder
- Lemon Juice
The rest of the ingredients, those that have more texture, are applied directly to the surface of the chicken. I also like to add the salt directly to the surface and really massage it in. This is the most important ingredient in my opinion and really needs to be worked into the meat. I also like to add smoked paprika to the surface. This helps the roast get a nice rich color once it's done!
- Ginger Paste
- Garlic Paste
- Serrano Pepper
- Red Chili Flakes
- Smoked Paprika
Pakistani Chicken Steam Roast is a delicious and healthy dinner option. For one, the traditional recipe requires a skinless chicken which eliminates a lot of the fat content. Next, the steam method of cooking is known to be very healthy in itself since very little fat is used in the cooking process.
The key to a good steam roast is a well-marinated chicken. When you're cooking a whole chicken you need to be sure that it's seasoned very well all the way through. In Pakistan when my mother used to make the roast she would try and get a chicken that was about 2-3 pounds in weight to insure a juicy roast.
Here in the USA I usually find either cornish hens, which are very tiny (1 per person) or birds that are about 4-5 pounds on average. After much trial and error, I've decided to go with the slightly larger chicken and rely on a 2 step marination process to make sure it's juicy.
The cornish hens don't yield much meat so I try and find a chicken close to 4 lbs (about a 2 kg chicken) if possible and then follow the steps below to prep it for cooking.
NOTE: If you're not comfortable with injecting the chicken, just use all of the ingredients on the surface of the chicken. The results will be slightly different but you'll still have a well marinated and cooked chicken.
Skinning The Chicken
If you have access to a South Asian or Middle Eastern Butcher near you, you can buy a pre-skinned chicken. If you need to skin one, it's simpler than you think and the video below will help you!
Injecting The Chicken
The idea for injecting the chicken came to me over Thanksgiving. So many people inject their Turkeys to make them juicier and more flavorful, so why not try it on a chicken? It worked great and is so easy to do that it's going to be my go-to method from now on!
All you need to do is have a nice blend of a little liquid fat, some broth, a little acidity, and some powdered spices. The perfect ratio is 1 oz of marinade per lb of poultry. Any more and it will probably start oozing out. The video clip below illustrates how to inject the marinade!
Marinating The Chicken
The third and final step is to season the chicken on the outside. This makes sure it's fully seasoned all the way through and that you'll have a well-seasoned spicy chicken roast on the table. The first thing I like to do is to massage the salt well into the surface. This is perhaps the most important seasoning of all! Next, I use ginger, garlic, and serrano pepper paste. A little crushed pepper and paprika add a smoky flavor and some nice red color to the skin. This looks beautiful once the chicken cooks and browns.
Cook The Chicken
After marinating the chicken overnight, it's time to cook it. The steam method of cooking, traditionally known as "dum" is not only healthy but very quick and efficient. The steam acts fast and cooks the meat all the way through in record time!
First sear the meat lightly on all 4 sides, in hot oil, in a wide pot with a heavy bottom. Then add two cups of water, cover the pot tightly, and let the steam cook the meat in its own juices. Once the meat is cooked to an internal temperature of 165 degrees F, dry out the liquid to a thick gravy and pour it over the roast just before serving.
Hint: To make sure that the chicken cooks through, use your thermometer to check various points in the chicken. Ideally, get readings from the thigh, the wing, and the breast.
This recipe can be made with the following as well:
- Cornish Hens - SInce these are smaller in size than a 4 lb chicken, there is no need for the injected marinade. Instead, Just add the lemon and dry spice powders to the marinade you apply to the surface of the chicken. Omit the butter, vinegar, and chicken broth completely. I usually do skin my Cornish Hens the same as the larger chickens and then steam them the same way. of course, they cook much more quickly as the average cornish hen is about 1 lb.
- Turkey - For Turkey, leave the skin on and roast it in the oven vs. steaming it. Apply the marinade as instructed, both the injection and the surface marinade. Just add a little butter to the surface mixture, about 1 tablespoon per pound of meat. This will help crisp up the skin better in the oven. For baking times, I would bake Turkey in a preheated oven at 350 degrees, 13 minutes per pound of turkey.
Of course, this is a recipe for a Pakistani Steam Roast and the marinade is based on that. But if you want to change things up a little you can try and inject your chicken with the following for a slightly different flavor:
- BBQ Marinade - Try an injection with rice vinegar, soy sauce, garlic powder, brown sugar, and sriracha.
- Cajun Marinade - A pre-mixed cajun spice blend, combined with apple cider vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, and some cayenne pepper is another great alternative to try.
- Hot & Spicy Marinade - If you like all things spicy shoot for Tabasco or Louisiana hot sauce combined with Cayenne pepper or red chili pepper!
Having the right tools on hand to cook with is as essential, or perhaps even more essential than the ingredients of the recipe itself.
To Skin The Chicken
The following are needed to skin the chicken. If you purchase a pre-skinned chicken, omit these from your list when you're gathering your supplies.
- Sharp Knife - I love my Wusthof Chef's Knife for this task.
- Poultry Scissors - I always have a pair in my kitchen, nothing fancy is necessary, most stores like Walmart and Target carry these.
- Cutting Board - A good, steady, wood chopping board is good as the chicken won't slide around on it as you work.
- Butchers Twine - this is always useful to have in your kitchen if you're an avid cook. Tying the legs together makes roasting the meat easier.
To Marinate The Chicken
For marinating the chicken and then storing it in the fridge overnight you'll need the following:
- Poultry injection syringe - if you've never used a marinade injector, this is a great tool to have. I prefer a metal one, as they're more durable and can be completely sterilized after use. Depending on how often you plan to use one, you can go for a simple one or one with different syringe sizes. The more complex ones allow for thicker marinades to be injected as well as the liquid ones. Mine is a simple stainless steel one with 2 syringes from Sur La Table.
- Mortar & Pestle - This is one of my favorite tools and I use it often for my ginger, garlic, and in this case my serrano peppers too.
- Tupperware - A good large box with a tight lid that seals completely is necessary to marinate the chicken overnight.
To Steam The Chicken
To steam the chicken you need to have:
- Large Wide Pot - I use a large wide pot with a heavy bottom and a lid that has a good seal. This helps keep the steam in and cook the meat more efficiently. The base of the pot should be about twice the size of the chicken.
- 2 wooden spoons - I use two spoons to help maneuver the chicken as I roast it and also to lift it out of the pot once done. Metal spoons can break the meat so I prefer the more rounded edges of the wooden spoons.
- Meat thermometer - A good meat thermometer is essential. For a perfectly juicy roast, you want to make sure the chicken is cooked just right. My go-to thermometer is always my Thermapen ONE from Thermoworks.com but feel free to use any thermometer you're comfortable with.
I carve all the meat off the bone for any leftovers and store them in an airtight Tupperware container in the fridge. The leftovers can stay in the fridge for up to 2-3 days or frozen for up to 1 month if desired.
To eat, reheat in the microwave and eat with the leftover gravy or use it for sandwiches, wraps, and salads. I usually don't get around to freezing any of the chicken and end up consuming it within a day or so. Once you remove the meat from the bones there's not much left to eat!
For the perfect juicy steam chicken remember to calculate cooking times based on the size of the bird. The average is 11-18 minutes per pound of meat. On my gas stove and in my particular pot I average about 11.5 minutes per pound.
Since cooking equipment varies I would let the chicken cook without removing the lid based on an 11-minute minimum calculation. Calculate additional cooking time based on your thermometer reading at that point.
The obvious answer is, the parts you want browned! Usually, that's the breast, legs, and wings! However, since the legs and thighs take longer to cook, if you place the chicken breast up, the breast will get too dry. Keeping this in mind, the best practice is to place it sideways!
Steaming a chicken is healthier as it requires less fat. It's quicker as the steam cooks the chicken more rapidly at high heat. The result is juicier chicken as the moisture from the steam prevents a crust from forming on the surface of the meat.
The "Dum" method of cooking is a traditional Pakistani method of cooking food. The food is placed in a heavy-bottomed container, tightly sealed, and cooked over a low flame, often for a long period. The steam method is similar to this.
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Pakistani Chicken Steam Roast
- Sharp Knife
- Poultry scissors
- Cutting Board
- Butchers twine
- Poultry injection syringe
- Mortar & Pestle
- Tupperware (SEE NOTE)
- Large Wide Pot (SEE NOTES)
- 2 wooden spoons
- Meat thermometer
Poultry Injection Marinade
- 4 lb whole chicken (SEE NOTES)
- 1 lemon
- ¼ cup white distilled vinegar
- ¼ cup low sodium chicken broth
- 2 tbsp butter
- ½ tsp turmeric powder
- 1 tsp coriander powder
- 2 tsp red chili powder
Chicken Marinade (For Surface)
- 2 tsp salt
- 2 inch piece ginger (SEE NOTE)
- 8 garlic cloves (SEE NOTE)
- 2 serrano peppers (SEE NOTE)
- 2 tsp red chili flakes
- 2 tsp smoked paprika (SEE NOTES)
Skin The Chicken
- Traditional Pakistani Roast Chicken is made without skin on the chicken. If you source your chicken from a Pakistani butcher they will skin it for you. If not, follow the instructions in the video below!
Inject The Marinade
- To insure that the chicken is juice and flavored really well on the inside I like to inject it with a spicy liquid marinade as well as massaging the outside with a prepped mixture.
- Melt the butter, squeeze the lemon juice and then mix all of the ingredients together in a bowl.
- Using a poultry injection syringe, work your way around the chicken and inject the liquid just under the skin (SEE NOTES)
- The rule is to inject 1 oz of liquid per pound of meat. Too much and it will start oozing out. Ofcourse, there is a little bit of leakage, as the video below reflects.
Marinate The Surface Of The Chicken
- The most important step is to make sure the chicken is well salted, so rub the salt and massage it in well into the skin. I find ½ teaspoon a pound of chicken sufficient as the broth I use has some salt in it too. Feel free to adjust if necessary.
- Next I grind my ginger, garlic and serrano peppers in my mortar and pestle and rub them all over the chicken to flavor it.
- The last step is to use the crushed red chili pepper flakes for some spice and the smoked paprika for some added flavor and color (SEE NOTES)
Cook The Chicken
- Heat the cooking oil.
- Sear the meat lightly on all 4 sides on full heat
- Add 2 cups of water, cover the pot tightly, lower the heat to medium low and let the steam cook the meat in it's own juices.
- Once the meat is cooked to an internal temperature of 165 degrees F, dry out the liquid to a thick gravy and pour it over the roast just before serving.