Friday, April 24, 2020

Quarantine Cooking Series: HK Cafe Chicken Steak with Mushroom Gravy

One of the places we miss going out to eat at is Garden Cafe in Arcadia, a Hong Kong style cafe that has been there for as long as Wes can remember.  While I grew up going to Denny's on Tuesdays (because kids eat free that day), Wes grew up going to these HK cafes, which I sorely wished existed in Irvine where I lived.  My first time going to an HK Cafe was a revelation--these menus were like food encyclopedias, ranging from club sandwiches to clay pots.  I wondered how one kitchen could possibly produce all of these different kinds of food from both Western and Chinese cuisines! Sometimes, we order a bunch of dishes to share, and other times we will each get our own entree.  While Wes has tried many things on these menus due to over twenty years of dining at HK cafes with his family and friends, his trusty go-to order seems to be the chicken steak.  It doesn't look particularly extravagant, especially not with its somewhat pitiful sides of limp veggies and plain rice (or severely undersauced spaghetti), but one bite of this juicy, crisp, and thick piece of meat will blow your mind.  Also, the gravy sauce is on point, no matter what flavor you opt for.  Wes always polishes his entire plate off before my fish porridge is even cool enough to handle.  

So when the stay-at-home order began, he took it into his own hands to try to imitate this dish in our kitchen.  There was no recipe to follow, so he went with his instincts.  I would say that his tasted just as good as the ones from the cafes, but of course he begs to differ that nothing can quite measure up to that nostalgic flavor combination.  I forbade him from making the nasty spaghetti, but was 100% on board with black pepper gravy with added mushrooms and the little bowls of tomato soup that he spontaneously whipped up.  At any legit HK cafe, a cup of complimentary soup with saltine crackers always comes with any order.  You can usually choose between a chowder that tastes like it came from a can, or a pork bone tomato stew, which in my opinion is much more worth it.  Again, Wes begs to differ, as sometimes he just has that hankering for the bland complimentary chowder.  By the same token, he does not understand my sentimental cravings for floppy American diner pancakes.  Anyhow, he tied up all the loose ends with the soup and the steamed veggies.  All we were missing was the gaudy chandeliers, plush booth seating, and brusque wait-service--and I say that with the most amount of endearment.

So, here is the recipe, to the best of his memory.  He didn't write things down when he made it, but he did bother to take pretty photos.  

  • Chicken quarters or thighs with skin on (thighs with skin on are hard to find.  We used bone in quarters and deboned ourselves.)
  • Salt
  • Oil
  • 1 cup of mushrooms (white/brown mushrooms)
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2 cups of chicken stock
  • 1 tablespoon of soy sauce
  • Corn starch
  • Black pepper


Chicken steak:
  1. For chicken quarters, split the drumstick from the thigh.  The drumstick is not used for this recipe and can be reserved for later use.  Debone the thigh. Be careful to leave the skin intact.  Do not trim the excess skin as it will shrink during cooking.
  2. Pat the skin dry.  For extra crispy skin and flavor, refrigerate uncovered with the skin side up for a few hours. This will draw out moisture.
  3. Right before cooking, season with salt on both sides.
  4. Preheat some oil in a pan on high for 1 minute. Lay the chicken thigh on with skin side down.
  5. Be sure to apply slight pressure to make sure the skin is in contact with the pan.
  6. Cook skin side down on high until you achieve a crispy golden brown (keep an eye on it to make sure it doesn't burn and adjust the heat as necessary).  
  7. Flip over and finish cooking until just fully cooked (165F+).  A temperature probe is essential for a nice, juicy chicken steak.  You may need to turn the heat down so that it doesn't burn.  Do not cover the pan, because it will make the skin lose its crisp.  If the thighs are thicker, you can place the thighs in the oven to finish off the cooking.
Mushroom gravy:
  1. Saute 1 cup of mushrooms along with the minced garlic.  We typically use white and/or brown mushrooms.
  2. After the mushrooms are cooked tender, add the chicken stock and bring it to a boil.  Add a tablespoon of soy sauce and reduce to a simmer for 10 minutes.
  3. Mix 2 tablespoons of corn starch with a bit lukewarm water to make a paste.  Add half of the mixture to the gravy and allow it to thicken for a couple of minutes.  Keep adding until you get the desired gravy consistency. Add salt and pepper to taste.


  1. Awesome recipe. I look forward to trying this myself.

    Couple interesting things having lived in both Irvine + SGV:

    1. There was a cafe in Irvine that served food like this up until around 2003 when it closed called O'Shine Cafe. It's where the KBBQ place [been a few years since I've been back in Irvine, so maybe this has changed now too] is in the Taiko shopping center (Jefferson / 5).

    2. The tomato pork soup is a Hong Kong variant of the Borscht soup.

    HK Cafes are super interesting 'cause of how many different cultural influences they absorbed.

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  3. I just want to say that I really appreciate you sharing this recipe! I'm from Arcadia and moved up to Seattle several years ago, and every so often I'll get a craving for this exact dish. Imagine my surprise when I found this copycat recipe! Now my homesick cravings are satisfied until I come back home to visit family. <3 Thank you so much!