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$20 Dinner

Prepare to Get Greasy With This Delicious Chicken on Bleecker Street  

Cauldron Chicken uses a secret 300-year-old recipe for its signature bird, one that you have to eat with your hands.

12:45 PM EST on December 21, 2023

Half-chicken combo with one side (in this case, scallion pancakes) and a soda, $17.95. (Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)

There are some wild, animalistic pleasures to be had near the western end of Bleecker Street these days at Cauldron Chicken, a restaurant where you're all but ordered to rip apart and devour an entire delicious bird by hand.

Cauldron Chicken—or, as the banner flying out over the sidewalk would have it, simply "chicken shop"—serves a bird so slippery and tender that the skin slides effortlessly off the meat, the meat slides effortlessly off the bone, and it all piles up in a puddle of greasy drippings. There are no utensils here; you have to dive in with both hands to get the job done. (The restaurant staff do give you a pair of cheap plastic gloves to wear if you want, but what's the fun of that.)

The chef and owner, who goes by just Ricky, good-naturedly declined to be formally interviewed by Hell Gate last Sunday evening because he was busy working on "special projects" in the back. But he did confirm that the recipe for Cauldron's signature chicken, the Dao Kou Shou Ji, was first created more than 300 years ago in the Henan town of Dao Kou, during the reign of the Qing Dynasty's Shunzhi Emperor.  

Another view of the half-chicken combo with one side (in this case scallion pancakes) and a soda, $17.95. (Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)

According to my online sleuthing, the chicken is deep fried, then marinated in a secret spice mix, then braised in a big, burbling pot—the titular cauldron—for at least five hours before getting hacked up and served in a nifty compartmentalized wooden tray, which also houses a mound of chili powder for sprinkling or dipping; some random slivers of raw onion and a broccoli floret or two; and, if you order the combo, which you definitely should do, at least one side dish.  

Your options for those sides include mostly fried beige things like onion rings, french fries, spring rolls, gyoza, fried rice, and some first-rate scallion pancakes, which pleasantly matched the chicken in their degree of greasiness. Just for kicks, I ordered an additional side, a stack of snappy cucumbers swimming in a black vinegar sauce, and this seems like the way to go if you're seeking some contrast in your meal. (Again, you will have to eat all of this without the aid of any utensils.)

Side of cucumbers in vinegar, $4.85. (Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)

There are a few other ways to get your chicken fix at Cauldron, such as chicken fingers, stir-fried chicken, chicken soup, and some seriously crisp and juicy chicken wings. This latter dish is served with a crock of ketchup. "Chicken wings with ketchup?" I exclaimed to my server in mock horror. She didn't bat an eye. "Try it, it's delicious," she said. And you know what? She wasn't wrong. 

Six crispy fried chicken wings (with ketchup), $7.99 (Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)
(Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)

Cauldron Chicken is located at 190 Bleecker Street, between MacDougal Street and Sixth Avenue, and is currently open on Sunday through Thursday from noon to 10 p.m., and on Friday and Saturday from 12:30 to 11:30 p.m. (646-869-8888)

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