Friday, March 18, 2011

Shanghai-Style Drunken Chicken

When I was a little girl, my maternal grandmother made this dish frequently.  She was quite known for it.  As she grew older, cooking became more difficult, and she hadn't made drunken chicken in years by the time she passed away.  I was too young to ask her how she did it when she was making it, and I wasn't interested in cooking until after she was gone.  Huge failure on my part.  It's just one of the things I miss about her.

Shanghai-Style Drunken Chicken

The good news is that I remember what it's supposed to taste like.  The other day I had a sudden craving for it, and this is one of those dishes that may be a little obscure for a restaurant to have, and even if they have it, it doesn't quite taste the same.

The most important thing, other than the Shaoxing wine that flavors the meat, is the texture of the chicken.  In Cantonese, my mom would say that it should be "wat" -- a direct translation is "slick"; basically, the meat should be extremely tender and moist.

I prefer dark meat (as did the writer of the article I read where I got the recipe), but traditionally this is made with a whole chicken.  It's supposed to be served cold, and when sitting in the fridge, a nice wine-flavored aspic will develop.  This is normal and desired.  It's yummy!

For true Shanghai-style drunken chicken, the chicken pieces should be bone in.  The challenge, then, is in chopping the chicken after it's cooked into even, bite-sized pieces.  You need a heavy-duty cleaver, like the kind the butchers use at Chinese BBQ restaurants to chop roasted duck into those delectable slices.  And even then it's not easy -- I still need a lot of practice, as my chicken looked practically hacked to pieces!  Remember the scene in Titanic where Rose is attempting to save Jack by breaking his handcuffs with an axe?  And he tells her to try a couple of practice swings, but her second swing lands nowhere near the first?  That's how it was with me and chopping this chicken.  I may not have been decisive enough, or perhaps the cleaver I purchased wasn't strong enough, but be warned, this is definitely not as easy as those butchers make it look!  Do not -- I repeat, DO NOT -- use a regular knife or chef's knife to do this, you'll only ruin your blade, and if you have nice knives that I do, that would be a terrible loss.

There are two methods of cooking the chicken -- poaching and steaming.  I had originally intended to steam the chicken, but I don't have a great steaming solution, especially not for that much chicken, and I was short on time.  So instead I went with the poaching method, which is apparently more traditional anyway.  I think I used a bit too much water, because my chicken didn't develop the desired aspic. :(  I'll try steaming next time and see if that gets me better results.

Finally, a quick tip on the green onions.  I used my mother's trick with these and it worked perfectly for this recipe, since the onions aren't intended to be eaten, just to add flavor.  It saved some time and clean up afterward.  Take the length of white part, place the tip of your knife almost at the very end of the onion farthest away from you, and slice it lengthwise down the middle all the way through.  It should still be held together at the very tip.  Turn it 90° and perform the same action.  The length of onion should now be opened up like a flower.  Toss the whole thing in the pot and repeat with the others.  When done cooking, fish them out easily.

Shanghai-Style Drunken Chicken (recipe adapted from Rasa Malaysia)

  • 3 lbs chicken, whole or in pieces
  • 2 tbsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp ground white pepper
  • 1-inch piece of ginger, thinly sliced
  • 4-6 green onions, white parts only, sliced lengthwise
  • 1 1/2 cups Shaoxing rice wine
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • ice cubes and water

Mix the salt with the two peppers. Rub the chicken all over with the salt and pepper and let it sit for an hour.


Bring 6 cups of water to a boil in a Dutch oven or large pot, then add the green onions and ginger. Add the chicken, make sure there is enough water to cover the chicken, and return to a boil. Lower the heat to a bare simmer and simmer for 10 minutes. If you’re using a whole chicken, during the simmer time, lift the chicken out of the water and make sure the stock in the cavity empties back into the pot. Do that 3 times for a whole chicken. For chicken pieces, gently stir the pot once or redistribute the pieces so they cook evenly. After 10 minutes, cover, turn off the heat, and allow the chicken to poach undisturbed until the water cools almost to room temperature.


Bring water to a boil in the steamer. Place the chicken in an even layer, scatter the green onions and ginger all over, and steam over medium heat for 30-40 minutes or until the internal temperature near the bone reaches 170°F. If the chicken pieces are larger, they will take longer to steam. If any of the pieces are touching, make sure to redistribute them in the middle of cooking so they cook evenly.

Mix the ice cubes and water and shock the chicken in ice cold water for 2 minutes. If you poached the chicken, shock it after the chicken has cooled to room temperature. If you steamed the chicken, shock it immediately after steaming.

After cooking, chop the chicken into bite-sized pieces, or simply score the chicken meat with a knife. Put the chicken pieces into a large container. Mix 3/4 cup to 1 cup of the chicken stock (the liquid you poached the chicken in or the liquid that comes out of the chicken after steaming) with the sugar and Shaoxing wine. Taste the marinade and add salt if needed.  Keep in mind that when eating cold food, our taste buds are numbed a bit so a bit of extra seasoning is beneficial.  Pour the liquid over the chicken pieces and let it sit in the fridge over night or longer before serving. Serve cold.


André said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
André said...

Thanks for the special details there, including about knives (too late for me, I learned that lesson the hard way - and my Joyce Chen cleaver is not the traditional heavy cleaver either.

One detail I don't understand the logic of is about poaching differently depending on whether the chicken has been poached or steamed. Would appreciate some words about the reasoning behind this.

Looking forward to testing your recipe.

PS. Your food photos are great btw.