Located in the Zhejiang province of eastern China, and known as the “City of Water”, “City of Bridges,” “City of Calligraphy,” and “City of Scholars”, Shaoxing has been a cultural center throughout Chinese history. Despite a booming economy in recent decades, the city has, to my surprise during a recent trip, maintained a small-town charm with enchanting tranquility and cultural ambience.
Its Shaoxing wine is brewed from spring water, glutinous rice, yeast, and wheat, and is then aged in earthenware jars. The entire process gives the wine an amber color and complex aromas, bearing a close resemblance to a well-aged sherry wine such as amontillado or oloroso. The picture to the left shows an 8-year-aged Shaoxing wine.
The food of Shaoxing is equally impressive, and revered as a pillar of Zhejiang cuisine, one of my favorite regional cuisines in China. The best examples showcasing the perfect marriage between Shaoxing’s cooking and wine are its dazzling array of “drunken dishes”, from drunken shrimp, drunken tofu, to drunken chicken, which I’m featuring today.
Drunken chicken is typically served cold or at room temperature, hence a perfect dish for the summer. The recipe is quite straightforward with two steps: first gently poaching the chicken and then soaking the cooked and cooled chicken in a boozy Shaoxing wine marinade. To achieve the best results, you want to use organic or free-range chicken from a reputable farm. For my dish I used the fantastic chicken wings from Grazin’ Angus Acres Farm in Ghent, NY. Feel free to use other parts such as thighs or breasts (with or without skin) of your choice.
The recipe also requires a high-quality aged Shaoxing wine. The options available in Asian grocery stores labelled as “Shaoxing cooking wine” won’t be up to the task for this recipe. Try to find an aged Shaoxing wine, at least 5-year old, from a liquor store in Chinatown or online. I recently discovered (but haven’t tried) this site which carries several good options (the ones without “cooking” in the name): http://posharpstore.com/en/search?Cid=&Isc=true&q=shaoxing. Alternatively, you can try the recipe with a high-quality aged sherry wine.
The marinade in my recipe deviates slightly from the traditional one, by including fish sauce, which in my opinion adds depth to the dish and accentuates the aromas of Shaoxing wine.
Shaoxing drunken chicken wings
Makes 2 servings
1 lb (450 g) organic chicken wings or other parts of your choice
1 bunch scallions, cut in half crosswise
1-inch ginger, sliced
3 bay leaves and 1 tablespoon Sichuan peppercorns, wrapped and tied in cheesecloth
For the marinade
1/3 cup aged Shaoxing wine
4 tablespoons fish sauce
1-inch ginger, thinly sliced
2 teaspoons sugar
1 cup poaching liquid
Freshly ground white pepper
- In a pot, add the chicken wings and enough water (about 2 cups) that will completely cover them. Add the scallions, ginger, and the bay leave and Sichuan peppercorn bundle. Bring to a gentle boil and reduce the heat to a bare simmer, with only occasional bubbles breaking the surface. If you use a thermometer, maintain the temperature of the cooking liquid at around 180 °F (82 °C). Poach until the meat is just cooked (when you poke the meat with a knife the juice comes out clear with no blood), about 6 minutes.
- Transfer the wings to a large bowl and cover with a plastic wrap. Let cool.
- Strain the poaching liquid and reserve 1 cup for the marinade. The rest can be saved for another use.
- To make the marinade: in a sauce pan, mix in the reserved poaching liquid, Shaoxing wine, fish sauce, sugar, ginger, and a few grinds of white pepper. When the mixture reaches a boil, transfer to a bowl or container large enough to hold the liquid and chicken wings. Let cool. Add the wings to the marinade. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
- Serve the wings with the marinade cold or at room templature
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