Image Credit: Maureen
With strong roots in Chinese culture, Drunken Chicken, or zui ji, is something commonly found on the dinner table as a cold appetiser or a main dish.
As the name suggests, preparing the dish involves some form of alcohol – in this case, famously used is the Shao Xing wine which produces a tingling aroma that combines perfectly with the taste and texture of supple chicken slices.
What is Drunken Chicken?
Originating from the Zhejiang Province, Drunken Chicken is a cold poultry dish prepared by boiling the chicken with ginger and spring onion before being dunked in cold water to give the skin a firm texture.
The whole chicken is then soaked in a wine marinade – typically containing chicken broth and Shao Xing wine, which is made from rice and sorghum – to create a sweet aroma fused with alcohol. Shao Xing wine is explicitly selected for its incredibly complex flavour that comes with its age, meaning the older the wine is, the more flavorful it is. Besides taste, the rice wine is also known to cut grease and help digestion, which is ideal for the health-conscious aunties and uncles.
Why Shao Xing Wine?
The use of rice wine dates back to ancient times, going as far as the Shang and Zhou dynasties in 1600 – 256 BCE. Consumed before huge meals, rice wine was thought to contain rich nutrients, stimulate appetites and good health, but only if consumed in moderation. Chinese folks prefer to use them as a de-fouling agent, to relieve odour while adding more flavours to the dish.
Rice wine is a common ingredient in Chinese medicine as well, believed to improves blood circulation and keeps muscles relaxed. Upon research, rice wine contains a whopping 21 types of amino acids, 9 of organic acids and over 10 of esters and vitamins.
Shao Xing is perhaps the most popular type of rice wine, as it is widely used in cooking and medicine today.
While the history of rice wine may be clear, the origins of the dish itself is, however, shrouded in much mystery. Many stories have come and go. The famous one being the story of three brothers who all wanted their respective wives to become the head of the household. To be fair, the wives were tasked with cooking up a chicken dish.
The first wife prepared double-boiled chicken soup, while the second cooked poached chicken dish. Both tasted good, but it didn’t come close to being as fragrant or delicious as the third’s wife dish – a tingling wine-marinated chicken. Her dish was a crowd favourite, which eventually gave her the crown of being head of the household.
Variations of Drunken Dishes
The use of rice wine comes with many benefits; thus it is no surprise how the culinary world (both locally and internationally) has adopted it to other poultry dishes besides chicken.
For example, drunken prawns are a popular option at restaurants, where freshwater prawns are immersed in a dish of liquor before they are consumed while still being alive. As there may be unwanted hazards with eating uncooked prawns, most restaurants prefer to boil and cook them in alcohol before serving them.
Interestingly, in places like Greece and Cyprus, as well as some parts of Latin America, the drunken chicken comes in native names like “pollo borracho”, but with added ingredients like green and black olives and cinnamon.
Where to Find in Malaysia
A classic dish in Chinese dinners, Drunken Chicken can be found in most large-scale Chinese restaurants. If you find yourself tight for time, a simple browse on foodpanda will deliver you the delicious dish in no time!
Or if you are adventurous enough to try cooking this dish yourself, use our recipe here!