Drunken chicken is a Shanghainese cold dish where poached chicken is macerated in alcoholic aspic and allowed to set, usually overnight, for the heady aroma of wine and liquor to penetrate deep into the meat. It is usually served as an appetiser or as a component of the four seasons starter dish for a wedding banquet or other celebrations.
It is one of my mom’s speciality dishes that she only prepares when there’s an occasion to celebrate. We always looked forward to this dish especially because her version combines Maotai and Shaoxing wines for extra boozy kick and a spice infusion that provides an intense robust flavour.
The key component of the dish is the aromatic aspic that hugs each piece of tender chicken. Aspic is the natural gelatine that is created when collagen is rendered from animal protein and sets into a jelly. The moment you put it into your mouth it melts instantly with an explosion of the spiked essence of chicken.
It goes without saying that the most important ingredient for this dish is the chicken. My mom always uses free-range chicken, the fresher the better. The bonus in preparing this dish is the amazing broth you get from poaching the chicken. After boning the chicken, be sure to return the bones to the stockpot and simmer another one to two hours for a more concentrated broth.
If properly seasoned, there’s no need for this dish to be served with any condiments aside from the remaining aspic. You can enhance it with a sprig of cilantro or leafy coriander, and perhaps a dipping of soy sauce and chillies, but it’s best to enjoy the delicate flavours on its own.
- 1 whole free-range chicken, about 1.5kg
- 2 litres water
- 50g fresh ginger, sliced
- 5 stalks scallions, roughly chopped
- 1 cup Shaoxing wine
- 2 tsp granulated sugar
- Dry Rub:
- 2 tsp salt
- ¼ tsp black pepper
- ¼ tsp white pepper
- Spice Infusion:
- 1 pod star anise
- 1 stick cinnamon
- 4 buds cloves
- 1 cup water
- Clean the chicken of its innards, and discard with the parson's nose. Cut off the head and feet for the stockpot. Dry chicken completely with kitchen towels.
- Mix the salt with the two peppers into a small bowl. Coat the chicken outside and inside with the dry rub, then set aside in a chiller for an hour.
- For the spice infusion, simmer over low heat star anise, cinnamon and cloves in one cup of water until reduced to a quarter cup. Strain with a wire sieve and set aside to allow spice infusion to cool completely.
- Place scallions and ginger into a large pot and fill with two litres of water. Bring water to a boil, then gently submerge the chicken into the pot and return to a boil. Lower the heat to a simmer, cover with a lid and simmer for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, lift the chicken out of the water and empty the stock in the cavity back into the pot. Flip the chicken over and simmer for another 10 minutes with the lid on. After 10 minutes, without opening the lid, turn off the heat and allow the chicken to poach undisturbed for another 10 minutes.
- Lift the chicken out of the pot and plunge the chicken into cold water to shock the skin and to cool it from further cooking. Then remove from the water and set aside to allow the skin to air-dry for about 30 minutes to an hour until completely cooled.
- After cooling, cut the chicken along the thigh joints and save the juices that flow out of the chicken into a separate bowl. Completely bone the chicken and cut the meat into bite-size pieces. Arrange the chicken pieces skin-side down into an oval bowl.
- Return the chicken bones to the stock pot and simmer another hour or so to further render its flavour into the broth.
- For the aspic, mix one cup of the chicken juices with sugar, Shaoxing wine and spice infusion. Taste the aspic and add salt if needed. Pour the aspic in spoonfuls over the chicken, lifting pieces up with a fork to let the aspic penetrate into the meat. When all the chicken is covered in aspic, gently transfer the whole bowl into the chiller for at least an hour or overnight to let the aspic set before serving.
- To serve, run a dinner knife along the rim of the jelly, then turn over the chilled bowl on to a flat serving plate. Cover the bottom of the bowl with a warm towel and gently shake to release the jellied aspic. Serve cold with the remaining unchilled aspic on the side.