Drunken chicken is a traditional Chinese cold appetizer with a juicy texture, an aromatic taste, and just a touch of booze. Make it in advance and serve it with beer – it’s perfect for snacking and dinner parties.
What is drunken chicken
If you’ve never tried drunken chicken, consider it a Chinese-style charcuterie cold cut.
To make the dish, the chicken is steamed with plenty of aromatics and then marinated in a Shaoxing wine based broth, which gives it an incredible fragrance and depth of flavor.
And speaking of texture, it’s very different from what you’re used to. It’s served cold, so the chicken is juicy yet has a lightly gelatinous feel to it. It’s quite light and you can taste the aromatics and the booziness of the wine, which works amazingly to bring out the taste of the chicken.
In China, this is a dish that is best enjoyed with beer and plenty of friends and family, though you can make it ahead of time to enjoy any night of the week. Since it’s served cold, it keeps well in the fridge, allowing you to come home to a tasty and exotic meal.
Why this recipe
Technically, by way of tradition, chefs would use an entire carved chicken to make drunken chicken. But since that method is less approachable for home cooks, using the legs makes the process simpler.
In some recipes, the chicken isn’t rolled up. But after lots of testing in the kitchen, we found that the rolled ones yield the best texture and taste.
In my recipe, I reduced the amount of Shaoxing wine that is typically used, compared to the traditional formula. So the dish has a more balanced flavor that doesn’t get TOO boozy. You may already know that I usually suggest using dry sherry as a replacement for Shaoxing wine in Chinese dishes. However for drunken chicken, I recommend you go with a good-quality Shaoxing wine, as it is a main ingredient. And really it is the reason why this dish is a national treasure.
How to debone chicken leg
To debone chicken legs:
- Place the chicken leg skin-side down. Use a sharp knife to cut along the bone.
- Once the bones are exposed, carefully slice the chicken meat from all sides to detach it from the bone.
- Towards the end of the drumstick, use a sawing motion to cut the tendon.
- Hold the bone in one hand and gradually cut off the meat from the two ends.
- Near the joints, keep using a sawing motion to break up any tough parts and tendons, until the bones are detached completely.
- Lay the chicken thigh meat flat
- Use the back of your knife to gently pound the thick part, to make the thickness of the meat as even as possible
- Carefully use a chopping motion to halve the bones. This step is not necessary but it will help the bones release more flavor into the broth with a short braising time.
Drunken chicken cooking process
Prepare the broth
- Combine the chicken leg bones, aromatics, and spices with water in a small pot
- Bring the water to a boil and skim off any foam from the top
- After simmering for 30 minutes, strain the broth and discard the solid ingredients
- Add the goji berries with the rest of the ingredients to the broth and let cool
Cook and marinate the chicken
- Marinate the chicken briefly with salt and aromatics
- Roll up the thigh meat into a log
- Place the chicken leg log on a piece of foil
- Roll up the foil tightly to completely cover the chicken
- Fold the two ends of the foil
- Steam until the chicken is just cooked through
- Transfer the foil-wrapped chicken to an ice bath to stop the cooking and allow the broth to cool
- Place the chicken into the cooled broth, then marinate overnight
- Slice the chicken before serving
- Serve cold or at room temperature with a bit broth
It does take a bit of work to make drunken chicken, since you will need to debone the chicken legs, roll the meat into a log, steam it until it’s just cooked, and marinate it in the Shaoxing wine-based broth overnight. But once you try it, you’ll be surprised at how fragrant the chicken tastes, even though it looks like a very plain dish.
In Chinese cuisine, the concept of a balanced meal is crucial. Not only does it include pairing meat dishes with veggies and grains, it also means a meal should be balanced with light and heavy dishes. Plus, you should have food cooked in different ways so you can prepare some of it ahead of time.
And when you’re preparing a big dinner party with many courses, dishes such as pickled veggies and braised meat, and cold dishes like this drunken chicken allow you to get multiple courses ready ahead of time.
Drunken Chicken (醉鸡)
- 2 bone-in skin-on chicken leg quarters (includes thighs)
- Chopped green onion for garnish
Marinate the chicken
- Combine the salt and Sichuan peppercorns in a small pan. Toast over medium-low heat, shaking the pan occasionally, until fragrant, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a small plate to cool.
- Debone the chicken legs (see the step-by-step guide above in the blog post), setting the bones aside for the stock. Using the back of the knife to pound the thick part of the meat so that it is an even thickness.
- Sprinkle the toasted salt and Sichuan peppercorns over the chicken legs. Top with the Shaoxing wine, green onion, and ginger. Use your hand to gently massage the seasonings in and set aside for 15 minutes.
Prepare the stock
- Use a cleaver or strong knife to chop the leg bones in half (Optional, to release more flavor). Add them to a small pot with the water, ginger, green onion, star anise, and jujubes.
- Heat over medium-high heat until bringing to a boil, then reduce to medium-low heat. Simmer for 30 minutes, skimming the foam from the top occasionally. Transfer the stock to a heat proof container once done.
- Add the goji berries, salt, sugar, and Shaoxing wine. Stir until the sugar and salt are fully dissolved. Place the stock in the fridge to cool down completely.
Steam the chicken
- After the chicken has marinated, roll each leg into a tight log, skin side out.
- Place the rolled chicken leg on a piece of aluminum foil. Wrap the leg with the foil to seal it completely.
- Set up a steamer by adding water to the pot and bringing to a boil over medium-high heat.
- Place the chicken rolls on the steaming rack and steam over medium-high heat for 15 to 20 minutes, depending on the size of the chicken legs. At the 15-minute mark, check the doneness by inserting a toothpick through the center of the chicken and the juices run clear. Let cook for another 5 minutes if needed.
- Prepare an ice bath by adding ice and water to a big bowl. Place the cooked chicken rolls into it and let cool completely.
- Once the chicken rolls and brine are completely cooled, remove the chicken legs from the foil and transfer into a deep container, collecting the juices from the rolls as well.
- Lay a mesh colander over the container, then strain and pour the brine over the chicken. Add the goji berries back to the chicken, discarding the rest of the solid ingredients. Seal the container and let marinate in the fridge overnight.
- To serve, slice the chicken into 1/2” (1 cm) pieces, drizzle a small amount of the brine, and garnish with green onions and goji berries. Serve cold or at room temperature as an appetizer.
If you give this recipe a try, let us know! Leave a comment, rate it (once you’ve tried it), and take a picture and tag it @omnivorescookbook on Instagram! I’d love to see what you come up with.
Other delicious appetizer recipes
- Chinese Scallion Pancakes (葱油饼)
- Pickled Cucumber (A Quick Pickle Recipe)
- Chinese Bang Bang Chicken (棒棒鸡)
- Fu Qi Fei Pian (Sichuan Sliced Beef in Chili Sauce, 夫妻肺片)
- Chinese Chicken Noodle Salad (鸡丝拌面)
Lilja Walter is a part of the Omnivore’s Cookbook team and worked closely with Maggie to develop and test this recipe.