Imperial Concubine Chicken
According to Chinese culinary tradition, some emperor or other once had a favorite mistress who enjoyed a particular chicken dish so much that it was eventually named after her. Now, it may well be that there were hundreds of imperial concubines running about with favorite chicken dishes of their own, or perhaps there was just one with highly diverse gastronomic tastes, because there are many, many versions of this classic dish. One version, being chicken braised with rice wine, bamboo shoots and mushrooms, is reproduced here…
The Main Ingredients
The chicken pieces used for this dish are quite often chicken legs, or else whole chicken wings. I favor the ‘Drumettes’ myself, which, if you are not familiar with the term, refers to the first section of the chicken wing that looks a bit like a leg when it is removed. These are the parts being used in the present recipe.
It is a good practice to blanche your chicken pieces in boiling salted water for a couple of minutes, and then cool and clean them well under cold running water (this has been done with the pieces shown above).
This is not a crucial step, and you can skip it if you like, but it generally results in a more refined appearance for your finished dish.
The secondary stars in this version of Imperial Concubine Chicken are Bamboo Shoots, and Dried Chinese Black Mushrooms, also known as ‘Shiitake’ in Japan, and by many Westerners.
Canned Bamboo Shoots, if fresh, or dried are unavailable, are perfectly acceptable for this dish, but you are well advised to rinse them well and then soak in a couple of changes of fresh water for an hour or two to get rid of the ‘canned’ taste. A splash of vinegar or lemon juice to the last soak can also improve the flavor a bit.
The dried mushrooms need to be reconstituted, of course. Usually, only an hour or so soaking will suffice, but you can put them in water and pop them in the fridge overnight too. In either case, if you save the soaking liquid, you can use it to adjust the level of your braising liquid while cooking the chicken.
The Basic Method
The first major cookery process is browning the chicken pieces along with aromatics. In this recipe, the aromatics just consist of the white part of scallion, and fresh ginger.
In this particular version of Imperial Concubine Chicken, the main ingredients are braised in a mixture of Shaoxing Wine, a good Basic Chinese Chicken Stock, and Soy Sauce, sweetened with just a little Sugar. If you do not have Shaoxing Wine, you can substitute a similar quantity of some other type of Rice Wine, or even Dry Sherry.
The chicken should be braised for about 30 or 40 minutes until it is tender and the braising medium has reduced to about half its original volume. If the volume falls too low before the chicken is tender you can top it up with some of the mushroom soaking liquid (as previously mentioned), or with a little mor chicken stock, or even water).
Sections of Scallion green are held back and only added shortly before serving so as to retain their pretty green color in the finished dish.
Your Recipe Card:
Imperial Concubine Chicken
- 1 lb. Chicken Wing Drumettes
- 1/3 cup Bamboo Shoots sliced Julienne
- 6 small Chinese Black Mushrooms Shiitake
- 2 Scallions cut into 2” sections keep the white and green parts separate
- 1 Tbsp. finely shredded fresh Ginger
- ½ cup Shaoxing Cooking Wine or other Rice Wine, or dry sherry
- ½ cup Chicken Stock
- 2 Tbsp. Light Soy
- 1 tsp. Sugar
- Quickly blanch the chicken pieces in boiling salted water for about a minute or two until no pinkness is visible and then rinse in chilled water to cool and clean them. Pat them dry and set aside for now.
- Reconstitute the mushrooms by soaking in warm water to cover for an hour or so and then drain, reserving the soaking water. Remove the stems and then slice the caps into two or three pieces.
- Heat a little oil in a suitable pot and add the ginger shreds and the white part of the scallion. As soon as these give off their aroma, add the chicken pieces and lightly brown them.
- Add the bamboo and mushrooms along with the wine, stock, soy sauce and sugar. Let it to start bubbling and then turn down to low.
- Allow the pot to simmer for about 30 – 40 minutes until the chicken is tender and the sauce has reduced to about half its original volume, adding a little extra liquid, if necessary, so as to keep ¾ to 1 cup of sauce around the chicken.
- Finally, add the green part of the scallion and cook just a little longer until the scallion greens have wilted a little. Serve piping hot.