too hot to cook? zhejiang "drunken" chicken is the solution

Zheijang "drunken" chicken
The only downside of having a kitchen that faces south is that during the hot weather it can approach furnace-like temperatures, despite the fact that I leave the back door open while I am cooking. I find myself either cooking less or cooking things that can be prepared ahead of time, when the temperatures are a bit cooler, either late in the evening or early in the morning.

This poached chicken dish is perfect for a heatwave since it is usually served cold or at room temperature. Admittedly it does reqire some cooking before it is steeped overnight in a boozy marinade. But if you can time it right, you can do the initial cooking before your day gets hotter.

This drunken chicken is worth the effort as it has an intense but delicate flavour that has both complexity and depth as a result of the marinade that includes Shaoxing wine. If you can't get hold of Shaoxing wine, then a good dry sherry will work too.

In July this year, The Guardian newspaper’s Readers’ Recipe Swap challenge was FORTIFIED WINE. Food writer Eve O’Sullivan introduced that week's challenge with "Like most people, I love a crisp glass of sherry in the summer months and a warming tot of port to soothe winter doldrums, but fortified wine is something I’ve underestimated as a cooking ingredient. As it turns out, the headiness of these aperitifs adds an aromatic depth to food, balancing sweetness with an elegant, sharp note."

As ever, there were cracking recipes. I can particularly recommend Carol Harris's (A,K.A. Miz Pepperpot) Jamaican pepper wine - a bit of cooking genius I suspect, where you add scotch bonnet chillies and fresh thyme to a bottle of sherry to create a braising liquid for meat or as an ingredient for salad dressings. I've tried it and it is fabulous.

Of my drunken chicken, Eve O'Sullivan said "And whether using sherry or shaoxing Chinese rice wine, Marmaduke Scarlet’s drunken chicken thighs are steeped in aromatic liquor, ginger and spring onions. I’d recommend making a batch for super-quick rice-noodle salads." Very good advice indeed!

Serves 4-6 as a starter
Skill level: Easy

12 chicken thighs
4 slices of fresh ginger, about 3-5mm thick
4 spring onions, cut into 2cm lengths (both white and green parts)
250ml Shaoxing wine or dry sherry
1 tsp salt, or more to taste
2 tsp light brown or palm sugar
water (for poaching)
chopped chives, spring onions or fresh coriander, to serve

  1. Place chicken thighs in a large lidded saucepan. Add enough water to cover chicken by about 2 cm. Lob in ginger and spring onions. Bring to boil. Then simmer for 15 mins. Let chicken cool in the poaching liquid. Remove the aromatics (ginger and spring onions).
  2. Strain chicken and reserve poaching liquid. (I’ll repeat this. Keep the poaching liquid!)
  3. Combine 250ml of poaching liquid with Shaoxing wine (or sherry if using). Add salt and sugar. Whisk until salt and sugar have dissolved. Taste and adjust seasoning to taste.
  4. Cut each chicken thigh into 2 pieces. (A proper Chinese cleaver would be perfect, although I made do with poultry shears.) Place in a bowl and pour over the marinade. The liquid should cover the chicken. Add a little more of the poaching liquid and Shaoxing wine if necessary. Cover and refrigerate overnight. The marinating liquid should form a jelly as the gelatine from the bones seeps into the liquid.
  5. Serve cold with the marinade jelly/liquid, topped with a little chopped greenery. (If you don’t like the jelly, then bring back to room temperature and the marinade will liquefy.)

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