I suspect this post is so niche that if you’re not a Chinese person of Foochow descent, you might as well look away now! Today I made a Foochow red rice wine chicken stew with my Roaming Roosters whole free range chicken; it’s a traditional, age-old dish that has been passed down to me from my Malaysian Foochow mum, as it has through lots of other people’s mums. It’s my first time making it, and as most people who are familiar with this dish will know, it’s hard to make unless you have the special ingredient: red rice wine dregs or lees.
Cooking with Foochow red rice wine dregs
The traditional dish uses the yeast by-product that is collected when fermenting red rice wine or ang chow (a Malaysian Foochow-specific rice wine). It’s a laborious process done at home, as this post by Going With My Gut will show you. Hence a lot of my generation consider it an ‘old people’s dish’ as we simply don’t have the time or skill to make it. The dish is considered a good tonic for ‘ladies in confinement’ i.e. women in their month after giving birth, and my personal theory is because it looks like placenta! However, Chinese people generally have remedies for everything, and food often seems to be the solution (we’re not wrong you know ).
Anyway, my mum brought back a tub of red rice wine dregs from Malaysia, homemade by a distant aunty, and it’s been sitting in my fridge for quite some time.
- Red rice wine / ang chow dregs or lees (about 4 tablespoons)
- 1 whole chicken, jointed and chopped into bite-size chunks – about 1kg (don’t include breasts)
- A handful of dried shiitake mushrooms
- A handful of dried ‘Jew’s Ear’ fungus (a common Chinese stew ingredient, I love it)
- Sesame oil
- Thinly grated or sliced ginger
- 6 minced cloves of garlic
- 150 ml of Shaoxing rice wine
- Soya sauce
- Sugar to taste
I used this recipe as an experiment to joint a chicken for the first time, as recommended to me by another blogger, Marcus from countrywoodsmoke. I followed his instructions here and it really was that simple. I saved the breasts to cook later this week, as these aren’t best in a stew. I also set aside the carcass to make a stock. Don’t be afraid of chopping up the back of the chicken too, as I find this is where the tastiest pieces lie. The only thing I need to work on is making a clean cut through joints rather than splintering the bone, which can make your eating experience a bit unpleasant.
Here are the results:
Soak your shiitake mushrooms and fungus in some warm water, until they have softened fully and the fungus has expanded to about 4x the size. Keep the water.
Heat a slosh of sesame oil in a large wok or cast iron pot and add in the ginger and garlic. Add 4 tbsps of the red rice wine dregs, then the chicken pieces. Ensure the chicken pieces are browned and coated in the dregs. Add the rice wine and some of the water that you used to soak the mushrooms until the chicken is semi-immersed. Finally add sliced shiitake and the wood fungus, bring everything to the boil and simmer for 20-30 minutes. I checked up intermittently and kept turning the chicken so it all got coated in the sauce. Towards the end you can add soya sauce and sugar to taste.
I was highly pleased with the result! It tasted just like my mum makes it. I can’t really describe the flavour, except that obviously it has a lot of rice wine in it. It’s somewhat earthy and sweet, but the best bit are the vegetables that have soaked up the sauce. You can see how the chicken is stained a deep red (all the colour is natural!), although the skin doesn’t change colour.
There are lots of amazing traditional Chinese ways to cook a chicken with very visual results, and this is just one of them.
Traditionally this is served on mee sua (white noodles) to symbolise long life, but I prefer white Jasmine rice to soak up the sauces. You also want to safeguard against splatter, so don’t wear anything precious!
The stew I made served 4-6.