Margarita's International Recipes

Imperial China

Gui Fei Ji

Royal Concubine Chicken Wings

Royal Concubine chicken

As the story goes, during the 8th century AD, Emperor Xuanzong of Tang was a wise and able ruler who brought China to the pinnacle of culture and power. He then had the (mis)fortune of laying eyes on Yang Yuhuan, a beautiful girl married to the emperor's son. He fell immediately in love, took Yuhuan as his concubine, made her his consort and apparently dedicated himself to making her happy - which included appointing her relatives to high positions. An armed rebellion followed, and to save his kingdom the Emperor was forced to have Yuhuan killed (or she might have killed herself to save him the pain). The Emperor spent the rest of his life in mourning and the Tang dynasty went into decline.

Back in the happier times of their blossoming love, however, the Emperor and Yuhuan were drinking together - a favorite passtime - when she exclaimed that she wanted to fly to the sky. The tipsy emperor thought she meant she wanted to eat something that could fly, so she asked the imperial cooks to bring her such a dish. This dish of chicken wings is what the cooks came up with, and apparently she very much enjoyed it.

Personally, I wasn't awed by my version. It was fine, don't get me wrong, but it wasn't anything special and it did not justify the long preparation and expensive ingredients (well, only expensive because the only port I had handy was a very expensive port). Part of the problem is that I didn't have in hand either the ingredients in the original recipe (Chinese rose wine and a Chinese herbal liqueur unknown in the US), nor the ones the recipe I followed recommended (Benedictine and rose water). Still, I did enjoy cooking a dish with such an interesting story behind it.

Royal Concubine Chicken Wings


  • 12 chicken wings
  • 3/4 cup soy sauce, divided
  • 1 leek or 1 bunch of green onions
  • 2" ginger
  • 3 Tbsp Chinese yellow rock sugar
  • 2 cups peanut oil
  • 1 cup Shaoxing wine, divided
  • 2 cups water
  • 1/2 cup port
  • 2 Tbsp brandy
  • 2 Tbsp benedictine (optional)
  • 3 Tbsp chili paste (optional)
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp tomato paste
  • 3 tsp rosewater (optional)


Wash and pat dries the chicken wings. Cut them into drumettes, wingettes and tips. Place drumettes and wingettes in a bowl and discard the tips. Add 1/4 cup of soy sauce to the wings and marinate for an hour.

Meanwhile, cut the leek or green onions into 1" long sections. Peel ginger and cut into quarter size rounds. Crush sugar into small pieces. Set aside.

Drain soy sauce from the wings. Heat peanut oil in a wok over high heat. Working in batches of all-drumettes or all-wingettes, deep fry the chicken wings until brown. Transfer to a colander and run under cold water. Set aside.

Discard all but 1 Tbsp of oil from the wok. Heat over high heat and add the leek/green onions and ginger. Fry until golden. Add 1/2 cup soy sauce 1/2 cup Shaoxing wine, water and rock sugar and bring to a boil. Return chicken wings to the wok and bring to a boil again. Reduce temperature to low and simmer for 1 hour or until the sauce thickens into a hard syrup.

Add the remaining Shaoxing wine, port, brandy, benedictine (if using), chili paste (if using) and tomato paste. Mix well, return to a boil and then simmer until the sauce thickens again.

Adapted from a recipe at The Food Dictator

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