Rice Wine Chicken

Monday, April 06, 2015

You have just given birth. You are now confined to the house for the month.

You cannot bathe.
You cannot visit Island Creamery.
No macaroons.
No chocolate brownies.
No curry chicken.
Coffee? Smell it if you like, but no sipping please.

For the next few weeks, your mother in-law ruleth.

She is the "confinement lady", though sometimes you feel you are more deserving of that miserable title. She bathes the child. She sets the rules. She closes the cookie jar when your trembling hand reaches out. She padlocks the fridge. She fixes your meals and sets the menu.

You just plonk yourself on the bed. You are confined to it. A few pounds lighter you may be but "energy" has left you along with the birth of the child, so your MIL insists.  

Now you have to recover that energy.

After all, you have to give her grandchild the "goodness" of your milk. So, where will your milk get all the "goodness" from?

Confinement food of course, as the theory goes.

If you love these dishes, then you realise that being in confinement has its benefits. Day after day, night after night, your MIL serves you wonderful bowls of goodness. You just lie there and savour.

But if you hate these herbal, winey, soupy and gingery foods, post-natal depression may await.

I know I am being overdramatic. 

When my first daughter came, my mother was naive enough to serve my wife black chicken soup. My dear has not seen a black chicken before in her life till then. She asked me, "How did Mother make this chicken so black?"

Dear, oh dear....

So I quietly and happily helped myself to everything which my Mum made for my modern and liberated wife.  

It is a pity that Rice Wine Chicken is labeled as Confinement food.

My Mum had cooked it many times and I grew up learning to appreciate it. Calling this an Auntie Ruby's dish may be a misnomer though as the recipe is pretty standard with the only difference being the rice wine you use. As long as you can get good wine, this dish is easy to perfect.

The wine she normally used was home brewed as it is hard to find good commercial rice wine. One of my best memories is eating a bowl of it all on its own, accompanied only by a plate of soy sauce for dipping, while watching Man U thrash yet another team. In my various trips to Ipoh, I have also tried some good versions of it.

You basically need good rice wine and some liquor. I have started making it since I discovered good Korean Rice Wine - Makkoli. A bottle contains 2.5 bowls and you double that amount by adding water. Depending on how much wine you want in your soup, a bottle can make 5-10 bowls. As this Korean wine is quite weak, adding some good liquor is a must if you like it to have an oomph.

Korean Cooking wine &
Rice Wine (Mahkoli)
Of course, if you can brew your own rice wine, that will be best. I tried doing that a few months ago. My wife asked what the strong smell was. I suppose it can be difficult to brew this in an apartment.

It is best to use the bare-neck chicken or Kampung chicken as the meat is sweeter and firmer.  

Good ginger is the next step. Old ginger will add a stronger taste to the soup but it is more fibrous. Young ginger will be nicer to eat. If you can get your hand on Bentong ginger, go for it. It has a nice fragrance.  

You can also add black or wood ear fungus, which needs a quick soak if you are using the dehydrated ones. Adding goji berries (wolf berries) will add some colour contrast and 'sweet spots' to the eating experience. 

Rice Wine Chicken Recipe

To feed one new Mum, a greedy husband and two mothers-in-law. 

1 Kampung or free-free-range Chicken, cut into small pieces
Just use a butter knife to scrape off the
1 large piece of ginger. Cut into strips.
Some black or wood ear fungus.
2-3 teaspoons of goji berries (and/or a few dates).  
1 bottle of rice wine (I prefer Korean)
Sesame oil
2 tablespoons of liquor (or more, to taste)
Salt & Sugar


  1. Soak fungus in water till soft and cut into strips. Boil the wood fungus for about 30 minutes.
  2. In a pot, saute the ginger strips in some sesame oil till fragrant, about 10 minutes.
  3. Add the chicken pieces. Saute for about 5 minutes.
  4. Add the rice wine, equivalent amount of water, some liquor and simmer for 30 minutes.
  5. Add salt and sugar to taste.
  6. Just before you serve, add dashes of liquor. 
You can serve immediately but the rice chicken wine tastes best after a few hours or the next day. The ginger will continue to ferment. This recipe is only a guide. I prefer mine intense and the best lots I have made was when I use some very good rice wine liquor given by my sister in law from PJ.

And remember, you don't need to give birth to a child to enjoy this.

Adding in the beautiful goji berries

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  1. Yes I totally agree! Rice wine chicken has always been my fave since I was in Primary 1. Thanks for such a great blog! I'm a singaporean staying in the middle east..ur recipes helped to cure my food cravings :P

  2. Haha...thanks for the good laugh (the black chicken story)and your rice wine chicken recipe looks yummilicious. Must try. ~~~ Jen

  3. My all time fave! My grandma and mum were my confinement ladies respectively and this was a regular feature, made with my grandma's self-brewed glutinous rice wine. And every time I go home to visit her she makes sure there is a big pot of it waiting for me.

    She adds a good splash of Benedictine DOM at the end for kick and extra goodness. It's good with mee sua for lunch too btw.

  4. Chicken with Chinese rice wine and old ginger is one of my favourite dishes, my mum used to make her own rice wine, I miss that so much.

  5. Wow! That was perfect on a cold rainy day. I'm going to try that soon.

  6. Korean rice wine can be bought at $5. from NTUC finest.

  7. can you post on vinegar pig's trotters too? Another great confinement food! Hmm..wonder if can we do vinegar pig's trotters using SV?

  8. Is your brother called Clement? Just curious cos the photo looks familiar.