Chefs wing it and answer fly-in-the-sky decree with a dish for the ages

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 05 July, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 05 July, 2012, 12:00am


This dish of chicken wings braised in Shaoxing wine is sometimes known as imperial concubine's chicken.

Most agree the concubine in question was a woman called Yang. She is known simply as Yang Guifei, or the 'precious concubine Yang'.

She appears in a number of historical tomes, including Records of the Three Kingdoms. Mentions of her full name in ancient texts are inconsistent, so no one can agree on her real name. Yang was the much-loved concubine of the Tang emperor Li Longji, who reigned from 712 to 756.

In his early years, Li was ambitious and worked hard to keep his lands peaceful. However, later on it is said he became complacent and led a hedonistic life. It was around this time that he was introduced to Yang.

Legend has it that one day, Yang and the emperor were in the palace gardens, writing poems and drinking wine. Yang had had a little too much to drink and was dancing around, jumping and shouting: 'I want to fly in the sky!' The emperor mistook her cry as a request for food and ordered the palace cooks to make 'flying in the sky'.

Of course, no one in the palace kitchen knew this dish, but none of them dared return empty-handed. One of the chefs suggested they cook something that flew, so they cooked chicken wings. As the emperor and his concubine were drinking Shaoxing wine, the chef added that to the dish.

Nowadays the whole chicken may be served.

Though she hadn't ordered food, when it came, the tipsy Yang ate the lot. Afterwards she ordered the dish so often it was named for her.