Here’s a goody from the archives. A number of you have tried this recipe for Coca-cola Chicken wings that I first posted in March 2011. You wouldn’t guess just how delicious it is based on the simple ingredients. In this recipe that’s a favorite of home cooks in China, Cola-Cola and soy sauce meld to form a great sweet and savory glaze for the chicken. You get a great caramelized flavor without the work!
I don’t know exactly when or how Coca-cola chicken wings became a Chinese dish, but it’s a baby compared to everything that originated back when dynasties existed. Heck, many people don’t even realize it’s a Chinese dish, much less a common one. I have never seen it printed on a restaurant menu or in an English-language Chinese cookbook. It does, however, appear from time to time in Chinese-language cookbooks and on cooking shows, sometimes involving as few as three ingredients.
In China, Coke and other sodas hold a higher prestige than they do in the US. About 5 years ago, when I first visited Beijing, some relatives took me out to a pretty lavish restaurant for my first Peking duck experience. After drink orders were taken, the head waiter returned to the table with a wine cart. With a flourish, he brandished a bottle in his right arm for inspection, which, for course, turned out to be Coke instead Bordeaux.
I have also attended banquets and Chinese New Year dinners where bottles of 7-Up and Pepsi were sitting like centerpieces in the middle of white table cloth-covered tables. And I have gone up and down the wine aisles of Chinese supermarkets, only to find that it was almost impossible to buy just a bottle of wine. You always got a special gift with purchase. Domestic reds and whites were often packaged in cellophane with bottles of…you guessed it…Coke or Sprite. (That is, if they weren’t already packaged with imitation Nalgenes, thermoses, rice bowls, or even beach blankets.)
This is all to say that the cult of Coke in China is pretty strong. Which paves the way for Coca-Cola chicken wings to become a popular dish for home cooks. The preparation method is very similar to that of soy-sauce chicken, a common Cantonese dish. (I wouldn’t be surprised if this dish was actually created because some person, or some million persons, who figured that adding Coke was a good way to change up their soy-sauce chicken.)
Cantonese soy sauce chicken wings are braised with soy sauce, garlic, and ginger, and occasionally cinnamon and star anise. For Coca-Cola chicken wings, we just use soy sauce, rice wine, and Coke in the braising liquid. That’s it. What you end up with, after 15 to 20 minutes of braising, is a nice syrupy glaze. It’s not overwhelmingly sweet, or overwhelmingly salty. It tastes a tiny bit like Coke, but even that is very subtle. Toward the end, I add some chopped scallions and freshly ground black pepper to enhance the flavor, but really, this minimalist dish is still perfectly fine without aromatics.
Even better than using regular Coke is Mexican Coke, which uses real sugar, if you can find it in your local grocery store or bodega.
Coca-Cola Chicken Wings
- 2 pounds chicken wings, wings and drummettes separated
- 1/4 cup soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons canola oil
- 2 tablespoons dry sherry or Chinese rice wine
- 3/4 cup Coca-Cola (not diet or anything flavored!)
- 2 scallions, chopped
- A few pinches of freshly ground black pepper
- Put the chicken wings in a large bowl and pour half of the soy sauce on top. Turn the wings so they are well-coated and allow them to marinate for 10 to 15 minutes at room temperature.
- Heat a wok or large deep skillet over medium-high heat. Sear the chicken wings until they are golden brown on each side but not cooked through, about 3 minutes each side. Pour in the other half of the soy sauce, the sherry, and the Coke and bring the liquid to a simmer. Simmer the wings uncovered for 15 to 20 minutes, until the liquid is reduced to a glaze.
- Season the chicken with black pepper. Transfer the chicken to a plate, garnish with scallions, and serve.