Solitary Confinement – Brandy Chicken with Wood Ear and Goji Berries 鸡酒

Did you know that the Chinese celebrate the New Year for a whole fortnight? Fifteen days to be exact. So technically, I’m not too late in wishing everyone a very happy, healthy and prosperous year of the goat.

With the new year comes new life. And in this case, literally. One of my best friends is expecting her first child in mid-April *YAY!!!*  As a first-time mum, she naturally has a lot of worries and concerns about how she’s going to cope when the baby arrives. One of her biggest immediate concerns is not being able to find someone to help her with her confinement. For my non-chinese readers who are wondering what she’s being punished for, she’s not. Though it can sometimes feel like you are being punished. Confinement is the chinese practice of rest and recovery for an entire month following childbirth. Doesn’t sound particularly challenging, right? Except there are MANY MANY MANY insane rules to follow. Just off the top of my head, cold showers are prohibited (who showers in cold water anyway?), ditto for hair washing, no stepping out of the house, no contact with wind (yes, you read that right) and a special nourishing diet must be followed. These are just SOME of the rules and depending on the source, a lot of them are just plain old wives’ tales and myths. So you can see why most asian mothers choose to engage a “confinement lady” to help them figure out which ones to follow. Also, having a personal chef for a month is pretty awesome.

Rice wine chicken

Back to my friend. Because she moved to the States last year, she hasn’t had any luck finding a confinement lady. I would fly over in a heartbeat to bar her from the showers but alas, my kids haven’t quite figured out how to wipe their own butts or wake when the alarm rings yet. So it looks like it’s just going to be the three of them winging it. Since I can’t actually cook for her, I figured the least I could do is post some easy confinement recipes for her husband to prepare for her.

Now I am no expert on the confinement diet but the general rule of thumb is lots of ginger, lots of wine (cooked) and lots of sesame oil. This dish has all of that and an extra punch. I was taught this dish using chinese rice wine 米洒 but I used the more potent Brandy instead this time because I had run out of rice wine. Both are delicious and let me tell you, when that brandy hit the wok I instantly got drunk on the fumes! But oh goodness me, I knew it was going to be delicious and I was right. Paired with a bowl of steaming white rice, I could eat this everyday.

I was a little out of myself when I made this dish this time round. Usually, being as lazy as I am, I would simply use chicken bouillon cubes for flavour. I don’t know what got into me but I decided to go the extra mile and make my own stock. I threw chicken bones, ginger, garlic and some vegetable scraps in a pot and left it to simmer for an hour and a half. Let me just say it was well worth it.

What are some of your cultural practices when it comes to childbirth and recovery after?

Nota Bene: Ginger stir-fried Pork also makes an excellent confinement dish.

P.S. If anyone knows of any confinement ladies available in the New Jersey area, you’d do me a huge solid if you could get in touch with me! Thank you! Much love!

Brandy Chicken

Brandy Chicken with Wood Ear and Goji Berries 鸡酒

Serves 4

  • 1 chicken, cut into 8-10 pieces OR 8 chicken thighs, skin removed.
  • 6-8 slices ginger
  • 2 large pieces dried wood ear, soaked till soft
  • 2 Tbs sesame oil
  • 1/2 cup Brandy or Chinese rice wine
  • 1/4 cup unsalted chicken stock*
  • 1 Tb Goji berries
  • 2 stalks green onions, sliced coarsely


  • 1 Tbs Chinese cooking wine
  • 2 tsp sesame oil


  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp sugar



  • Marinate chicken and set aside for an hour.
  • Drain the wood ear and remove the hard stems. Sprinkle a tsp of salt on the wood ear  and give it a good rub. Rinse well and cut into thin strips. Set aside.
  • In a wok, or a claypot if you have one, heat the sesame oil over medium heat. Add in ginger slices and fry until golden brown.
  • Move the ginger slices to one side and add chicken. Stir fry until chicken starts to brown a little.
  • Add the wood ear strips and mix well. Cook for 2-3 minutes and add Brandy/rice wine to deglaze.
  • Add chicken stock and seasoning. Mix well and leave to simmer, covered, for 30 minutes.
  • Remove cover, add Goji berries and simmer until sauce is reduced by half.
  • Add the green onions, give it a toss and dish up (I forgot the green onions so I used it as garnish. Oops!)
  • Serve with steamed rice and a side of vegetables.

*If you’re using salted chicken stock, simply omit the salt when seasoning.


3 thoughts on “Solitary Confinement – Brandy Chicken with Wood Ear and Goji Berries 鸡酒

  1. Too bad she isn’t in Los Angeles, my friend just had a baby and had a confinement lady help her. It was actually the first time I had heard of the idea. Haha, is “confinement lady” a technical term? 🙂 Gotta love Chinese tradition.

    Now back to this lovely dish you’ve made…what a cool combination of ingredients! I would never think of putting gogi berries with chicken and brandy, but I can totally image how it would work. I’m totally making this…will report back soon!


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