You don’t see the name Yunnan mentioned in the Eight Regional Cuisines of China, but ethnic Yunnan cuisine is a crown jewel that offers plenty of savory delights. Among the famous Yunnan dishes, many find their roots in the ethnic minorities, including “ghost chicken” (鬼鸡 guǐjī).
It is generally believed that the dish originated from the Jingpo people, who have the custom of killing chickens to honor ghosts and make offerings. After the ceremony ends, people gather raw ingredients found in the wild to use in making this enticing dish.
The people of Yunnan often use Silkies (乌骨鸡 wūgǔjī, dark-boned chicken) and spices native to the region, but the flavor can otherwise be captured by using alternatives as well. For instance, one may be able to find such dishes on the menus of Dai-style restaurants in other parts of China. However, be sure to make plans to try the real thing if you travel to this province by the southern Chinese border.
Georgia Freedman shares her recipe of “ghost chicken” on Go Kunming, adapted from the traditional recipe:
“In Yunnan the dish is made with black-skinned chicken, with the skin left on for extra flavor and color. To approximate that chicken’s flavor, it’s best to use a free-range bird for this recipe.
2 chicken breasts
1 tablespoon ginger, minced
1 tablespoon garlic, minced
5 tablespoons cilantro, chopped
2 tablespoons sawtooth herb, roughly chopped (optional)
2 tablespoons fish mint root, cut into one-inch pieces (optional)
2-5 Thai or bird’s eye chilies, thinly sliced
1/2 tablespoon salt
juice of 3 limes
Begin by poaching the chicken breasts. Put the breasts into a pot with just enough water to cover. Season with a pinch of salt and bring to a boil, then cover the pot with a lid, lower the flame, and simmer for ten minutes.
Remove the pot from the stove and allow the chicken to sit in the hot liquid for another 20 minutes to continue cooking. After 20 minutes have passed, drain the liquid and set the chicken aside to cool.
Once the chicken breasts have cooled, remove the skin (if any) and discard, then use your fingers to pull the meat into thin strips. This should yield about two cups of meat. Toss the chicken with the rest of the ingredients. Taste the dish, and if the flavor is not strong and piquant, add more lime juice or salt as necessary.
Serve cold and enjoy!”
Top image: Georgia Freedman
Bottom image: Daguan Weekly