Chinese Cotton Chicken, 棉花雞

Cotton Chicken (棉花雞, Meen Fa Gai) is a dish that has an interesting makeup of textures. The fish maw, once prepared is like a sponge and soaks up the flavours of the dish, creating lovely pillows of flavour. Needless to say, the soft texture of the fish maw is what lends this dish it’s name.

Chinese Cotton Chicken, 棉花雞, Chinese traditional recipe, Chicken recipe, Fish Maw, Goji Berries

Chinese Cotton Chicken, a wonderful medley of flavour and textures.

Traditionally in my family this dish is always prepared using a whole chicken, chopped into bite-sized pieces. I understand that for some of you, butchering a chicken can be a daunting task, but hopefully the picture I’ll show later in the instructions will help a bit with that.

Chinese Cotton Chicken, 棉花雞, Chinese traditional recipe, Chicken recipe, Fish Maw, Goji Berries

What seems like an oxymoron most of the time, I present to you a juicy piece of chicken breast meat…yum :9 See, totally can be done.

This dish is made up of some ingredients that seems like they can be a bit difficult to locate. Unless you live near a Chinese grocery store or Chinese herbal store, there are online options such as Amazon that can help you out.

In particular, I’m referring to the Fish Maw and the Goji Berries used in the recipe. You can click on the affiliate links below to find them on Amazon.

Chinese Cotton Chicken, 棉花雞, Chinese traditional recipe, Chicken recipe, Fish Maw, Goji Berries

Dried Goji Berries

In Memoriam – Wayne Chong

Since my grandfather passed, I have been reflecting a lot on our family history and documenting stories. Going through some of the old photos, I realized that although a picture is worth a thousand words, sometimes having words accompany them tell a much better story.

Because of that, I want to document the food that I eat everyday on this little web real-estate I have. No, these are not in any way “new” recipes and perhaps you eat a version of the dish in your home. The following collection of recipes are the stories of a Chinese-Canadian family making a life here in Toronto and the struggles they had to overcome.

Wing Lee Hong Grocery Toronto, Chinese Community Toronto

My grandfather and a couple of his friends got together to open one of the first few Chinese grocery stores to help serve the small yet growing community of Chinese immigrants in Toronto in the 1970s.

Hopefully, with permission of the people involved in the photos, you’ll also get a glimpse of what life was like back in the 50s to the 80s, when growing up as a minority in Toronto was a different experience compared to what it is today.

Furthermore, I’m deciding to start off the series with Cotton Chicken (a dish that seems to be local to the Guangdong area) because it’s damn delicious and the pillowy texture of the fish maw reminds me of the clouds that I can imagine my grandfather is sitting on right now. Grandpa, this one is for you.

Fish Maw

Now for those of you unfamiliar with fish maw, it is the swim bladder of large fish that is later dried. Since this is an organ, this ingredient is high in protein and rich in collagen. It’s flavour is relatively mild, with the more expensive variety having a slight fishy flavour that adds umami to a dish. You can usually find fish maw in Chinese Herbal Stores and they do sell them in smaller quantities if you like.

Chinese Cotton Chicken, 棉花雞, Chinese traditional recipe, Chicken recipe, Fish Maw, Goji Berries

Fish Maw and Shiitake Mushrooms soaking in water

General Ingredients for Cotton Chicken, 棉花雞

Chinese Cotton Chicken, 棉花雞, Chinese traditional recipe, Chicken recipe, Fish Maw, Goji Berries

Goji Berries, Green Onion, Fish Maw, Shiitake Mushrooms, Chicken. Not pictured above are the seasonings for the marinades and ginger.

  • 1 whole antibiotic free chicken
  • ¼ cup of Dried Goji Berries
  • 5-6 large shiitake mushrooms or 8-9 small shiitake mushrooms
  • 8-9 thin slices of ginger, add more if desired
  • 2 stalks of green onion
  • 2 sheets of dried fish maw

Ingredients for Chicken Marinade

  • 2 tablespoons of Whiskey or Chinese Cooking Wine
  • 1 ½ tablespoons of soy sauce
  • ½ teaspoon of chicken stock powder
  • 2 teaspoons of tapioca starch or cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon of sesame oil
  • ½ teaspoon of salt
  • ½ teaspoon of black pepper

Ingredients for Fish Maw Marinade

  • ½ teaspoon of soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil
  • ½ teaspoon of sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoon of Whiskey or Chinese Cooking Wine
  • ½ teaspoon of sugar
  • ½ teaspoon of chicken stock powder

Special Equipment

Directions for Chinese Cotton Chicken

  1. Either overnight or at least 5-6 hours before the meal, prep the fish maw and dried shiitake mushrooms by soaking it in cold water
    Chinese Cotton Chicken, 棉花雞, Chinese traditional recipe, Chicken recipe, Fish Maw, Goji Berries

    Fish Maw and Shiitake Mushrooms soaking in water

  2. While the fish maw and mushrooms are soaking, you can start working on the chicken. To butcher the chicken, you want to cut up the following pieces first – legs and thigh (x2), the breast meat (x2), the wings (x2) and the back. After this, you’ll want to cut up the pieces into bite-sized pieces making it easier to eat. This also makes the chicken uniform in size to ensure no overcooking. I provided this aerial view of how the chicken was cut up.
    Chinese Cotton Chicken, 棉花雞, Chinese traditional recipe, Chicken recipe, Fish Maw, Goji Berries

    Cut up your chicken in bite-sized pieces. If you don’t have whole chicken available to you, chopping up bite sized pieces of chicken breast or dark meat works as well.

  3. Put the marinade for the chicken together and toss with the chicken pieces. Cover the bowl of chicken and allow to rest in the fridge for at least 45 minutes to an hour. You can let this sit overnight if you like, however I find 45 minutes to be perfect.
    Chinese Cotton Chicken, 棉花雞, Chinese traditional recipe, Chicken recipe, Fish Maw, Goji Berries

    Marinate the chicken, cover and let rest in the fridge until ready to cook.

  4. Start preparing your wok or pot with a steam rack and water and put the burner on high (work quickly because you don’t want it to boil too long with nothing inside). In addition, make sure the water does not exceed the height of the steam rack, otherwise water will get into the dish.
  5. Drain the soaked fish maw and mushrooms and then cut them up. The fish maw needs to be cut up into bite-sized pieces and the mushrooms need to be sliced thinly.
  6. Then, julienne the ginger. Cutting it up into thin slices allows the ginger to be easily eaten in the final dish. If you’re having difficulty using a knife for this, I found a mandolin or a slicer works as well.
    Chinese Cotton Chicken, 棉花雞, Chinese traditional recipe, Chicken recipe, Fish Maw, Goji Berries

    How to julienne ginger, cut the ginger up into thin slices.

    Chinese Cotton Chicken, 棉花雞, Chinese traditional recipe, Chicken recipe, Fish Maw, Goji Berries

    …and then stack the slices together and cut into thin pieces.

  7. Prepare the fish maw marinade and then toss the prepared pieces of fish maw and mushroom in it.
    Chinese Cotton Chicken, 棉花雞, Chinese traditional recipe, Chicken recipe, Fish Maw, Goji Berries

    Prepare the fish maw marinade and get ready to toss it with the fish maw and the mushroom slices.

  8. Take your steaming dish and then layer the seasoned fish maw and mushrooms all over the bottom making sure that it is fully covered.
    Chinese Cotton Chicken, 棉花雞, Chinese traditional recipe, Chicken recipe, Fish Maw, Goji Berries

    Make sure the bottom of your steaming dish is well covered. We prefer using a metal dish to steam it as it conducts heat much better. Glass works just as well, it just takes a bit longer to come up to temperature.

  9. Then layer on the goji berries and ginger pieces.
    Chinese Cotton Chicken, 棉花雞, Chinese traditional recipe, Chicken recipe, Fish Maw, Goji Berries

    Sprinkle your goji berries and ginger pieces.

  10. And then finally, the chicken! You can top with more ginger if you like.
    Chinese Cotton Chicken, 棉花雞, Chinese traditional recipe, Chicken recipe, Fish Maw, Goji Berries

    Layer on your chicken in an even layer on top of the fish maw.

  11. Put the dish into your wok with the water at full boil and cover the pot with a lid. Let the dish steam on medium high heat for 25 minutes or until the chicken is fully cooked.
  12. And it’s finally done! I totally recommend pairing this dish with a bowl of rice.
    Chinese Cotton Chicken, 棉花雞, Chinese traditional recipe, Chicken recipe, Fish Maw, Goji Berries

    A piece of fish maw

The most noteworthy bits of this dish has to be the fish maw. It both prevents the chicken from sticking to the bottom of the pan and acts as a sponge to soak up all of the juices from the cooking process. I hope you enjoyed the recipe and do let me know if you end up making it.

Until we dine again,

– The Piquey Eater

This post is in loving memory of Wayne Chong (1928 – 2017).

Print-Friendly Version

5 from 1 reviews
Chinese Cotton Chicken Recipe 棉花雞
 
Author: 
Recipe type: Main
Cuisine: Chinese
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Cotton Chicken is a traditional dish from the Guangdong area of China. Made with Chicken and Fish Maw, this is a dish packed with a lot of flavour and different textures.
Ingredients
  • 1 whole chicken
  • 2 cups or 2 large pieces of fish maw
  • ¼ cup of Dried Goji Berries
  • 5-6 large shiitake mushrooms or 8-9 small shiitake mushrooms
  • 8-9 thin slices of ginger, add more if desired
  • 2 stalks of green onion
  • 2 sheets of dried fish maw
  • Ingredients for Chicken Marinade
  • 2 tablespoons of Whiskey or Chinese Cooking Wine
  • 1 ½ tablespoons of soy sauce
  • ½ teaspoon of chicken stock powder
  • 2 teaspoons of tapioca starch or cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon of sesame oil
  • ½ teaspoon of salt
  • ½ teaspoon of black pepper
  • Ingredients for Fish Maw Marinade
  • ½ teaspoon of soy sauce
  • ½ teaspoon of sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoon of Whiskey or Chinese Cooking Wine
  • ½ teaspoon of sugar
  • 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil
  • ½ teaspoon of chicken stock powder
Instructions
  1. Either overnight or at least 5-6 hours before the meal, prep the fish maw and dried shiitake mushrooms by soaking it in cold water
  2. To butcher the chicken, you want to cut up the following pieces first - legs and thigh (x2), the breast meat (x2), the wings (x2) and the back. Then, you’ll want to cut up the pieces into relatively smaller pieces making it easier to eat and also uniform in size to make sure no piece overcooks in the process. I provided this aerial view of how the chicken was cut up.
  3. Put the marinade for the chicken together and then toss with the chicken pieces. Cover the bowl of chicken and allow to rest in the fridge for at least 45 minutes to an hour. You can let this sit overnight if you like, however I find 45 minutes to be perfect.
  4. Start preparing your wok or pot with a steam rack and water and put the burner on high. Make sure the water does not exceed the height of the steam rack.
  5. Take the soaked fish maw and mushrooms and cut them up. The fish maw needs to be cut up into bite-sized pieces and the mushrooms need to be sliced thinly.
  6. Then you'll want to julienne the ginger. Cutting it up into thin slices allows the ginger to be easily eaten in the final dish. If you’re having difficulty using a knife for this, I found a mandolin or a slicer works as well.
  7. Prepare the fish maw marinade and then toss the prepared pieces of fish maw and mushroom in it.
  8. Take your steaming dish and layer the fish maw and mushrooms all over the bottom making sure that it is fully covered.
  9. Then layer on the goji berries and ginger pieces.
  10. And then finally, the chicken! You can top with more ginger if you like.
  11. Put the dish into your wok with the water at full boil and cover the pot with a lid. Let the dish steam on medium high heat for 25 minutes or until the chicken is fully cooked.

Nutritional Info

Chinese Cotton Chicken (棉花雞) Nutritional Info 
Servings 6
Calories518
% Daily Value
Total Fat30 g45%
Saturated Fat8 g41%
Monounsaturated Fat1 g
Polyunsaturated Fat1 g
Trans Fat0 g
Cholesterol0 mg
Sodium472 mg20%
Potassium102 mg3%
Total Carbohydrate9 g3%
Dietary Fiber2 g7%
Sugars4 g
Protein49 g
Vitamin A1%
Vitamin C1%
Calcium4%
Iron14%