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Today's Case

Old Style Chinese Restaurant Chicken Wings

Re: New England Old School Cantonese chicken wings
From: Brett
Date: 5/5/2020, 6:02 AM

On 5/4/2020 6:10 PM, Brett wrote:

This is going to be a tricky one.

I grew up in Connecticut but have long moved away. Old Chinese/Polynesian restaurants 
used to make delicious chicken wings. They were fried, but not breaded. They almost 
had a lacquered, coppery finish. While moist, they were not saucy. Slightly sticky 
but very very slightly so. I could never home in on what the flavor was. It was its 
own thing.

No Chinese restaurant, even the older ones in Virginia where I now live, sell wings 
that taste anything close. All of the restaurants of my youth that served these—South 
Seas and Canton Restaurant in West Hartford, CT, Town Sun Kitchen in Hartford, CT, 
Hu Ke Lau in Chicopee, MA and Hong Kong, in New Britain, CT are gone. I even asked 
the West Hartford Historical Society if they knew who owned those restaurants in the 
event they remembered the recipe. No dice. A Google search on Chinese Restaurant 
Chicken Wings comes back with all sorts of recipes—perhaps this has regionalized like 
Cashew Chicken—but nothing that resembles this memory.

Can you help?

Hello Brett,

This is reminiscent of searches that I did several years ago for "Boston Chinese Restaurant style egg rolls." A couple of people wanted recipes for egg rolls that they used to get at Chinese restaurants in Boston and that were not like egg rolls served in Chinese restaurants outside of Boston or even inside Boston nowadays. Like you, they gave me a description from memory, but it wasn't much help.

What makes a search like this so difficult is the lack of a specific name, either an English name or a Chinese name, for the wings or for the method of preparation. Your description is quite good from the point of view of a diner, but it doesn't consist of the sort of things that are helpful in identifying and locating a recipe for the wings by someone who is not familiar with them. And the lack of known ingredients stalls any search by that route.

I tried to find something using the restaurant names that you give, which could have been more solid  clues, but I didn't have much success. "Hu Ke Lau" was still in business until April, 2018, but their menus only had "bbq chicken wings" listed, nothing like you describe. "Hong Kong", in New Britain, seems to still be in business to this day, but their menu only says "fried chicken wings", which are probably battered and deep-fried. William Tong, a former Connecticut attorney general, is the son of Chinese immigrants, and his family owned several popular restaurants, including Town Sun Kitchen on Park Road in Hartford and Sam Pan in Wethersfield. You might try to contact him. There were a few brief mentions of the other restaurants, but nothing helpful.

I searched using "old style Chinese Restaurant chicken wings" and "old-fashioned", but no go.

The only thing that I can do is to post this in the hope that one of my readers might be able to provide some additional information.

In our files, I did find the below recipe, in which the wings are fried, but not battered.


Chinese Chicken Wings     

24 chicken wings
3/4 cup soy sauce
3/4 cup dry sherry
1 1/2 teaspoons ginger
3 cloves garlic, crushed
3 tablespoons honey
6 cups vegetable or peanut oil (for frying)

Cut off tips of chicken wings if desired. Place wings into a large Ziploc bag or 
storage container with soy sauce, sherry, ginger, garlic and honey. 
Stir to distribute all ingredients (except oil) and coat the chicken pieces well.
Place in refrigerator overnight, stirring around occasionally to make sure all 
pieces are marinated evenly.

Preheat oil to 360-365°F in a heavy bottom pan.

Drain wings and lower several at a time into hot oil using tongs. Do not overload 
fryer to prevent oil temperature from dropping too much.

Fry until golden brown. Drain on paper towels.
Subject: New England Old School Cantonese chicken wings
From: Brett 
Date: 5/5/2020, 8:47 AM

Hi Phaed:

I knew this was a long shot. But it is always a long shot when you try to capture a 
long lost memory. It was going to be a tall order. I used to cook for a living and yet, 
other than the chicken wing itself, I cannot tell you a single ingredient for that 
preparation. I, too, tried to find old menus. The Hong Kong you found is actually a 
different restaurant with the same name in the same town. A number of years ago I sent 
a family member to order their wings and send me a picture (I have been on this hunt 
for a LONG time) but they were not the same. 

I had forgotten about the Sam Pan. I ate there too. I will reach out to William Tong. 
We have some mutual friends but I don’t know him personally. I sent a note to the 
former owner of the Hu Ke Lau but have not heard back.

I will try the recipe you sent. It seems reminiscent of a recipe called Jar Doo 
chicken wings I recently found which I will be trying that, at least in the posted 
photo, seem close in appearance to what I remember.

Thanks for the help on this!


"Jar Doo" chicken wings have crossed my path as well. See these posts:

Jar Doo Chicken Wings #1

Jar Doo Chicken Wings #2

Korean Chicken Wings

More Jar Doo Chicken Wings


Subject: Old style chinese chicken wings
From: Kelly
Date: 3/16/2023, 1:18 PM
To: Phaedrus 

On 3/16/2023 11:56 AM, Kelly wrote:

Hi Phaedrus,

I just saw your post on this from Brett. I could have written that request 
he made word for word. I’ve been trying to find these chicken wings since 
the restaurant Hong Kong closed. I went to most of the restaurants he 
mentioned, though the Hu Ke Lau was a branch located in Rocky Hill, CT not 
the original chicopee one. If it helps at all, the location/address for 
Hong Kong Restaurant is below. They closed and a storage place moved in. 
To my knowledge the second Hong Kong that is still open wasn’t related to 
the first. Sweet lord I wish you could have found that recipe. 
Thanks for your efforts.


Hello Kelly,

Your email prompted me to do another search today, but I still had no success. I don't see much of any way to find this without a unique name for wings cooked this way (even a Chinese name might help.) or a unique list of ingredients used to make them. Sorry.


Subject: Old style chinese chicken wings
From: Kelly 
Date: 3/16/2023, 2:28 PM
To: Phaedrus 

Thanks for the reply Phaed, my brother and I have gone over this for 
literally decades. Forgive the extremely long email but if this helps 
at all, i’ll be thorough.

 The only ingredients I know for sure are soy sauce and msg. Hong Kong 
never did anything without msg. And I suspect with high certainty that 
sesame oil was an important ingredient, whether in the marinade or 
somehow in the cooking. My searches based on how they looked all come 
up with “soy sauce chicken wings” recipes, which look right but seem 
a little too sticky. Brett was right, they were only very slightly 
sticky to the touch.

There was also a now closed restaurant called Kowloon’s in Southington, CT. 
that had Hong Kong menus in their restaurant (and similar wings) so the 
owner must have been related or who knows what. That made me look up 
Kowloon's and I came up with the following recipe which is pretty close 
to where I landed with my own efforts:
Kowloon's Chinese Chicken Wings

In my own experiments, i tried 1 cup of soy, 1 cup water, quarter cup 
sesame oil and tsp of msg. Its close but not quite there, also close 
to the Kowloon recipe above (they dont use sesame oil). Problem is 
when you deep fry it, it wants to burn quickly from the sugars and soy, 
so the results were off. My air fried versions were closer. That said 
I’ve read in my own searching that gin was a secret to old school 
chinese chicken wings, not sure if it’s true, but it’s an avenue I 
havent gone hard down.

The other major problem is time. Nobody cooks like they used to back 
when we got these. It would have been a heavy oil, maybe peanut they 
were fried in, that was also used for everything else they fried which 
would have added more flavor, plus msg and wherever else to the taste, 
simply from the dirty delicious oil. You cant replicate that.

Maybe Brett had some luck with the politician or old owner of Hu Ke Lau. 
How wonderful that would be. From pics of Hu Ke Laus (MA location) pupu 
platter, you can see the wings under their beef teriyaki sticks and the 
wings looked spot on.

Thanks again for looking,


Hi Kelly,

It's been almost three years since I had any correspondence with Brett, so I just sent him an email asking if he had any success in finding the recipe.

Maybe I'll hear back from him.


On Mar 16, 2023, at 5:36 PM, Phaedrus wrote:


Did you ever have any success finding this recipe? Were you able to contact William Tong? I've had another request for this recipe, so if you were able to get it, please send it to me.


Subject: New England Old School Cantonese chicken wings
From: Brett 
Date: 3/16/2023, 7:55 PM
To: Phaedrus 

I reached out to Tong. His spokesperson responded with this:

>>>Yes! It’s not an exact science. Sorry for the delay. See the rough 
guidelines below:

>>>In a big bowl throw in: dark soy sauce, sesame oil, garlic, salt 
and pepper, white wine and mix. NO MEASUREMENTS eyeball it! Throw in 
your chicken and best if grilled but great baked too!

Honestly,  I don’t think this is correct. There were never any scorch marks 
that would indicate carmelization you would see if grilling or baking.
Thanks Phaed!

I disagree with Brett slightly, baking wouldn't get you scorch marks 
and my own efforts showed air frying got me closer than actual frying. 
But, I still agree they were fried. Mostly likely double fried like a 
lot of chinese restaurants do to get them done quickly and crispy. 
Chinese Restaurant Fried Chicken Wings

What they sent is in line with my own attempts, so I think that’s pretty 
correct, only add in the MSG and some dirty cooking oil. Also, I hadn’t 
used dark soy before either, only a half soy/water mix because it would 
soak overnight. What they sent would be a much faster marinade, which 
makes sense if you have a quick turnover time. 

I’ll give this a shot and let you know.

Again, many thanks!

Re: New England Style Chinese Wings
From: Jason
Date: 12/15/2023, 1:36 PM
To: Phaedrus 

On 12/15/2023 12:55 PM, Jason wrote:


I came across your site some time ago in my quest to replicate 
the same wings mentioned on this page, and recently stumbled 
onto something that might be worth adding.

My recollection of these New England Cantonese style wings was 
that they were extremely tender with a remarkably thin skin vs. a 
"normal" wing.  In other words, they seemed neither fried, nor 
baked in a traditional sense.

So, I have been experimenting.  And I believe I have discovered 
the "secret"...  for lack of a better term, I'd call it "steam braising".

Preparation is simply tossing in a dark soy-based marinade.  
I used  dark soy, light soy, white wine, ginger powder, sesame 
oil and garlic powder.  But the flavor profile can certainly be 
dialed-in better.

The trick is to bake them COVERED, for 90+ minutes at a 
low temp like 325°F. 

This renders out most of the fat from the skin making it 
paper-thin.  The braising also does a great job of infusing 
the marinade throughout the wing.

To serve, they can be popped into a hotter oven or air-fryer 
and finished off -- but not TOO crisp!

Just thought I'd share. :)

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