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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


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