During the month after childbirth while undergoing postpartum confinement (坐月子 zuo yuezi), Taiwanese women must eat special foods designed to restore their health and encourage lactation. Several famous dishes feature prominently, with one of the most popular dishes being sesame chicken (麻油雞, mayouji — literally sesame oil chicken).
Made with liberal doses of sesame oil and rice wine, many women swear by the lactogenic effects of mayouji. Because of this, sesame chicken once featured so heavily in zuo yuezi menus that the diet had a reputation for being bland and repetitious. These days, though, the diet includes a range of many other dishes to provide variety.
My confinement nanny, Mrs Yang, warned that women should not eat this dish too often and ideally it should only be consumed around once a week. Being loaded with sesame oil it is too rich to be consumed in excess and can easily lead to excess weight gain. Also, the dish can cause some women to have sore throats because of the ‘heat’ in the dish. Mrs Yang’s secret is to ameliorate this by adding a small amount of Taiwanese black sugar (brown sugar).
This dish does not require many ingredients and is quite easy to make once you know how. So it is the perfect meal to make for a new mother. Ideally use fresh ingredients rather than frozen.
2 tablespoons sesame oil
Medium knob of ginger, sliced
1/2 chicken, chopped into large pieces
1 teaspoon brown sugar (Taiwanese black sugar)
750 ml Taiwanese rice wine
- Wash the ginger, dry and then cut into slices (keep the ginger skin on).
- Heat the sesame oil in a large wok or saucepan. Add the ginger, and fry until fragrant and almost crisp.
- Add the chicken pieces and allow to brown evenly. Sprinkle on the brown sugar, and then pour the two-thirds of the rice wine over the chicken. Continue to cook for a few minutes until it comes to a boil.
- If using a wok, transfer chicken to a large saucepan. Cover with the remaining rice wine and top with drinking water to cover the chicken. Bring to the boil, the cover and simmer until the chicken is tender (around 40 minutes). Serve hot as a soup, accompanied by rice.