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Coca-Cola chicken – Braised Chinese style chicken with fantastic flavor

Can you imagine how it tastes when a can of Coca-Cola is concentrated into just a few tablespoons? That is what you expect when it comes to Coca-Cola chicken 可乐鸡!

I remember it was a hit in the ’90s in Asia, with a legion of fans, mainly the youngsters. The craze might have subsided, but it is still one of the popular fusion Chinese dishes offers in restaurants.

The idea of using Coca-Cola to braise chicken is not traditional. Some say that it was invented by the Chinese chef abroad due to certain ingredients are hard to get, and using this soft drink to cook is a way to get the approximation of the original flavor. Others say that it is originated from Shandong province when a cook in a restaurant accidentally pours a bottle of Coca-Cola into the chicken. 

Despite the obscure origin, the secret ingredients in Coal-cola match the flavor of the chicken, which eventually evolve into a popular dish among the Chinese household. 

Don’t miss this recipe with some nostalgic feeling in it. Braise the chicken with the Coca-Cola twist!

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Coca-Cola chicken - How to braised chicken to get an unusual flavor
Imagine how it tastes when a can of Coca-Cola is concentrated into just a few tablespoons?
That is what you expect when it comes to Coca-Cola chicken!  Coal-cola matches the flavor of the chicken, which eventually evolve into a popular dish among the Chinese household.

How to prepare Coca-Cola chicken

Coca-Cola chicken is usually prepared with chicken wings, although other cuts are equally suitable.  There are numerous ways to cook it.  I have seen one interpretation is to brine the chicken with Coca-Cola, then coated with batter and deep-fried. In this post, I will explain how to prepare it with the most common method among the Chinese, i.e., to braise the chicken. It involves three steps:

  • Saute the garlic, ginger, and scallion first, just like any other traditional Chinese braising dish.
  • Pan-fried the chicken wings until they turn golden brown to bring out the aroma.
  • Braise the chicken wings with Coca-Cola.

Let’s get into more details.

1. Seasoning for Coca-Cola chicken

You can use drumsticks, wings, or chicken thighs. The chicken pieces are seasoned only with salt and pepper. There is no need to add soy sauce or oyster sauce as we will not marinate the chicken. Braising allows enough time for the chicken to absorb the flavor from the gravy. It is not necessary to marinate the meat.

Here is a brief explanation of each ingredients:

  • Coca-Cola is the main ingredient.  I use one can (12 oz) for one kg of chicken.  You can increase the amount to 1.5 cans to get a more intense flavor.
  • Ginger and scallions help eliminate the unwanted smell of raw meat. 
  • Light soy sauce is another main ingredient apart from Coca-Cola. We use one cup of light sauce to braise one kg of chicken for soy sauce chicken. In this recipe, the amount of light soy sauce is less, as Coca-Cola substitutes the major part of soy sauce.
  • Star anise and cinnamon bark are the choices if you want some spices in the braising liquid.  A small amount of these spices is sufficient, which should not overshadow the taste of Coca-Cola.
  • You can add some dry chili into the braising liquid to make it spicy.  This chicken is a popular item among the kids, and you can leave it out to appeal to everyone in the family.
  • What about adding tomato sauce and BBQ sauce? Since there is no standard way to prepare Coca-Cola chicken, you can add tomato sauce or BBQ sauce into the braising liquid. However, I will omit them, which will turn out closer to the Chinese flavor.

Note: Traditional braise chicken always includes some rock sugar in the recipe. However, since Coca-Cola contains sugar, there is no need to add any sugar to this recipe. The sugar helps to form a thick, glossy sheen on the surface.  That is why you need to use the original Coal-Cola, not Diet Coke or Coke Zero, to prepare this dish. Furthermore, Diet Coke and Coke Zero contain aspartame as the sweetener. Aspartame will break down when heated and therefore is not suitable for cooking.

2. Is it necessary to marinate the chicken?

There is no need to marinate the chicken as it is a redundant step.

The purpose of marinating the chicken is to let the flavor penetrate the interior of the meat. This step is essential for stir-frying and deep-frying since the cooking time is relatively short. However, braising allows the flavor to have sufficient time to penetrate deep into the chicken meat, which makes marinating the meat becomes irrelevant. Furthermore, the braising liquid will eventually reduce to become a thick gravy that coats the surface, adding all the flavor to the chicken. 

3. Pan-fried the chicken until golden

Pan-fry first before braising the chicken.  It creates the aroma due to the heat generated in the pan through the Millard reaction, which does not happen in braising. 

Pan-fried chicken also helps to tighten the skin. As a result, the skin will be moist and waxy and will not detach from the meat during braising.

You can use a well-season cast iron pan or non-stick pan to pan-fry the chicken. I find that both work well.

Coca-Cola chicken - How to braised chicken to get an unusual flavor
Imagine how it tastes when a can of Coca-Cola is concentrated into just a few tablespoons?
That is what you expect when it comes to Coca-Cola chicken!  Coal-cola matches the flavor of the chicken, which eventually evolve into a popular dish among the Chinese household.

4. Braise the chicken low and slow

Braise the chicken is easy. It will turn out juicy and tender as long as you do it patiently. You can reduce the braising liquid faster by using higher heat, but the higher temperature will toughen the meat.  Furthermore, the flavor takes time to penetrate the meat, and therefore there is no reason to hurry up. 

It takes longer to reduce the Coca-Cola to a thick gravy if you use more than one can per kg of chicken.  In this case, remove the chicken pieces from the braising liquid after being tender enough to prevent them from overcooked.  Now you can reduce the braising liquid without the chicken until it thickens. When it becomes thick enough to coat a metal spoon, return the chicken pieces to the pan and glaze them with the thick gravy.

The Coca-Cola chicken tastes better if you leave it for half a day. That is because it allows more time for the flavor to penetrate down to the bone. If you make it in advance, add two tablespoons of water and heat it on the stove to thicken the gravy again before serving.

Note: This recipe is not an endorsement for Coca-Cola! You can use any cola in this recipe.

Other delicious Chinese braised dishes:

Here are some other Chinese braised dishes that you may want to try:

Braised chicken with dried mushrooms recipe is a typical Cantonese home cook recipe. The mushrooms act like a sponge, absorbing the flavor from the spices.

Braised pork belly is prepared with a myriad of aromatic spices and cook over an extended period. The pork is cooked until the fat is gelatinized, and the meat attains the melt in the mouth texture.

Braised tofu with vegetables is an authentic home-cooked dish.  It is usually braised in a clay pot which adds an earthy aroma. If you do not have a clay pot, prepare it in a large pan or the wok.

Yield: 12 pair chicken wings

Coca-Cola chicken

coca cola chicken thumbnail

Coca-Cola chicken - How to braised chicken to get an unusual flavor

Imagine how it tastes when a can of Coca-Cola is concentrated into just a few tablespoons?

That is what you expect when it comes to Coca-Cola chicken!  Coal-cola matches the flavor of the chicken, which eventually evolve into a popular dish among the Chinese household. 

Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Total Time 45 minutes

Ingredients

Instructions

  1. Wash the chicken pieces and pat dry.
  2. Season with salt and ground white pepper.
  3. Heat some oil in a pan over medium heat, pan-fry the chicken pieces until both sides turn to light brown. Remove and set aside.
  4. Heat some oil in the same pan and saute the dried chili, ginger, garlic, scallion, star anise, and cinnamon until aromatic.
  5. Return the browned chicken to the pan.
  6. Add the light soy sauce, dark soy sauce, sesame oil, Shaoxing wine, and Coca-Cola.
  7. Braise the chicken over low heat for twenty minutes (or longer) until the liquid is reduced to a thick sauce. (If the chicken is tender and soft but the braising liquid is not thickened yet, remove the chicken and concentrate the liquid to become a gravy, then return the chicken to the pan and mix with the gravy.)
  8. Dish out. Sprinkle with white sesame seeds and garnish with cut scallion.

Nutrition Information:

Yield:

12

Serving Size:

1

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 295Total Fat: 18gSaturated Fat: 4gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 12gCholesterol: 87mgSodium: 628mgCarbohydrates: 8gFiber: 1gSugar: 4gProtein: 24g

This data was provided and calculated by Nutritionix on 6/12/2021

KP Kwan

Sunday 13th of June 2021

Hi, this is KP Kwan. I am happy to see you in this comment area as you have read through my recipe. I am pleased to reply to any questions and comments as soon as possible.

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