Mandarin Chicken Without a Hat

Let’s get some things straight. Some mandarins are oranges, but not all oranges are mandarins. All tangerines are mandarins, but not all mandarins are tangerines. Mandarins are called oranges because of their color, but not the color of the fruit. Enough riddles? Wrap you head around them as you watch this incredible dance.

When the first English speaking people came to China, during the Ming and Qing empires, they had to deal with government bureaucrats, high officials, who used a common language based on one of the Northern dialects. Jesuit missionaries, who learned this language in sixteenth century, called it “the language of high officials.” The word for a high official, or a minister, in Sanskrit, was “mantrin,” which in Portuguese became “mandarim,” and in English transformed into “mandarin.”  I hope you are clear about the word, but what about the fruit? And what about my poor chicken? What happened to its hat?


The intricate embroidery on this antique silk robe is not just fancy decoration. The high officials – “mandarins” for the foreigners – wore these elaborate garments to indicate their ranks. This one is a “twelve-symbol” robe; apparently it used to belong to a pretty big shot. The color of the garment was also important, and since the imperial clerks who came in contact with the English were mainly of the “orange rank,” the slightly smaller and sweeter version of oranges grown in China became known as mandarin oranges. Just to clear things up, tangerines came to Europe way later, in 1800’s, by way of Tangier, thus the name, and clementines (our favorite seedless ones) altogether were created about 100 years ago by a French missionary in Algeria whose name was Marie-Clement Rodier (  Of all of them, mandarin oranges are still the sweetest.


Hats, necklaces, and badges were all parts of the “uniform” that signified nuances of ranks and positions. An Imperial Court official would no more appear in public without a hat than without a head. In fact, he would likely end up without his head, if he ever committed such an indiscretion.  I think this is exactly what happened to my poor chicken who came to me without a head, thus without a hat. It was such a pitiful sight that I had to dress it in an orange robe!

man org chkn 1.jpg

To be truthful, I’ve been getting ready for a while, collecting mandarin orange peels and air-drying them. Once I had a decent amount, I pulverized this mess in a food processor and added some sweet red wine. Then I let it soak for a couple of hours, to absorb the liquid.

man org chkn 3.jpg

You have to “embroider the orange robe,” so you season your softened crushed orange peels with curry, coriander, yellow mustard seeds, and, of course, salt and pepper. Get your bay leaves ready – that’s your official badge of rank.

man org chkn 2.jpg

Mix it all up and put aside. If if’s not soft enough, you might want to add some more wine.

man org chkn 4.jpg

Meanwhile, your “necklace” should be ready to bestow upon the chicken. It consists of sweet potatoes – also orange!, garlic head with the top cut off, a quartered onion, some celery stalks, and grated ginger. And, of course, the main ingredient – mandarin orange!

man org chkn 5.jpg

Put your chicken down into a pan, but first pour a little wine and squeeze your mandarin orange juice on the bottom. Make it nice for the poor chicken; it had lost its head already, so have pity on it! Cover it with the seasoned orange peel mass by pressing it lightly to make sure “the robe” stays put.

man org chkn 6.jpg

Now for the final touches, necklace and badge. Stuff onion quarters, celery sticks, ginger, and squeezed out mandarin orange halves inside and surround your chicken with cubed sweet potatoes and the garlic head. Throw a few bay leaves around, mist sweet potatoes with olive oil, cover the whole thing tightly and bake at 350 F for two hours. You’ll have to baste it a few times in the interim. Raise temperature to 425 F, uncover it, and bake for about thirty more minutes, until “the robe” is burnt orange color.


I am not sure whether my Mandarin Chicken has ever achieved a status of a high-ranking official; after all, it still lacked a hat and a head to put it on, but the fruity and spicy aroma wafted through to the hallway. It looked and tasted spectacular, especially paired up with a dry, but slightly fruity Chilean Terra Vega Cabernet Sauvignon.


  • 1 whole chicken
  • 1 cup dried crushed mandarin orange peels
  • 3/4 cup sweet red wine or more, if needed
  • 1 mandarin orange
  • 1 small white onion
  • 1 garlic head
  • 2 large sweet potatoes, unpeeled
  • 2 celery stalks
  • 1 teaspoon grated ginger
  • 4 – 5 bay leaves
  • 1/2 teaspoon curry powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon coriander powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon yellow mustard seeds
  • Salt and pepper to taste


  • Pulse dry mandarin orange peels in food processor or crush by hand. Add 1/2 cup of wine, mix, put aside for 2 hours. If not soft enough after 2 hours, add more wine. Add curry, coriander, mustard seeds, salt and pepper. Mix thoroughly.
  • Wash and cube sweet potatoes. Cut celery stalks into 2-inch sticks. Peel and quarter onion. Cut the top off garlic head.
  • Preheat oven to 350 F. Pour remaining wine on the bottom of deep pan. Cut mandarin orange in half, extract seeds, squeeze juice on the bottom of pan. Reserve squeezed out shells.
  • Place chicken into the pan, cover with seasoned orange peel mass pressing lightly. Make sure to cover it completely, including legs and wings.
  • Stuff quartered onion, celery sticks, grated ginger, and squeezed out mandarin orange halves inside the chicken. Place sweet potato cubes, garlic head and bay leaves around the chicken. Mist sweet potatoes with olive oil. Cover tightly.
  • Bake at 350 F for 2 hours. Baste 3 – 4 times. Raise temperature to 425 F, uncover, bake for 30 minutes or until burnt orange color develops.






57 Comments Add yours

  1. grazie sembra incredibile. La salute nelle tue mani

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Grazie mille, io sono così contento che ti piaccia!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Buon giorno, quindi 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

  3. la vostra buona notte poi

    Liked by 3 people

  4. randyjw says:

    You are so funny! I love the story/research and the accompanying photos, especially the Chinese costume.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. I am from Odessa – we are all funny!

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Apparently Jules Feiffer picked up on that too. One of the segments in Feiffer’s People is a monologue of a girl trying to convince an unseen person, repeating as she tries to garner sympathy, “But I walked . . . all the way from Odessa.” (it plays much funnier than it seems from my comment, btw)

        I remember that bit and repeat it silently whenever I’m talking to people who seem intractable.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. I’ve heard of Feiffer’s People, but have not seen it. Walking all the way from Odessa is an interesting proposition, but out of context, I don’t know what it has to do with intractable people. i guess I have to read the play, since I don’t have a chance to see it.

        Liked by 2 people

      3. It’s been decades for me, but if I’m remembering correctly she arrived too late for an audition and was trying to convince them to hear her anyway.

        I saw it first in a Barn Dinner Theatre production in Nashville, back in my sho-biz days – mostly because a few of my friends were in the cast. Several cast members went on to become Broadway notables, btw.

        5 time Tony nominee Cherry Jones played the “Odessa” part, and she was hysterically unforgettable. Her comic timing was impeccable.

        Liked by 2 people

      4. Ah, now it makes sense. You and I have more in common than you think, although my “sho-biz” days were in TV writing and production.


  5. Karen says:

    Looks scrumptious

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you Karen, I am glad you like it!


  6. I love the stories that you include with your recipes. Well done and thank you for sharing. :o)

    Liked by 3 people

  7. susieshy45 says:

    Loved your post, Dolly and the Chinese ( mandarin) connection. I never imagined Mandarin was derived from Mantri ( minister) in Indian. New knowledge gained for today.
    Am sure the chicken was delicious and a good time was had by all, except the poor headless chicken.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you dear Susie, I love your sense of humor! I choose to believe that the chicken was honored to be promoted to an “orange rank.”

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Sumith says:

    Love the way you mix stories and your recipes! This really spice up the read!! Thanks for sharing these beautiful posts Dolly😍

    Liked by 3 people

      1. Sumith says:

        😊:-) you are very welcome my dear friend.

        Liked by 1 person

  9. PriyaPandian says:

    This Mandarin chicken has definitely achieved the status of a higher ranked official 👏👍 Looks delicious and good read about ‘mandarin’ Dolly 😊😃

    Liked by 3 people

    1. LOL Thank you dear Priya!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. feistyfroggy says:

        Hi! I know you have been nominated for awards in the past and may not want to participate, but I have nominated your blog for the One Lovely Blog Award. You truly have a great blog. Not only do I enjoy all of the recipes you share, but I’m amazed at the types and amount of history you share. Please do not feel obligated to participate if you don’t want to, but I still wanted to nominate you to help drive some web traffic your direction.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Thank you so much for thinking of me and for all the compliments! I feel both honored and humbled. I’ll see if I have time to participate, but if I don’t, I hope you don’t take offence!

        Liked by 1 person

      3. feistyfroggy says:

        Nope…I won’t be offended at all. But hopefully you will get more site traffic.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. I realize that, and thank you again. I will probably address several awards in one post.

        Liked by 1 person

  10. Elizabeth says:

    Oh my gosh! I could practically smell that chicken! Time for me to start gathering mandarin orange peels!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you! My husband claimed that he had smelled it as soon as he parked and got out of the car. He also suggested that since clementines are not as sweet, yet he prefers them because they are seedless, perhaps they could be used instead of mandarins, with some agave mixed in. I’ll give it a try next time.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Elizabeth says:

        I’m going to ask Pete to save all the mandarin skins because their kids eat a lot of them!

        Liked by 2 people

  11. Balvinder says:

    Haha, Love to know about the mandarin and the use of peels in this wonderful chicken dish.
    Happy New year!

    Liked by 3 people

  12. So creative and ho doubt very tasty! 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you so much, Ronit!

      Liked by 1 person

  13. This is an excellent story!!
    And I love the color of the chix’s robe!!
    I can just imagine the sweetness now!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Go beyond imagination and make it!

      Liked by 2 people

  14. crazykatya says:

    This was so wonderful! Can’t wait to try some new chicken and now I will never look at mandarin oranges without thinking of this history lesson of yours! 😉

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you so much dear! I am glad you like it!

      Liked by 1 person

  15. Awesome dance indeed! Such amazing precision – let’s see the Rockettes try to top THAT!

    It brings to mind the early Busby Berkeley choreography (albeit in a more hypnotically calming fashion). I imagine the white costumed figures help immensely in keeping everybody on the count during the parts of the music that don’t have an easily identifiable beat, but what a responsibility!

    I really love the fascinating way you always begin your food posts (the most original on the web, IMHO).
    (Madelyn Griffith-Haynie – ADDandSoMuchMore dot com)
    – ADD Coach Training Field founder; ADD Coaching co-founder –
    “It takes a village to transform a world!”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much! I think folk music and folk dance of any culture are rich, each in its own way. I, for one, am endlessly fascinated by them. By the same token, food to me is part of the same fabric of history and culture. I don’t do it on purpose, i simply feel it like that.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Whatever your reason, it is always a delight to read.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Most welcome – and most deserved.

        Liked by 1 person

  16. reocochran says:

    This was such a fun, informative and delicious post! Smiles, Robin

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much, Robin! I am glad you like it.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for reblogging!


  17. Simply wonderful. Thank you

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you dear! I am so glad you like my recipes!

      Liked by 1 person

  18. This looks and sounds delicious!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, dear Cathy, I am so glad you like it!

      Liked by 1 person

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