kung pao chicken
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When a western person cooks an Asian stir fry at home, there are two possible sauce protocols. Most commonly, they’ll push their chicken and veg around the wok and then empty a Blue Dragon or Lee Kum sachet over it. The other protocol, with a more ambitious individual, will be a haphazard combination of soy, oyster, black bean and plum sauce plus a spoonful of that stuff bought on the last trip to the Chinese supermarket; the English label’s come unstuck so the devil knows what it is; the result is either inedible or bland de bland.
I wish I could spend some time living in San Francisco only for the takeaways from Chinatown – I’d be too baffled in People’s Republic itself, hence a safe but reputable option. What little I have tasted from Chinatown there was a few leagues above many London places in terms of flavour and character. Maybe it has to be dog meat with lashings of MGS? Just joking.
I was inordinately pleased with this dish because – all hail! – it tasted different, better and more decisively oriental. I’m no expert, obviously, but the sauce made perfect harmony with the small diced chicken and the many, many, frighteningly many peanuts.
Reviewing, I upped spring onions vs. the original simply because they look nice in the brownish sauce. Dried chilies and Sichuan peppers are my favourite heat explosion; make sure you stand back when they land in the hot wok. I’m tempted to try salted peanuts next time because the salt content was the only factor I felt wanting. The peanuts may or may not be toasted – I did but admit they can well go in pale. But man, watch it cause they do make the dish as monstrously calorific as it is tasty!
kung pao chickenServings: 2Time: about half an hour
- 2 boneless skinless chicken breast fillets (about 150g each)
- 1 tsp Shaoxing wine or dry sherry
- 2 tsp light soy sauce
- 2 tsp cornflour
- 1 egg white
- ½ tsp fine sea salt
- 1 tbsp. sesame oil
- For the sauce:
- ½ tsp cornflour
- 1 tbsp. honey
- 2 tbsp. brown rice (or balsamic) vinegar
- 1 tbsp. Shaoxing wine or dry sherry
- 2 tsp dark soy sauce
- ½ cup water
- For the stir fry:
- 6 - 10 small dried red chilies
- 1 tsp Sichuan peppercorns, lightly crushed
- 3 tbsp. vegetable oil
- 4 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
- 2cm (1in) piece of fresh ginger, peeled and cut into fine matchsticks or grated
- 8 spring onions, white and pale green part only, chopped into 1cm (½ in) pieces
- 100g (½ cup) roasted unsalted peanuts, lightly toasted
1. Cut the chicken into 1cm (½ in) cubes. Stir the cornflour with the Shaoxing wine, soy sauce and egg white in a bowl, add the chicken pieces and toss well to coat. Set aside.
2. For the sauce, mix the cornflour with a little water and add the honey, vinegar, Shaoxing wine and soy sauce. Set aside.
3. Snip the chillies into pieces over a paper towel with scissors, shake off and discard the seeds. Lightly crush the Sichuan peppercorns with a flat of the knife.
4. Heat the oil in the wok over high heat until smoking. Add the chillies and peppercorns and stir for a few seconds only (stand back as the fumes are released). Add the chicken pieces; let them sit for 10 seconds without stirring, then turn the heat slightly down and stir fry until the chicken pieces are coloured and no longer pink; about 1 minute.
5. Add the garlic and ginger and stir fry for half a minute. Add the spring onions and peanuts and stir fry briefly.
6. Pour in the sauce ingredients and stir fry, adding as much water as needed little by little until everything is coated and the sauce has thickened.
7. Let it rest over very low heat for a minute, then serve with plain boiled rice.