food for thought

by michelle

sichuan chilli chicken + smashed cucumber salad + peanuts in vinegar

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Sichuan (or Szechuan) pepper from northern China has a unique aroma and flavour with slight lemony overtones which creates a tingling numbness in the mouth that sets the stage for hot spices. This traditional chicken dish demonstrates Ma la (麻辣) literally “numbing and spicy”, a combination of Sichuan pepper and chilli which is common in Sichuan cooking.

szechuan-chilli-chicken

Cut 650g (1½ lbs) of chicken thighs into bite-size pieces. Cut 8-10 spring onions into 5cm (2″) lengths and cut 10 (or less depending on taste) dried red chillies into 2 or 3 pieces each. Mince some ginger. In a small bowl mix ½ a cup of chicken stock, 2 teaspoons of soy sauce, 2 teaspoons of dark soy sauce and 1 tablespoon of Shaoxing wine or dry sherry. Heat some oil in a wok and fry the chillies with 1 teaspoon of Sichuan peppercorns until the chillies are dark brown. Remove and set aside. Briefly fry 1 tablespoon of soy bean paste then add the chicken and the minced ginger and cook until the chicken is nearly cooked through. Add the spring onions and the fried chillies and peppercorns. Pour in the pre-mixed sauce and simmer until the sauce is nearly all gone. To thicken the remainder of the sauce add some cornflour mixed into cold water and cook until thickened. Lastly, add ½ a teaspoon of Chinese brown vinegar. Serve with steamed rice.

For this cucumber salad the cucumbers and spring onions are smashed so that they absorb more flavour.

szechuan-cucumber-salad

Cut 2 small cucumbers into halves lengthways. Turn them skin side up and smash them with the side of a cleaver or heavy knife. You will see that the flesh becomes a little translucent. Cut the cucumbers into 5cm (2″) strips. Sprinkle with 1 teaspoon of salt and set aside for at least 10 minutes. Meanwhile, smash 3 spring onions with your cleaver and cut into 5cm (2″) lengths. Drain the cucumbers, squeezing out any excess liquid. Combine the cucumbers and spring onions and add 4 cloves of garlic, coarsely chopped. For the dressing combine 1 tablespoon of soy sauce, 1 teaspoon of sesame oil, 1 teaspoon of rice wine vinegar, ½ a teaspoon of sugar, ¼ of a teaspoon of ground roasted sichuan peppercorns and 1 teaspoon of hot chilli flakes in oil. If you like spicy food, this last condiment is invaluable for Sichuan cooking and is easily made. Heat ¼ of a cup of peanut oil until very hot. Remove it from the heat and allow it to cool for a minute. Add ¼ of a cup of crushed chilli flakes and when the foaming subsides, ½ a teaspoon of salt. You can also add other spices such as sichuan peppercorns and star anise if you want. It’s now ready to use and will keep for months.

In China peanuts in vinegar are served as a snack with beer or as a side dish with a meal.

peanuts-in-black-vinegar

Use dry-roasted peanuts for this dish, adding some black rice vinegar (available in Asian stores), 1 crushed clove of garlic, some finely sliced spring onion, a pinch of roasted ground sichuan peppercorns, a splash of soy sauce and a little sugar to taste.

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Written by michelle picker

September 14, 2014 at 5:55 am

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