Sichuan pepper is a component of five spice powder, a mixture that imparts a distinctive flavour to Cantonese food, particularly duck and beef dishes. It adds a special something to the marinade for this lively chicken dish, adapted from one of Madhur Jaffrey’s excellent recipes in Far Eastern Cookery. Her recipe in turn was an adaptation of an ‘uncommonly good’ Shanghai-style dish served at the Shanghai Club in Hong Kong. In the original version a whole chicken (feet, head and beak included) was opened up at the breastbone, marinated, deep fried, cut up and reassembled to look like a bird. Jaffrey uses the much easier to manage chicken pieces but I’ve simplified things even further by using boneless chicken thighs.
Deep frying is not my favourite pastime, especially in summer months. To speed things up and reduce the amount of oil used I shallow fried the marinated and cornflour-coated chicken pieces in a large frypan. I kept the heat relatively high while cooking the pieces in batches. The crisped chicken then went into the oven on a large metal tray to finish cooking through and keep warm before being doused with the sauce. This worked very well. The sauce is divine. Soy sauce, ketchup (a standard Chinese ingredient!), vinegar and sesame oil are basic but it is the combination with ultra finely chopped vegetables – spring onion, celery, garlic, parsley stems and ginger – which elevates it into something out of the ordinary. A juicy, sweetly fruited pinot like the 2005 ‘Ese would match up with the spiciness of the chicken.
Fried chicken with spring onion sauce8-10 boned chicken thighscornflouroil, peanut or vegetableMarinade: 2.5cm cube ginger, peeled and very finely grated 1 spring onion (white and some green part) very finely sliced into half rounds3 tsp Sichuan peppercorns, dry roasted in a pan until aromatic and rich mahogany in colour, ground2 tbsp Chinese Light Soy Sauce½ tsp sugarPlace the chicken thighs in a large bowl. Spike them here and there with the point of a small sharp knife. Sprinkle over the ginger, spring onion, 2 tsp (generous) ground Sichuan pepper, the soy sauce and sugar. Rub the marinade in well with your hands. Leave the chicken in the fridge to marinate for at least 2 hours.Take the chicken from the marinade and dredge in cornflour. In a large frypan heat the oil. Over moderate to high heat cook the chicken (in batches to avoid overcrowding) for a few minutes each side until they are crispy and nicely brown. Pop on a tray in a moderate oven to cook through for another 8 minutes.Steam or boil a selection of green vegetables. For the Sauce:2 tbsp Chinese Light Soy Sauce2 tsp white wine vinegar4 tbsp chicken stock (not too salty)1 tbsp tomato ketchup3 tsp sesame oil½ tsp sugar3 cloves garlic, very finely chopped2 spring onions (white and green part) very finely sliced into roundshalf stick celery, cut into fine julienne and then cut across into fine dice3-4 long stems flat leaf parsley or coriander, chopped across into tiny pieces2.5cm ginger, peeled, grated and then chopped very fineIn one bowl mix together all the liquid ingredients and sugar. In another bowl mix together all the vegetables and aromatics.
To serve:Place the green vegetables on a platter. Cut the cooked chicken into smaller serving pieces. Arrange these on the vegetables. Mix the two bowls of sauce ingredients together and pour over the warm chicken and vegetables. Serve at once with plain rice.
Michele Round January 2008