Some of my regular readers don’t eat red meat and have been asking for more recipes using chicken or fish. This Chongqing Ji Rou is especially for you Siobhan and there are more chicken recipes to come.
Chongqing is a mountainous city that lies east of the capital of Sichuan Province, Chengdu. It used to be part of Sichuan Province but is now a separate municipality. It’s one of the so-called “huo lu” furnace cities, like Turpan in Xinjiang Province which I visited with Shan’s family last summer. The response of residents to summer heat and humidity is to eat even more chillies and Sichuan pepper than their neighbours in Chengdu.
According to local lore the Chongqingers look down on the people of Chengdu for being lazy and out-of-date in their eating habits, while the inhabitants of Chengdu regard Chongqing food as coarse and crude and in need of the refining touch of Chengdu chefs. Chongqing Chicken – Chongqing Ji Rou – is a simple dish but what it lacks in complexity it makes up for in colour and flavour.
I had Chongqing Chicken in the China Sichuan restaurant in Dublin a few months back and loved its authentic ma la, hot and numbing flavours. It contained diced chicken pieces seasoned with coarsely ground Sichuan pepper and mixed with chunky cashew nuts and lots of dry and fresh chilli. The large pieces of dried Chinese chilli topped the serving dish and added texture and colour. The dish packed a powerful and delicious punch – just enough chilli heat perfectly balanced by the numbing and addictive Sichuan pepper, the chicken succulent and tender.
Dried Chinese chillies from Sichuan, sometimes known as “facing heaven” chillies because of the way the plants grow, are a lot milder than their more fiery Thai cousins but they are not intended to be eaten. Chinese people pick them up with their chopsticks, suck any sauce that adheres to them and pile the discarded chillies shells in a neat pyramid beside their rice bowl.
I couldn’t find a recipe in any of my Chinese cookbooks so this is my attempt at recreating Chongqing Chicken at home based on what I know of the principles for creating a Sichuan stir-fry that I learnt at Hutong Cuisine in Beijing. The results were pretty close to the original and went down well in our house last night. I could probably have used a little more dark soy sauce to deepen the colour but that’s a matter of taste. I made it with chicken thighs as I prefer the flavour and texture of the meat. It’s a particularly quick and easy dish to prepare.
Shananigans’ Chonqing Ji Rou
- A good handful of cashew nuts
- 2 chicken breasts or 4 chicken thighs
- 1 tbs light soy sauce
- 1 tbs of Shaoxing rice wine
- A pinch of salt
- A thumb sized piece of ginger
- 3 cloves garlic
- 1 tsp of Sichuan pepper finely chopped
- 1 spring onion
- I large fresh green chilli
- A handful of Chinese dried red chillies
- A dash of dark soy sauce
- A dash of Chinese black vinegar
- A pinch of sugar
- Vegetable or groundnut oil
- Roast the cashew nuts on a baking tray in the oven at 180 degrees C or dry fry in a hot wok until golden. This should take no more than 10 minutes but keep an eye on them as it is easy to burn them.
- Meanwhile dice the chicken into small pieces (about 2 cm cubes). Mix first with salt and light soy sauce and then with the rice wine and let rest in a dish while you prepare the other ingredients.
- Finely dice the ginger and garlic.
- Finely chop the Sichuan peppercorns.
- Finely slice the spring onions, separating the white and green parts.
- Finely slice the green chilli.
- Break the dried chillies into pieces about 2 cms long and discard any seeds.
- Heat some oil in the wok to over a medium heat.
- Fry the minced garlic, ginger, spring onion whites and Sichuan pepper for a few moments until they soften and the fragrances are released, being careful not to burn them.
- Increase the heat to high and add in the marinated chicken and stir-fry over high heat until cooked (about 3 minutes).
- Add in the spring onions greens and green chilli and stir-fry until heated through and the fragrance is rising from the pan (you don’t want the green chilli and spring onions to lose their texture).
- Add the dried red chillies and cashew nuts and heat through quickly.
- Add a spash of dark soy sauce and Chinese vinegar to darken the colour and a pinch of sugar to taste.
- Serve with steamed rice.