Sichuan cooking is known for its bold and spicy flavors, with garlic and chile peppers often playing a starring role.
This chicken stir-fry is a less fiery version of General Tso's chicken, a classic Chinese dish that combines cubed chicken with peanuts, Sichuan peppercorns and handfuls of fried chile peppers in a spicy sauce.
There's still a touch of heat in this recipe from "The Shun Lee Cookbook," thanks to some Thai or cayenne pepper. What makes it addictive is the flavorful sauce, made with minced sweet gherkin pickles, sugar, vinegar and soy, with a dash of hot bean paste adding umami. It coats the twice-cooked chicken in a slippery, spicy-sweet glaze that is so good, you may want to double the recipe so you have more than enough.
Cooking tip: Make sure you have all ingredients prepped and ready to go before you start cooking, because once the oil is hot, this dish comes together very quickly. Serve with steamed white rice.
For the chicken:
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 large eggs
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon salt
Vegetable oil, for frying
For the sauce:
1/4 cup minced sweet American pickles
3 tablespoons distilled white vinegar
3 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons rice wine or dry sherry
1 tablespoon fish sauce
2 teaspoons hot bean paste
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 scallion, white and green parts, trimmed and minced
2 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced 1/8 inch thick
1 small hot chile pepper, such as Thai or cayenne, seeded and minced
6 cilantro sprigs, for garnish
Mix the chicken, egg, cornstarch, salt and 1 tablespoon water in a medium bowl. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Heat a large wok over high heat. Add enough oil to come about 1 1/2 inches up the sides of the wok, and heat it to 375 degrees.
In two batches, add chicken pieces to the oil, a few pieces at a time, and stir gently, keeping the pieces separate and cooking until the coating looks set but not browned, about 45 seconds. Using a wide wire-mesh skimmer, transfer the chicken to a colander to drain. Remove any bits of fried chicken or batter from the oil.
Return the chicken to the wok, and deep-fry again until it is golden brown and crispy, about 2 minutes. Discard all but 2 tablespoons of oil from wok.
To begin sauce, mix the pickles, vinegar, sugar, soy sauce wine, fish sauce and hot bean paste in a small bowl. Dissolve the cornstarch in 1 tablespoon cold water in another small bowl. Set bowls aside.
Return wok with oil to high heat. Add the scallion, garlic and chile, and stir-fry until the scallion wilts, about 15 seconds. Return chicken to wok, and add pickle mixture. Stir-fry for 20 seconds. Add cornstarch mixture, and stir-fry until the sauce thickens, about 10 seconds.
Garnish the chicken with cilantro, and serve immediately.
(Recipe from "The Shun Lee Cookbook" by Michael Tong)