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Recipe: Chicken dish tames usual Sichuan fire

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.

CHENGDU CHICKEN

“The Shun Lee Cookbook” by Michael Tong

  • 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • Vegetable oil, for frying
  • >> Sauce:
  • 1/4 cup minced sweet 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 chile-bean paste
  • 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
  • 1 teaspoon cornstarch dissolved in 1 tablespoon water
  • 6 cilantro sprigs, for garnish

Mix chicken, egg, cornstarch, salt and water in a medium bowl. Cover and refrigerate 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 2 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 chicken to a colander to drain. Remove any bits of fried chicken or batter from the oil.

Return 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 make sauce: Mix pickles, vinegar, sugar, soy sauce, wine, fish sauce and hot bean paste in a small bowl. Set aside.

Return wok with oil to high heat. Add scallion, garlic and chile; stir-fry until 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 sauce thickens, about 10 seconds.

Garnish with cilantro, and serve immediately. Serves 3 to 4 as a main dish with steamed rice or 4 to 6 as part of a multicourse meal.

>> Cooking tip: Make sure all ingredients are prepped and ready before you start cooking, because once the oil is hot, this dish comes together very quickly.

Nutritional information unavailable.

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