One of my more esoteric Christmas presents from my husband was a box full of Chinese food ingredients from Souschef.co.uk. This was not an entirely unexpected gift, we’d spent a whole rainy weekend last summer watching Ken Hom and Ching He Huang’s oddly melancholy but fascinating Exploring China series and were really quite intrigued. I happened to own two of Ching’s books but had never made much due to lacking at least one vital ingredient from each recipe.
The box was full of things that you’re never quite sure what to do with, most of it fermented (black beans, tofu, vegetables) and a little stinky. Having all this stuff in the cupboard though means that it’s pretty easy to pick a recipe and whip it up for a weeknight without requiring highly organised ingredient requisitioning.
So to celebrate Chinese New Year we went for a pretty simple chilli chicken, which, although it sounds like it should be really spicy, comes out more as deeply savoury thanks to the chilli bean paste (also fermented-broad beans and chilli), with a cheeky kick from all the Szechuan peppercorns. The recipe is from Ching He Huang’s Chinese Food in Minutes.
Everything should be scarily hot for stirfrying so all the cooking happens really quickly, this can led to panic and mayhem on my behalf since I’m not always the most prepared of cooks and so for this I’ve taken to getting all the ingredients on a plate in a nineties Delia stylee ready to throw when you need them. There’s a chilli, smushed up in a pestle and mortar, a teaspoon of Szechuan peppercorns and a teaspoon of chilli bean paste. The lime and spring onions need less explanation. You also need some rice wine, light soy sauce and cashew nuts on standby.
First of all marinade your chicken in a water/cornflour mixture, sprinking over half a teaspoon of five-spice powder, the smell of which instantly makes you think of Chinese food. Then heat up a fair bit of oil (at least one tablespoon) until its smoking and cook the chilli ingredients for 30 seconds, throw in the chicken for another 30 seconds then add some a good dash of rice wine and start the stirring bit of your stir-frying. Once the chicken is starting to look done (3 or 4 minutes) add the spring onion and cashew nuts for another minute or so, season with lime juice and soy sauce and it’s done.
Plain boiled rice can be started before you start the chicken. I have got very brave at putting the lid on the pan and trusting that a cup of rice and two cups of water will cook and not stick to the bottom (or come off fairly easily if it does). After cooking it for the amount of time it says on the packet turn the heat off and leave the lid on while everything else is being done, the rice will stay warm and be the right amount of sticky and fluffy.
Since it was a special occasion we also pushed the boat out and had dumplings. These are a massive frozen cheat but great to have in. They only take 8 minutes to boil and go great with the chilli oil out of the ingredients stash (which is getting its own post shortly).
Happy year of the snake!