Gong Bao Chicken

Gong Bao Chicken

A fiery dance of chicken and peanuts, with a kick of dried
chillies and a flourish of Sichuan pepper. Tamer versions
abound, but it’s most tantalising in its authentic form.

The dish is named after Ding Baozhen, a Qing-era bureaucrat whose title was Gong Bao. While Ding was ruling Shandong, he crossed paths with eunuch and rumoured lover of the Empress Dowager, who was forbidden under pain of beheading from leaving Peking. Ding executed the protégé and put his body on display to reveal his castration and save the Empress Dowager’s reputation. Ding became governor of Sichuan, where he is said to have invented the dish.

You’ll need
3 tsp light soy sauce
2 tsp Shaoxing wine
2 chicken breasts, diced into
1cm (½in) cubes

1 tsp dark soy sauce
1 tsp light soy sauce
3 tsp Chinese black vinegar
1 tsp sesame oil
1 tbs water
2 tsp sugar
A pinch of cornflour

12 dried red chillies
4 tbs oil
2 tsp whole Sichuan
3cm (1¼in) piece of fresh
ginger, peeled and thinly
3 cloves of garlic, peeled and
thinly sliced
3 spring onions (scallions), cut
into 2cm (¾in) pieces
⅔ cup plain roasted peanuts

Cooking Method
1 Mix together the light soy sauce and the Shaoxing wine to make the marinade. Pour it over the chicken, toss to coat evenly and marinade for 2 hours.
2 Mix together all the sauce ingredients.
3 Snip off the stems of the chillies. Leave the chillies whole if you want the dish to be really hot. If not, half them and remove the seeds.
4 Pour the oil into a wok or pan. When it is hot add the chillies and Sichuan pepper and stir-fry quickly for a few seconds until fragrant, taking care not to let it burn.
5 Add the chicken and its marinade, ginger, garlic and spring onions, and continue to stirfry until the meat is just cooked.
6 Pour the sauce into the wok or pan, stirring and tossing to coat the ingredients thoroughly. As soon as the sauce becomes thick add the peanuts.
7 Serve immediately.

Tasting notes
The dish is characterised by ma-la or ‘hot and numbing’ spiciness unique to Sichuan. The la (heat) comes from the dried chillies while the aromatic dark-pink Sichuan peppercorns, known as ‘flower pepper’ in Chinese, provide the ma (numbing feeling). It’s the contrast of chicken and peanuts that excites the palate – tender, succulent subtlety versus dry, crunchy roundedness. As you chew, the complex ma-la flavours in the oil are released and build up slowly into a tingling wave of heat. If you like chillies, the seared dried chillies pack a punch. The peppercorns, though deliciously aromatic, are better left alone. The dish is perfect with a bowl of fluffy white rice.

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