Citizens, this bright, spicy, herb-laden dish is a specialty of the minority Dai people of Yunnan province in the south of China.
Specifically, Yunnan (Chinese: 云南) is a province of the People’s Republic of China, located in the far southwest of the country.
It spans approximately 394,000 square kilometres (152,000 sq mi) and has a population of 45.7 million (2009). The capital of the province is Kunming and the province borders Vietnam, Laos and Burma.
Yunnan is situated in a mountainous area, with high elevations in the northwest and low elevations in the southeast. Most of the population lives in the eastern part of the province.
In the west, the altitude can vary from the mountain peaks to river valleys as much as 3,000 metres (9,800 ft). Yunnan is rich in natural resources and has the largest diversity of plant life in China. Of the approximately 30,000 species of higher plants in China, Yunnan has perhaps 17,000 or more.
Yunnan is noted for a very high level of ethnic diversity. It has the highest number of ethnic groups among the provinces and autonomous regions in China. Among the country’s 56 recognised ethnic groups, twenty-five are found in Yunnan. Some 38% of the province’s population are in fact members of minorities, among them the Dai people.
Many of the minority peoples of Yunnan traditionally boil a chicken to show respect to their dead. Once the ceremony is finished, they shred the meat and mix it with ginger, garlic, and cilantro to make this dish, also known as Ghost Chicken (鬼鸡, “gui ji”).
The lime and herbs in this recipe, unusual for Chinese cooking, suggests the strong influence of Southeast Asia, which the province borders.
In Yunnan they make this dish with black-skinned chicken and then leave the skin on for extra flavor and color. To approximate that chicken’s flavor, it’s best to use a free-range bird for this recipe.
Citizens, this is a delicious and easy recipe that I urge you to try post haste!
Battle on – The Generalissimo
2 chicken breast halves with skin and bone (1 ½ pounds total)
⅛ – ¼ cup fresh lime juice or more to taste
½ teaspoon Asian chile-bean paste with garlic (preferably Lan Chi)
1 teaspoon red-chile oil, or to taste
1 teaspoon Sichuan peppercorn oil, or to taste
1 teaspoon microplaned fresh ginger
½ teaspoon microplaned garlic
1 ½ teaspoons minced red bell pepper
1 ½ teaspoons thinly sliced green Thai Birdseye chiles
½ teaspoon salt
¾ cup fresh cilantro sprigs, chopped
2 tbsp sawtooth herb (aka culantro or ngò gai), roughly chopped (optional, replace with Cilantro if not using)
2 tbsp Vietnamese fish mint root (Diếp Cá), cut into 1″ pieces (optional, replace with cilantro if not using)
Poach the chicken breasts: put the breasts into a pot with just enough water to cover. Season with a pinch of salt and bring to a boil, then cover the pot with a lid, lower the flame, and simmer for 10 minutes.
Remove the pot from the stove and allow the chicken to continue to sit in the hot liquid another 20 minutes to continue cooking, then set it aside to cool.
Once the chicken breasts have cooled, remove the skin (if any) and discard, then use your fingers to pull the meat into thin strips. (You should have about two cups of meat.) Toss the chicken with the rest of the premixed ingredients.
Taste the chicken, and if the flavor is not strong and piquant, add more lime juice and/or salt as necessary.