Citizens, as you have probably noticed in the year of my writing TFD, I am extremely fond of powerful flavors. It should come as no surprise then that Sichuan cuisine remains one of my foremost touchstones when it comes to sharing recipes!
A dish that I am extremely partial to in the Sichuan canon is “Mouth-watering chicken” or 口水鸡 (Kǒushuǐ jī) which is a must-have on any Sichuan restaurant menu and a regular cold dish on the dining tables of almost every family in Sichuan. I first discovered it on the dim sum cart at my go-to high-end Chinese restaurant here in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Its combination of heat and a unique “numbing” effect from Sichuan peppercorns is utterly addictive, and since it is served cold it’s also ideal for parties or an impromptu snack from the fridge. Also, its techniques of boiling, poaching and ice chilling the chicken meat results in a silken texture that is unequalled!
I found this fantastic description of the dish on theworldofchinese.com:
The 27-year-old chef at the 1949 restaurant, Fan Gang, recommends the “three-yellow chicken” or 三黄鸡 (Sānhuángjī) for the main ingredient.
You don’t have to look far for this particular type of chicken. With its yellow beak, feet, and feathers, they are the most common type of chicken in China. Raised free-range on hillsides, the three-yellow chicken is famous for its tenderness, fresh flavor, and nutritional value.
The heavy use of chili oil, made by frying chili in rapeseed oil, gives the dish a savory and spicy taste. You can also grab a bottle of such oil from any supermarket shelf in China.
Chili was only recently introduced to China from South America the late 16th century. Slowly working its way inland from the southeast coast along the Yangtze River, the spice was welcomed by people in Sichuan, Hunan, Hubei, and Guizhou.
By 1800, chili was widely planted in those areas, incorporated as an essential part of the local diet.
However, Sichuan people, in particular, have a long tradition of enjoying strong flavors. According to the Chronicles of Huayang (《华阳国志》Huá yáng guózhì), the fourth century gazetteer focusing on the southwest areas of ancient China, early residents of Sichuan “celebrated flavors and loved pungent tastes” (尚滋味，好辛香 Shàng zīwèi, hǎo xīn xiāng). During that time, these pungent tastes referred to the tastes of scallion and onion.
The later arrival of chili seemed to fit right in with this long-standing tradition. Today, in Sichuan, chili is called 海椒 (Hǎijiāo, pepper from overseas), instead of 辣椒 (Làjiāo, hot pepper), used everywhere else in China.
The success of “mouth-watering chicken” relies on another critical ingredient—prickly ash seeds, or Sichuan peppercorns (花椒 Huājiāo).
The combined taste from chili and peppercorns is known as 麻 辣 (Málà, tingling spicy). Normally, the peppercorn seeds are collected and baked to brownish-red. When kept green, the peppercorn seeds are referred to as 藤椒 (Téng jiāo) which can be made into another flavored oil: green peppercorn oil. Again, you can find a bottle in Chinese supermarkets.
The heavy use of chili and peppercorns in Sichuan cuisine is a result of the unique local environment, where the moisture is retained in the basin areas of the province. TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) maintains that the moisture also seeps into the human body, resulting in dampness and coldness.
Citizens, my version of this classic dish will have your tastebuds singing praises to the Highest with joy – try it and see for yourself! 🙂 I have made one optional change to the canonical recipe – I’ve added diced thousand year old eggs as I find them to be a wonderful flavor and textual enhancer to the final product. Omit them for the classic recipe.
Battle on – The Generalissimo
2 pounds chicken breasts or thighs (skin-on, bone-in)
1 tablespoon Shaoxing rice wine or dry sherry
2 scallions, chopped into lengths
2 tablespoons grated ginger
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 slices of ginger
2 star anise
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
4-6 dried chili pepper
2 bay leaves
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 ½ teaspoon Sichuan peppercorns, ground into powder
1 teaspoon Chinese five spice powder
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
Other ingredients for the Sauce:
5 tablespoons Sichuan chili oil
1 tablespoon Sichuan pepper oil – (Chinese: 花椒油, marketed as either “Sichuan pepper oil”, “prickly ash oil”, or “huajiao oil”) – I use only the top-quality green oil, which you can buy on Amazon here
2 tablespoons black Zhenjiang (Chinkiang) vinegar – again, TFD uses only the finest, 6 year aged version of this vinegar – you can buy it on Amazon here
1 tablespoon sesame oil, Kadoya brand preferred
2 tablespoon Shaoxing rice wine
½ teaspoon sugar
pinch of salt
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 garlic cloves, smashed
½ tablespoon minced green onion
3 “thousand year old” duck eggs, chopped (optional)
White sesame seeds
Sichuan chili oil:
In a small bowl, mix chili powder, Sichuan peppercorn, five spice powder and sesame seeds.
In a pan, add bay leaves, ginger slices, star anise, Sichuan peppercorn and dry red peppers, pour in around 1 cup of oil and heat until really hot. Discard all the spices and leave the oil only.
Pour the hot oil directly to the powder mixture in the small bowl. Set the Sichuan chili oil aside.
Prepare the chicken:
In a large pot, add the chicken, green onions, ginger and Shaoxing wine. Then pour in enough water to cover the chicken.
Bring to a boil over medium heat and cook for 8 minutes. Turn off the heat, cover the lid and let the chicken cook for 20 minutes more.
In a large bowl big enough to hold the chicken pieces, prepare iced water. Transfer the chicken to the ice water bath and soak it for at least one hour, turning the pieces over several times during the process until the chicken is completely cooled down and adding more ice as needed. Cut into chunks and put the pieces in the serving bowl.
Mix all sauce ingredients together – reserve the extra, remaining chili oil for another recipe or use.
Toast peanuts and white sesame seeds in a hot pan until the aroma is strong and then crush them with a rolling pin or crusher.
Pour the sauce over the chicken and garnish with toasted crushed peanuts, the optional chopped thousand year eggs and sesame seeds.