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Sunday, January 17, 2010

Kung POW Chicken (recipe from NPR)

The original recipe calls for light and dark soy sauce.  After scouring the groceries and finally finding both varieties, I determined that the difference between the two soy sauces is not pronounced enough to warrant the trouble it took to make sure that I had both kinds for the recipe.  Regular soy sauce is fine. 

2 boneless skinless chicken breasts  (about 2/3 pound total)
3 cloves of garlic and an equivalent amount of fresh ginger
5 scallions, white parts only
2 tablespoons peanut oil
a generous handful of dried red chiles (at least 10).  I use Thai chiles.
1 teaspoon whole Sichuan pepper
2/3 cup roasted unsalted peanuts
For the marinade:
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon Shaoxing rice wine or medium-dry sherry
1 1/2 teaspoons potato flour or 2 1/4 teaspoons cornstarch
1 tablespoon water
For the sauce:
3 teaspoons sugar
3/4 teaspoon potato flour or 1 1/8 teaspoons cornstarch
2 teaspoons soy sauce
3 teaspoons Balsamic vinegar (or the fancy black Chinese stuff if you can find it)
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon chicken stock or water

DIRECTIONS:
1. Cut the chicken as evenly as possible* into 1/2-inch strips and then cut these into small cubes. Place in a small bowl and mix in the marinade ingredients.
2. Peel and thinly slice the garlic and ginger, and chop the scallions into chunks as long as their diameter (to match the chicken cubes). Snip the chiles in half or into 2-inch sections. Wearing rubber gloves, discard as many seeds as possible.
3. Combine the sauce ingredients in a small bowl
4. Season the wok, then add 2 tablespoons of oil and heat over a high flame. When the oil is hot but not yet smoking, add the chiles and Sichuan pepper and stir-fry briefly until they are crisp and the oil is spicy and fragrant. Take care not to burn the spices (you can remove the wok from the heat if necessary to prevent overheating).
5. Quickly add the chicken and fry over a high flame, stirring constantly. As soon as the chicken cubes have separated, add the ginger, garlic, and scallions and continue to stir-fry for a few minutes until they are fragrant and the meat is cooked through (test one of the larger pieces to make sure).
6. Give the sauce a stir and add it to the wok, continuing to stir and toss. As soon as the sauce has become thick and shiny, add the peanuts, stir them in, and serve.
Variations
The same dish can be made with cubes of pork, shrimp, or prawns.
Cashew nuts can be used instead of peanuts for a grander version of this dish, although peanuts are more traditional.

*After chomping down on chicken-sized pieces of garlic, scallions, and ginger, I cut the chicken into larger pieces so that it stands out.  I also substituted one coarsely chopped onion for the scallions and thinly sliced the ginger and garlic.  Screw authenticity.   It's pretty, but I like my taste buds more.

 Link to NPR story and original recipe
Adapted from Land of Plenty: Authentic Sichuan Recipes Personally Gathered in the Chinese Province of Sichuan by Fuchsia Dunlop. Copyright (c) 2001 by Fuchsia Dunlop. With permission from the publisher, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.

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