Sunday, November 13, 2011

Gong Bao Ji Ding 宮保雞丁 (aka Kung Pao Chicken)

Have you had any Sichuan (Szechuan) cuisine? There's a distinctive type of spiciness in the dishes--a numbing spiciness, 麻辣 mala in Mandarin. This numbing spiciness comes from the Sichuan Peppercorn and can't be substituted for (look for it in your local Chinese/ethnic grocery store). Since learning of Sichuan Peppercorns, I'd been curious to play with them and finally got my hands on a package of them earlier this fall. They really add a unique kick to your dish!

I tried adding them to my mapo doufu and in my two recent attempts at gongbao jiding. The peppercorn shells are what you work with, and indeed, the bag I bought seemed to mostly only have shells with a couple stray seeds that weren't removed. I found that while adding them whole to your dish is okay, the shells are texturally distracting that way, and it'd probably be best to grind them down somewhat. Trying to smash them with the flat of my chef's knife was a little awkward in that the shell fragments would sometimes go flying out sideways. This means I'm thinking of picking up a smallish mortar and pestle...I could use it for grinding other whole spices, too.

For this gongbao jiding, I followed John Sinclair's recipe here at Traditional Chinese Recipes blog. I think he did a good job. I think my dried chilis are smaller than his, though, as I definitely had to use 8 in his 4-8 range, and mine barely needed sectioning into 1" pieces. Maybe one cut. And I definitely had to double the Sichuan Peppercorn amount to 1 tsp. I could even have gone for more. I also handle spiciness pretty well, though.

Another thing is that he's a little vague about some things. The exact proportions of the marinade for the chicken he's vague about because, as he notes in a separate technique page, the precise proportions aren't important. The slurry he also doesn't specify, but generally it's a 1:2 ratio corn starch:water or stock, separate from the chicken stock called for in the recipe. The rendition pictured here was 1 TBS starch with 2 TBS water, which worked pretty well, but I think less slurry would be good, too.

Ah, and of course, I omitted nuts of any sort. Ya know.

[Bonus Explanation]
By the way, the 'K' and 'P' in "kung pao" are actually meant to represent a 'G' and 'B' sound, respectively. It's just that they used the really terrible Wade-Giles system of romanization for Chinese. If you wanted the hard 'K' and 'P' sounds in Wade-Giles, you'd need to add apostrophes after the letters like so: "k'ung" and "p'ao".

--- Wok Update ---

Check it out! The seasoning is really dense in the areas cooked on. Compare to when I first got my wok. While functionally, I don't need the upper rim to have a carbonized seasoning, I may just work at deliberately seasoning it just to make the color uniform..

[update: And now see my wok seasoned all the way to the edges.]

1 comment:

  1. The Sichuan peppercorn definitely has no substitute - I'm glad you were able to get your hands on some! I've never found their flavor in anything else. The peppercorns can be hard to work with. Usually I run them through a coffee grinder, which, due to the nature of the peppercorn, tends to just crush them into flat pieces - although, this method at least sounds easier than thwacking them with a knife!

    Delicious-looking kung pao! I may have to pull out that recipe again! (So much better than Amherst's version, hehe ;) )