Dinner Tonight: Numbing-and-Hot Chicken (Ma La Zi Ji)

[Photographs: Nick Kindelsperger]

Chinese cuisine is one I've been flirting with now for a few months. But with a copy of Revolutionary Chinese by Fuchsia Dunlop, I felt confident to move beyond the standard take-out fare and see what else I could do.

The book focuses on the Hunan region, and nearly every recipe looked incredible, but I finally settled on Numbing-and-Hot Chicken, which gets its flavor from the combination of Sichuan peppers (numbing) and chiles (hot). I figured I might as well go all out.

The oddest step in this recipe is the double frying method. Now, as I learned from Chichi, a common stir-fry trick is to fry the meat quickly first (or "pass through") and only then stir-fry it. This technique fries the chicken for 30 seconds, removes it from the oil, then fries it a second time for longer. Only after all that is the chicken ready to stir-fry.

I'm not exactly sure why—again, this is one of my first attempts at serious Chinese cooking—but the results are hard to argue with. The chicken turns into little crunchy clusters and takes on a wonderful aroma from the marinade and sauce.

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Dinner Tonight: Numbing-and-Hot Chicken (Ma La Zi Ji)

About This Recipe

Yield:3 to 4

Ingredients

  • 12 ounces boneless chicken thighs, chopped into bite-sized pieces
  • 1/2 red bell pepper, stemmed, seeded, and chopped into bite-sized pieces
  • 1 fresh red chili or serrano, stemmed, seeded, and chopped into bite-sized pieces
  • 3 scallions, white parts only, thinly sliced
  • 1 teaspoon Sichuan pepper, ground
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 1 1/4 cups peanut oil
  • 1 tablespoon Shaoxing wine (or dry sherry)
  • 2 tablespoon light soy sauce
  • 1/4 teaspoon dark soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon of potato flour
  • 1 tablespoon rice vinegar

Procedures

  1. 1

    In a bowl, whisk together the Shaoxing wine, 1 tablespoon light soy sauce, dark soy sauce, 1 tablespoon potato flour, and 1 tablespoon cold water. Add the chicken to the marinade. Stir well and set aside while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.

  2. 2

    In a second bowl, combine the bell pepper, chile, scallions, and ground Sichuan pepper in a bowl.

  3. 3

    In a third bowl, make the sauce. Whisk together 1 tablespoon light soy sauce, rice vinegar, 1/2 teaspoon potato flour, and 3 tablespoons water.

  4. 4

    Pour the peanut oil into a pot over high heat. Bring the temperature up to 375°F, then toss in the chicken. Cook for 30 seconds, then remove with a slotted spoon. Wait for the oil to come back up to 375°F then add the chicken back in. This time cook until the chicken is golden browned, about 3 to 5 minutes. Remove the pieces with a slotted spoon and set aside.

  5. 5

    Transfer 3 tablespoons of the frying oil to a wok or large sauté pan. Turn the heat to high. When really hot, add the bowl of peppers and chiles. Cook, stirring often, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the chicken and sauce from the third bowl. Cook, stirring often, until the sauce has thickened. Transfer to a plate, and drizzle with the sesame oil. Serve.

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