I'm afraid I'm becoming addicted to Sichuan peppercorns. Sometimes I skip recipes I know will be good just because I know I want get that numbing fire from each bite. Sure, that means I have to pass by the cuisines from the continent of Europe, all of the Western Hemisphere, and even most of China. But when that numbing obsession hits, I have to follow. This fever only happens occasionally, but then I get a dish like this recipe from Cecilia Chiang's The Seventh Daughter: My Culinary Journey from Beijing to San Francisco and I'm pulled right back in.
There are a lot of things I love about this recipe. The poached chicken is aromatic, tender, and juicy, and the cucumbers provide the perfect crisp crunch. But the sauce is probably the best part. I've actually used it as just a simple dressing for noodles, because it is so complex. Part of what makes it so good is the heavy sprinkling of those Sichuan peppercorns. But the Chinkiang black vinegar plays a big part, too. The vinegar can be a little difficult to track down, but its distinct punch is worth the search.
Note: Sichuan peppercorns are available in many Chinese markets, or can be ordered online from Amazon. When cooking with peppercorns, use the dark red or brown husks, picking out and discarding and twigs, stems, or shiny black seeds. Chinkiang vinegar is a mildly acidic vinegar available in most Chinese markets.
- 1 ½ pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts
- ¼ cup Shaoxing
- 2 green onions, chopped
- 1 inch fresh ginger, chopped
- 2 1/2 teaspoons whole black, white, or Sichuan peppercorns (see note)
- 1 pound cucumbers, peeled
- 3 tablespoons soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon Chinkiang black vinegar (see note)
- 1 tablespoon sesame oil
- 2 teaspoons chili oil
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh cilantro
Place the chicken in a large pot. Add the wine green onions, 3/4 of the ginger, 1 teaspoon of the Sichuan peppercorns, and enough water to cover by 2 inches. Turn heat to high and bring to a boil. Immediately reduce heat to a simmer, cook for 3 1/2 minutes. Cover the pot, turn off the heat, and let sit for 30 minutes. Remove the chicken from the pot and let cool for a few minutes. Then shred the chicken with your fingers.
Quarter the cucumbers and scoop out the seeds. Then chop into 2 inch lengths. Cut these into 1/4-inch thick sticks.
Combine the soy sauce, vinegar, sesame oil, chili oil, the rest of the Sichuan peppercorn, rest of the ginger, garlic, sugar, and cilantro in a blender. Process until smooth.
Scatter the cucumber pieces on a plate. Top with the shredded chicken, and pour on the sauce. Garnish with more cilantro.