This isn't so much dinner as a highly addictive drug. When these little hunks of chicken mix with fiery dried red chiles, Sichuan peppercorns, and chili bean paste, something unleashes in your brain that's one part pleasure and one part glorious pain. I used to have to head down to Chintatown to get my fix, but I've been learning the ways of Sichuan cuisine from Fuchsia Dunlop's Land of Plenty, and this recipe absolutely nails it.
Don't look for perfectly moist hunks of chicken here. They dry out a bit, but that's the point. They'll caramelize and slowly take on the flavors of the chiles. Oddly, the nuggets I forked up the fastest were the slices of celery. These certainly have to be the tastiest bits of celery I've ever encountered.
Though relatively straightforward, this recipe probably looks a little intimidating to the uninitiated. Things like Sichuan peppercorns and chile bean paste are hard to find in regular grocery stores. But there are no real substitutes. Search them out! They cost little, and keep for a long time. Plus you'll be able to whip up something utterly stunning like this in less than 30 minutes.
- 2 celery stalks, outer stems peeled
- 1 pound boneless chicken, chopped into 1-inch chunks
- 3 scallions, ends trimmed
- ¼ cup peanut oil
- 8 dried hot red chiles (preferably Sichuan chiles)
- 1 teaspoon whole Sichuan peppercorns
- 1 ½ tablespoons chili bean paste
- 1 tablespoon Shaoxing rice wine or medium-dry sherry
- 1 teaspoon dark soy sauce
- 2 teaspoons sesame oil
Slice celery at steep angle into ½-inch slices. Set aside and toss with pinch of salt. Slice scallions at steep angle into ½-inch slices. Transfer to same bowl as celery.
Pour oil into large wok set over high heat. When smoking, add chicken. Stir-fry until chicken has lost much of its water, about 5 minutes.
Reduce heat to medium, and add chiles and Sichuan pepper. Cook until fragrant, about 15 seconds. Add chili bean paste, and stir well. Cook until it stains the oil red, about 10 seconds. Add rice wine, dark soy sauce, and ¼ teaspoon of salt. Cook, stirring often, until chicken looks dry and is very fragrant, 10 to 15 minutes.
Add celery and scallions, and stir-fry until just tender, one to two minutes. Turn off heat, pour in sesame oil, and season with salt to taste. Stir well, and serve with white rice.