Chicken Dinners: Mapo Chicken

Yvonne Ruperti

I know that there are tofu haters out there (if you're looking at this story, you may be one of them). But as much as I love tofu I understand that the texture may not be for everyone, especially the creamy, though somewhat jiggly tofu that is traditional in mapo dofu. So as I was enjoying J. Kenji López-Alt's awesome rendition of mapo dofu the other night (kudos, Kenji!), I felt a little sad that tofu haters might be missing out on the addicting ma-la, or numbing and hot, sensations from the Sichuan peppercorns and hot chilis in this Sichuanese dish. I wondered if chicken would work just as well. Or perhaps I was just looking for another reason to eat Sichuan again.

In any case, and however unorthodox this may be, I give you mapo chicken. I used Kenji's recipe as a guide for my own sauce, which I tweaked a bit to include chicken. There's really no need to marinate here—in the pan, the chicken immediately takes on the intense flavors of roasted chili, Sichuan pepper, Xiaoxing wine, dark soy sauce, garlic, ginger, and fresh green onion. This dish is incredibly fast to make and there's not much prep, making it an ideal weeknight meal.

Though I was looking for the fiery bright red of Kenji's sauce, mine came a bit brown. I'm attributing that to the type of fermented chili bean paste that I had on hand and the more brownish than red homemade chili oil that I had lurking in my fridge (blaming that on the hubby). Even so, the dish turned out well—hearty from the chunks of chicken, incredibly fragrant, burning hot, and, yes, fully mouth numbing. Have plenty of rice on hand so that you can rescue yourself.

In the end I'll stick with tofu, but maybe this dish will help those opposed to it gradually cross the tofu bridge.