Have you ever tasted the famous Gong Bao/Kung Pao Chicken? I also thought I did before I prepared it on my own, following the instructions from the excellent Sichuan Cookery by Fuchsia Dunlop (I have already mentioned this fantastic book when I posted Steamed Aubergine with Chili Sauce). While reading the ingredient list I already felt something was wrong with all the dishes bearing the same name, previously tasted in Chinese restaurants, but as soon as I took the first mouthful, inhaling an extraordinary aroma, I realised it was my very first Gong Bao Chicken (or at least something extremely close to the genuine Sichuanese specialty).
Gong Bao or Kung Pao takes its name from a XIXth century governor of Sichuan, whose official title was “gong bao”. The name was banned and modified in the communist China until the 80s, when it started to be accepted once more. Apart from the chicken cubes, this famous dish contains chili peppers, spring onions, garlic, ginger, Sichuan peppers and most often toasted peanuts, but according to the author cashew nuts are also encountered. It may seem very simple, but the flavours are very unusual and surprising for someone who knows Chinese cuisine from European restaurants. Two things make Gong Bao unique: Sichuanese peppercorns and the very light sour, sweet and hot sauce prepared with black Chinkiang vinegar.
If you have never tasted it, Sichuan pepper is one of the most magical spices in the world. As its name suggests, it is widely used in Sichuan province, but is not similar to any pepper I know. The peppercorns are very dark red-brown and have a characteristic numbing effect on the tongue (I like to call it “paralysing”). Nothing can substitute them here, so unless you know well and dislike Sichuan peppercorns, don’t skip them while preparing this delicacy for the first time.
I haven’t modified the recipe and only slightly changed the amounts of some ingredients. Just like other recipes from Fuchsia Dunlop’s book, this one proved clearly explained and the proportions perfect. Even reading the introduction and the recipes explanations is a real pleasure.
TIPS: As a big cashew nuts fan I was happy to learn that they are also sometimes used by Sichuanese chefs, but the most frequent version includes peanuts.
Unfortunately I had to substitute Sichuanese chili peppers with Hungarian chili. Both are moderately hot, so I hope it was a good choice.
Preparation: about 20 minutes
Ingredients (serves 2):
2 chicken breasts cut into 1,5 cm cubes
5 spring onions (white parts) cut into 1,5 cm pieces (I have used the white and the very light green parts too)
3 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
3 teaspoons thinly sliced fresh ginger
2 tablespoons oil
minimum 10 dried Sichuanese chilies (I have substituted them with medium hot Hungarian chilies) halved (horizontally)
1 teaspoon Sichuan peppercorns
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons light soy sauce
1 teaspoon Shaoxing wine
1 1/2 teaspoon potato flour
1 tablespoon water
3 teaspoons sugar
3/4 teaspoon potato flour
1 teaspoon dark soy sauce
1 teaspoon light soy sauce
3 teaspoons Chinkiang vinegar (black Chinese vinegar)
1 teaspoon sesame oil
3 tablespoons chicken stock or water
20 -30 toasted peanuts or cashew nuts
Combine the sauce ingredients in a small glass.
Pour the marinade ingredients into a small bowl and combine with the chicken.
Heat the oil in a wok.
Stir fry the chili peppers and whole Sichuan peppercorns until they become crispy, but not burnt (you can reduce the heat or take the wok off the stove for a while).
Add the chicken and when it starts becoming white, add the ginger, the garlic slices and the spring onions.
Stir fry until the chicken pieces are thoroughly cooked.
Pour the sauce, continuously stirring and when it becomes thick, add the peanuts or cashew nuts.