Gong Bao Ji Ding (Kung Pao Chicken)

There has been one dish remaining for me to cook, on my journey of rediscovery of Chinese cooking. When I posted Sichuan supper, I told you of my love of this dish. Gong Bao Ji Ding is a famous dish from Sichuan. It consists of chicken and peanuts, often with the addition of a green vegetable for colour. It is seasoned with the typical chilli and Sichuan pepper combination, but also has a sweet and sour element to the sauce.

When I was travelling through Sichuan, I was on a budget too tight to eat such things (I existed primarily on a diet of street food and vegetable noodles) but when I was studying at Dalian Maritime University, in the country’s far north east, my friends and I had a favourite diner we called Blue Stairs. It was dubbed thus, because the stairs that led from the footpath (near our apartment building) up to the restaurant were painted blue. If I recall properly, they were Cookie Monster blue. They made all sorts of yummy things there, that I hope to try and recreate successfully as I continue my journey of rediscovery. They made a delicious dish of fried chicken strips that was served with a spicy dipping salt. I loved the way they served sweet corn, the kernels lightly battered then fried crisp, with tiny cubes of red and green capsicum thrown in for colour.

Gong Bao Ji Ding

Gong Bao Ji Ding

Anyway, I used to thoroughly enjoy this dish at Blue Stairs. There, they prepared it with little pieces of cucumber. That’s not a natural pairing for my palate, but it is what I wanted to do when recreating this dish. Considering it retrospectively, I think it’s a great idea, and can see why they did it. The cucumber adds a lovely cooling element to the dish. This was quite notable because in the north of China, I saw the required balance of yin and yang in food would be found in the selection of dishes overall, not in the individual dishes themselves. Other versions of this dish often include a vegetable to add crunch. I have seen, for example, the use of water chestnuts for this purpose, but there is no need for that here, the cucumber serves both these purposes. Of course, it also adds a little colour.

Serves 2-4 (depending on what else you serve it with)

4 chicken thighs
2 teaspoons corn flour
2 centimetre piece ginger, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
1/2 teaspoon Sichuan pepper, ground
1 teaspoon red chilli flakes
2 teaspoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
2 tablespoon Chinese red vinegar
2 teaspoon sugar
2 tablespoons oil
1/4 cup peanuts
2 teaspoons Sichuan peppercorns, additional
1 spring onion, finely sliced
1 cup chicken stock
1 cucumber

Cut the chicken thighs into 2 cm cubes. Combine the chicken cubes, corn flour, ginger, garlic, ground Sichuan pepper, chilli flakes, soy sauce, vinegars and sugar in a bowl and mix. Refrigerate to marinade for at least half an hour. I would advise doing this before you go to work in the morning.

Remove the meat from the fridge. Cut the cucumber in half lengthways, then half again, remove most of the seeds and dice the strips of cucumber into pieces the same size as the chicken.

Heat a large frying pan or wok. When it’s hot, add the oil and quickly toast the peanuts. Remove the peanuts with a slotted spoon and reserve. Add the additional (whole) Sichuan peppercorns to the hot oil and cook til fragrant. Remove the peppercorns and discard, leaving only the pepper flavoured oil in the pan. Add the chicken to the pan and stir fry quickly to brown all over. Add the finley sliced spring onion and then the chicken stock. When the chicken stock starts to reduce, return the peanuts to the pan. Just before you think it’s ready, add the cucumber pieces so they just heat through. When the chicken is coated in a sticky sort of sauce, it is ready to serve.

Serve with steamed rice, and stir fried vegetable dish of your choice. My personal favourite is stir fried garlic shoots.

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