I had been meaning to update this recipe for a while. Whenever I teach Intro to Sichuan cooking classes, we focus on simple and easy-to-love stir-fry dishes such as Kung Pao Chicken, Mapo Tofu, and Dan Dan Noodles. But anyone who has spent enough time in good Sichuan restaurants is bound to eventually try a dish listed as Chongqing chicken, Sichuan chicken with chilis, wok-fried chicken, or a number of similar names. (Lazi jiding is the name in Mandarin.) And inevitably in every class, when I go around the room during the intro ice-breaker and have students list their favorite Sichuan dish of all time, at least one or two will mention this dish.
When a student in a private class I recently taught requested we work on this dish, it reminded me of how long it has been since I made it at home. And so I decided to update this, making it extra crunchy with the method I developed for dishes like General Tso's Chicken and Chinese Lemon Chicken in my cookbook.
Lazi jiding (辣子鸡丁) is like a more sophisticated version of kung pao chicken. It's smokier, spicier (a lot spicier if you chop up the chilis), and only a bit more complex in its preparation. (The way I make it is more like shallow-frying. I use about 3 cups of oil, and dredge the chicken in a cornstarch-salt-pepper mixture beforehand.) Few fried chicken entrees are enveloped by such a succulent tongue-tingling sauce.
Give this one a try, especially if you've already tried your hand at some of the more basic Sichuan dishes and want to up the ante!
Spicy Wok-Fried Chicken with Chilis (Chongqing Chicken)
- 1 pound chicken breast, cut into 1-inch cubes
- 1 1/2 cups cornstarch
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 3 cups peanut or vegetable oil, plus 1 tablespoon for stir-frying
- 8 to 10 dried red chilis
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 leek, white part only, thinly sliced
- 1 small piece ginger, minced
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons Chinese rice wine or dry sherry
- 2 egg whites
- 2 tablespoons chili garlic sauce
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon chicken stock or water
- 1 teaspoon Chinese black vinegar, or substitute a good-quality balsamic vinegar
- 1 teaspoon cornstarch
- 1 teaspoon ground Sichuan pepper
- Prepare the marinade: In a large bowl, combine the soy sauce, rice wine, and egg whites. Coat the chicken with the marinade mixture and let sit for 10 minutes.
- Mix together the ingredients for the sauce: chili garlic sauce, soy sauce, chicken stock or water, Chinese black vinegar, cornstarch, and Sichuan pepper. Set aside.
- In a large bowl or plate, mix together the cornstarch, salt, and pepper. Dredge the chicken in cornstarch mixture and shake off the excess cornstarch.
- Heat the 3 cups of peanut or vegetable oil in your wok until it registers 350°F on an instant-read oil thermometer. Working in 2 or 3 batches, add the first batch of chicken cubes and fry until golden brown on the outside and cooked through, about 4 to 5 minutes. Remove the chicken with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Repeat with the rest of the chicken.
- Drain the oil into a heatproof container and save for discarding. Wipe the wok with a paper towel to remove any brown bits, but don’t wash.
- Reheat the wok or skillet over medium-high heat. Add another 1 tablespoon of oil and swirl to coat the base and sides. Add the dried chilis to the wok and and stir-fry until just they start to blister, about 30 to 60 seconds. Add the leeks, garlic, and ginger and stir-fry for 2 minutes. Stir in sauce mixture and simmer until slightly thickened, about 1 minute. Add the fried chicken, toss to combine, and remove from heat. Serve immediately.