For the past two weeks I have been cooking within strict boundaries. Because I am leaving for a month-long trip to the US, and giving up my current apartment, I have not only been restraining myself from buying any new bottles of sauces, spices, and cooking oils, but also trying desperately to use up what I have left. Which is easier said than done. How many meals of basil-cumin pasta must I eat while fighting the urge to buy more dried oregano? Or chili garlic noodles, while convincing myself any new sauces will just end up in the garbage?
One item I desperately wanted to use up with an almost-full bottle of vegetable oil that I simply did not feel like packing. And what's an easier way to use up oil than frying? Fortunately, there was one dish I could make without buying anything except chicken and leeks. And whenever I teach it in my Sichuan cooking classes, all traces of crispy chicken are gone within 5 minutes.
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 1 1/2 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.
Spicy Wok-Fried Chicken with Chilis
- 1 pound chicken breast, diced
- 1 1/2 cups cornstarch
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 1/2 cup peanut oil
- 8 to 10 dried red chilis
- 2 teaspoons Sichuan peppercorn
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 leek, white part only, thinly sliced
- 1 small piece ginger, minced
- 2 tablespoons dark soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons Chinese rice wine, or substitute dry sherry
- 2 teaspoons Chinese black vinegar
- 1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
- 2 tablespoons chili garlic sauce
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon chicken stock or water
- 1 teaspoon cornstarch
- In a medium-sized bowl, mix together the marinade ingredients: soy sauce, rice wine, rice vinegar, and sesame oil. Marinate the chicken in the mixture for 15 to 20 minutes.
- Mix together the ingredients for the sauce: chili garlic sauce, soy sauce, chicken stock or water, and cornstarch. Set aside.
- In a large bowl or plate, mix together the cornstarch, salt, and pepper. Dredge chicken in cornstarch mixture and shake off excess cornstarch. Heat about 1 cup of oil in a wok over medium-high heat. When the oil starts to smoke, work in batches and fry chicken until golden brown on all sides. Transfer to a plate lined with paper towels. Repeat with remaining batches.
- Pour out all but 1 tablespoon of oil, and keep wok heated over medium-high heat. Add the chilis and Sichuan peppercorn and stir-fry until just fragrant and the chilis 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.