This recipe is from Fuchsia Dunlop's Sichuan Cookery. It is probably the one dish from all of her books that I have made the most often over the years. It is so easy to make and yields deliciously addictive results every time.
You can use it to spice up shop bought cooked chicken to satisfy a craving, put leftover bits of chicken to exciting new use or throw it together and impress friends, whether they are novices to Sichuan cuisine or not. The dish can be made saltier or sweeter, chilli hot or mild, mouth-numbingly electric or gently tingling. Served alongside a dish of garlicky smacked cucumbers and salty sour pickles (as pictured above) its a lovely cold starter before a spicy Sichuan feast.
In order to make the ground roasted Sichuan pepper, gently heat Sichuan peppercorns in a dry pan until they start to smoke and smell very fragrant. Be extremely careful not to keep the pan on the heat for much longer or you will burn the delicate spices - you will know this has happened as the ground result will taste bitter and not very nice at all. I tend to roast and grind small amounts at a time, so it's not too devastating when I do burn my spices and to keep the ground Sichuan pepper powder from becoming stale and tasteless as it loses its flavour over time.
To grind the Sichuan peppers I use a brilliant Braun spice grinder from the Eighties that my mum handed down to me, but a pestle and mortar is just as good. Shake the ground powder through a relatively fine meshed sieve afterwards to get rid of the tougher, woodier bits of the spice and store any unused peppercorn powder in a tightly sealed jar.
The chicken is easier to slice when cold, but I prefer eating the dish at room temperature, or even lightly warmed in an oven on colder days.
about 350g of cold chicken - a mix of leg and breast meat is ideal
4-6 spring onions, white and light green parts only
4 teaspoons of white sugar
3 tablespoons light soy sauce
3-6 tablespoons of chilli oil with sediment (Lee Kum Kee Chiu Chow Chilli Oil is my favourite)
2 teaspoons of sesame oil
a teaspoon of ground roasted Sichuan pepper
Slice the chicken across the grain of the meat as it will be more tender to eat. So for example with the breast you want to make slices across the breast not down along the length of it. Slice the spring onions thinly but diagonally so that you get relatively large slivers rather than little rounds. These slivers will be more similar to the chicken slices in size, making it easier to pair similar sized pieces of both together when you eat them. Cover the bottom of your serving dish with the spring onions and then add the chicken over the top. At this point I like to either warm the chicken pieces a little or leave them covered for 20 minutes to come up to room temperature before continuing.
In a smaller bowl, add the soy sauce and sugar and stir it will a spoon or a finger until the sugar dissolves. Add the chilli and sesame oils, stir again and taste the result. Adjust the seasoning if you prefer more salt, sweet or chilli.
When you are happy with the dressing, pour it over the chicken and toss everything together. Sprinkle over the Sichuan pepper and serve immediately.
I hope this will end up as a collection of recipes, restaurants and anything else that celebrates the wonderful diversity of foods and how we prepare and eat them. Some ingredients may seem unusual to you, but I love learning about new cooking techniques and tasting new foods. I am fascinated by the way in which different cultures have made their food into something more than just fuel. This is a reflection of what excited me at that time and season. Above all it is a record of where I was and what was eaten...and how to bring those memories back again.