Happy 2010, and happy February! I know I've been away for some time, but I am back, and full of ideas and visions for the new year of blogging! So - let's get started!
It seems fitting to me somehow for my first blogpost of 2010 to be focused on one of my favorite all-time recipes; szechuan chicken. I credit this recipe to awakening the fire in my soul for good, flavorful food presented with love and inspiring me to be more adventurous in my palate, which is ultimately what drove me to farming. This recipe is one of dozens that I see as my hallmark recipes - recipes that have shaped me as an eater, a cook, a farmer, and person that tries to live intentionally. This year, I want to share several of my favorite all-time recipes with you - the first installment is Szechuan Chicken.
One of my mother's friends Karen was an aspiring gourmet cook around the time I was 10 years old. Since she was single, she generously chose our family to share her new-found skills with - thank goodness! Researching it even just a little bit taught me that the old spelling of the province where this fiery cuisine originates is Szechuan, but in recent years, the spelling has been changed to Sichuan, so I suppose that I should be proper in calling it Sichuan chicken. However, my mom's recipe card clearly shows the spelling as Szechuan, and since I respect tradition, I'm gonna stick with what I've always known it to be.
I clearly remember Karen hauling all the ingredients into our kitchen, preparing all the yummy and exotic (to me at the time) smelling sauces, then the final tossing of it together and spooning the mixture over hot rice. YUM! In my adult years, I tried to reproduce this recipe based almost completely on my memory of how it smelled, since I didn't know if the recipe had ever been written down. To say the least, my attempts, though tasty, always fell short of my taste memory. That is until I went home to Denver for my Grandma's funeral this past July. I inherited her recipe box, and was pleased as could be to find that my mom had written down the recipe for
my Grandma! Now that I had the crucial ingredient list, I couldn't wait to make it! I was thrilled to find that with the first mixing of the sauces, my taste and smell memory was triggered and the result was exactly as I remembered it. What a boon! Now I could tweak it and play with adding flavors, and what I have here is the recipe I'm currently settling into. Thanks, Karen, for the original inspiration - thanks, Mom, for writing it down - thanks, Grandma for keeping it safe for me to find, and thanks, Spencer for going to see your brother in China and experiencing the peppercorns! Enjoy! It is sure to become one of your staples as well!
- 1 pound boneless-skinless chicken meat (thighs or breasts), cut into bite-size pieces.
- veggies you like (blanched broccoli, snow peas, eggplant and carrots are great)
- 2 bunches scallions, sliced into 1-inch pieces on the bias
- 1½ T. chile paste (like sriracha, sambal oelek or chili garlic sauce)
- 2 cloves garlic
- 2 inches ginger
- soy sauce
- sherry cooking wine
- sesame oil
- dried red hot Thai chiles
- Szechuan peppercorns
- Grapeseed oil, or other oil for cooking the chicken
- rice for serving
The 4 sauces - mix together separately in 4 separate bowls, they will be added one at a time to the cooking veggies and chicken:
- Whisk together 3 T. soy sauce, 3 T. sherry, 2 tsp. sugar, 2 tsp. cornstarch. This is the marinade for the chicken.
- Blend 1½ T. chile paste, 2 cloves garlic, 2 inches ginger - both minced or grated.
- Whisk together 2 T. soy sauce, 2 T. sherry, 3 tsp. sugar, 1 T. sesame oil, 1 T. vinegar.
- Whisk together 2 T. water and 2 tsp. cornstarch.
Marinate chicken pieces in sauce #1 for at least ½ hour, but can sit in the refrigerator, covered, overnight.
Heat 2 T. grapeseed or other oil in a hot wok - on high. Grapeseed oil has a high smoke point, so is great for using with high temperatures.
Strain chicken off of marinade - discard marinade. Add to hot wok all at once.
Stir immediately and allow the chicken to cook through while occasionally stirring - this will only take around 5 minutes.
Be careful of spattering! When chicken is done, remove from the oil with a slotted spoon.
In the hot oil, add 2 T. peppercorns, a handful of hot peppers, stir to release the fragrance of the peppercorns...
...then add the vegetables (in this case it's scallions and grilled eggplant) to instantly cool the situation down - do not burn the peppercorns or chiles!
Once veggies have started to cook a bit - about 1 minute - return chicken to pan and stir to combine.
Now, in order, add the remaining sauces: #2, stir - and stir well until you smell the warmed garlic and ginger start to cook.
#3, the flavorful liquids: stir to coat.
#4, the cornstarch and water to thicken the whole thing. If you wish for a saucier mixture, you can add up to ½ c. water and it will thin out a bit. Stir until you can't stand it anymore, and then serve immediately over rice with a nice cup of jasmine tea!
One note - you don't need to eat those chiles - they're mostly for flavor, but they do pack an incredible punch if you decide to eat them! Spencer usually fishes them out, and I usually eat about half that make it onto my plate.
- We use a lot of our crops from the farm in this great dish; eggplant (grilled and frozen at the peak of freshness), garlic, chiles (in the chile paste), scallions (in season), and chicken - what a great recipe that I'm sure you're going to love!
- One last note: the US FDA banned Szechuan peppercorns for their ability to carry the bacteria responsible for citrus canker - a serious disease that could threaten the US citrus industry. The solution was to raise the temperature of the peppercorns to 160 F to kill the bacteria. This procedure now is standard on all imported Szechuan peppercorns, and the ban was lifted in 2005. Thank goodness! They provide a numbing-hot sensation particular to this plant, and aren't related to black peppercorns at all. They are fabulous!