Hot and numbing szechuan-style chicken

A little while ago, I visited a restaurant in Central London that specialises in Szechuan cuisine, and boy was it an eye opener! Until then, I had not really appreciated the little reddish-brown berry known as Szechuan peppercorn. It was too strange a taste, it was wierd, didnt feel right on my tongue etc etc. But in that place, I had some amazing dishes, and that was when I told myself I needed to get to know this ingredient better, as I really wanted to recreate those dishes.

Szechuan peppercorns are the main star in this dish, and they make up the numbing part. They allow you to really appreciate the next part, which is the hot, and this comes from chilli bean paste, another speciality of the region. We have really come to love this combination in our dishes, and while we probably dont do it the traditional chinese way, I think this recipe gives you a quick and easy way to recreate the flavours. And it’s healthier, as there’s no deep frying involved, and you can get by with a minimum of oil.

Hot and numbing chicken

Ingredients

  • 2 tsp oil (groundnut or even olive oil) for cooking
  • 2 tsp Szechuan peppercorns
  • 2 tbsp chilli bean paste
  • 2 tbsp dark soy sauce
  • 1 tsp Shaoxing wine
  • 2 tsp cornflour
  • 500g chicken thigh fillets, cut into strips or bite size pieces
  • 1 green bell pepper, cut into bite size pieces
  • 1 medium onion, cut into bite-size pieces
  • 6-7 baby corn, cut into quarters (optional)
  • 5-6 white button mushrooms, sliced (optional)
  • 1-2 tsp chilli oil (optional)

Method

  • Lightly coat the chicken pieces with the cornflour and put aside
  • Heat the oil in a non-stick wok or pan. When it is hot, put in the szechuan peppercorns.
  • When the peppercorns start changing colour and giving off thier distinct aroma, add in the chilli bean paste and stir-fry. Be careful not to burn the peppercorns, and also watch out when you add the paste, it tends to splutter and splatter.
  • Stir-fry the mixture in the pan for a minute and then add the soya sauce and the wine. Mix these vigourously and let it cook for another minute.
  • Add the chicken into the wok, and mix until all the pieces are well coated.
  • Stir-fry the chicken for around 10-15 minutes. The dish does not have much gravy, so keep uncovered and let all the liquid evaporate. You will need to keep stirring frequently to ensure the chicken doesn’t catch and burn at the bottom of the pan. At this point add the mushrooms and babycorn (if using). Cook until the mushrooms are soft, and their liquid is almost gone
  • Add in the peppers and the onions. These should be cooked the least, just until they have softened slightly. I like these veggies with a little bite to them. Toss them in the pan, so that they are coated with the gravy.
  • You can taste at this point and add some salt as needed. The chilli bean paste that I have is not very hot, so I tend to add a tsp or two of chilli oil at this point for some extra heat. You can add more or less according to your taste.
  • Serve hot, garnished with thinly sliced spring onions.
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