In other news, we are planning a little Burns supper celebration on Wednesday. Sadly, I've been forced to conclude that making our own haggis is not a food project we can pull off on short notice. I'm bummed; it was going to be so weird and fun! So, there will be no simmering of lungs, heart, or kidney. We won't be stuffing anything into an "ox bung." And there will be no sheep's windpipe trailing over the side of our stockpot so the impurities can drain out (!!!). I did investigate canned haggis, but that seemed grossly (literally) undeserving of Robert Burns' majestic Address to a Haggis. So, that's that. I know people are all inconsolably sad that I don't have a haggis recipe but, please, try to get over it. If nothing else, our Burns supper will have good whisky. Don't you worry about that.
And now I'd like to abruptly segue to the recipe I actually want to talk about today, which is kung pao chicken. I am a total fool for kung pao/gong bao chicken, my favorite weeknight stirfry. The combination of succulent chicken and crunchy peanuts? The complex, flavorful sauce that tastes salty, sweet, spicy, tangy all at once? Oh man, it is good. When I mentioned that I want our recipe index to better reflect what we actually cook, this is one of the dishes I was thinking about. We make this at least twice a month, sometimes more. It is relatively quick -- the ingredient list and directions look long, but this takes no time at all -- and delicious. Forget take-out, seriously. And don't be afraid to try it even if you don't have all the ingredients. No Chinkiang vinegar? Try balsamic or regular distilled vinegar. No rice wine? Use dry vermouth, leftover white wine, or just omit it. No light or dark soy? Substitute regular soy. Can't find Sichuan peppercorns? Forget it. The more substitutions you make, the more of a departure it will be from the original dish, but you might like it.
Kung Pao Chicken
Fuchsia Dunlop's authentic recipe from her Sichuan cookbook/memoir was my starting point. A few changes: I prefer the juiciness of dark meat chicken to white meat, so I substitute thigh meat. I've reduced the amount of vinegar she calls for because I find it overpowering. I toast and grind my Sichuan peppercorns so their tingly flavor is evenly incorporated into the sauce. Finally, I decrease the corn starch just a bit. You need a relatively subtle-flavored vegetable dish or two to accompany: steamed gai lan is a favorite, as are wok-fried green beans with ginger. And, as I mentioned, this dish comes together quickly, so start a pot of rice before anything else.
3 chicken thighs, skinned, deboned, and trimmed of excess fat
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 inch section of ginger, minced
5 scallions, chopped into 1/2-inch lengths
10 dried red chiles (preferably Sichuanese)
2 tablespoons peanut oil
1-2 teaspoons whole Sichuan peppercorns
1/2 cup dry roasted peanuts
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon light soy sauce
1 teaspoon Shaoxing rice wine
1/2 teaspoon cornstarch
3 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon cornstarch
1 teaspoon dark soy sauce
1 teaspoon light soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon dark rice vinegar
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon chicken stock or water
Combine the sauce ingredients in a small bowl and set aside. In a bowl large enough to hold all the chicken, add chicken and marinade ingredients. Stir and set aside while you prepare the other ingredients.
If you haven't already, prep your garlic/ginger/scallions. Heat a wok over high heat. Before adding any oil, add the peanuts and toast until warm and fragrant. Remove to a bowl. Next, add the Sichuan peppercorns and toast 10-15 seconds, stirring and tossing so they don't burn. Remove peppercorns and grind to a coarse powder in a mortar and pestle. Set aside.
Add oil to the wok. When the oil is hot but not smoking, add the dried red chiles and stir-fry briefly until slightly browned and oil is fragrant. Take care not to burn the chiles; remove the wok from heat source if necessary. (Note: at this point, spice compounds in the air always make me cough. It's okay, just be mindful.)
Quickly add the chicken with its marinade and wok-fry over high heat, stirring constantly. When the chicken is 70% done (the exterior will be brown but the inside may not be totally cooked through), add the ginger/garlic/scallions and continue to stir fry for a few minutes until they are fragrant. Stir the sauce and then add to the wok. Continue stirring and tossing until the sauce has become thick and glossy and the chicken is fully cooked. Transfer contents of the wok to a serving bowl. Mix in peanuts and the ground Sichuan peppercorns.