This dish, also known as Kung Pao chicken, has the curious distinction of having been labelled as politically incorrect during the Cultural Revolution. It is named after a late Qing Dynasty (late nineteenth-century) governor of Sichuan, Ding Baozhen, who is said to have particularly enjoyed eating it – gong bao was his official title. This association with an Imperial bureaucrat was enough to provoke the wrath of the Cultural Revolution radicals, and it was renamed ‘fast-fried chicken cubes’ (hong bao ji ding) or ‘chicken cubes with seared chillies’ (hu la ji ding) until its political rehabilitation in the 1980s.
2 boneless chicken breasts (about 300g or 3/4 pound in total)
3 cloves of garlic and an equivalent amount of ginger
5 spring onions, white parts only
2 tbsp groundnut oil
a handful of dried red chillies (at least 10)
1 tsp whole Sichuan pepper
75g (2/3 cup) roasted peanuts
For the marinade:
½ tsp salt
2 tsp light soy sauce
1 tsp Shaoxing wine
1½ tsp potato flour
1 tbsp water
For the sauce:
3 tsp sugar
¾ tsp potato flour
1 tsp dark soy sauce
1 tsp light soy sauce
3 tsp Chinkiang vinegar
1 tsp sesame oil
1 tbsp chicken stock or water
Serves 2 as a main dish with rice and one stir-fried vegetable dish, 4 with three other dishes
- Cut the chicken as evenly as possible into 1cm strips and then into small cubes. Mix with the marinade ingredients.
- Peel and thinly slice the garlic and ginger, and chop the spring onions into Icm (1/2 inch) chunks. Snip the chillies into 1.5cm (3/4 inch) sections, discarding seeds as far as possible. Combine the sauce ingredients in a small bowl.
- Pour a little groundnut oil into the wok and heat until it smokes, swirling the oil around to cover the entire base of the wok. Pour off into a heatproof container. Add 3 tbsp fresh oil and heat over a high flame. When the oil is hot but not smoking, add the chillies and Sichuan pepper and stir-fry for a few seconds until they are fragrant (take care not to burn them).
- Add the chicken and continue to stir-fry. When the chicken cubes have separated, add the ginger, garlic and spring onions and stir-fry until they are fragrant and the meat is just cooked.
- Give the sauce a stir and add to the wok, continuing to stir and toss. As soon as the sauce has become thick and lustrous, add the peanuts, mix them in, and serve immediately.
From Land of Plenty: A Treasury of Authentic Sichuan Cooking