Chinese New Year and Kung Pao Chicken. Today we welcome in the Chinese New Year 2019 the year of the pig. This year to celebrate I have made a trio of Sichuan inspired dishes. A vegetarian Mapo tofu, spicy Sichuan Salt and Pepper Prawns and today’s recipe the classic Kung Pao Chicken. Now you should beware many western versions of this lack the serious dual hit of fiery red chilli and the mouth tingling Sichuan pepper. In fact Sichuan peppers were banned from America for quite sometime? The US version is often just a variant of General Tso’s Chicken with carrots, onions and bell peppers in a sweet and sour sauce. You will find Western versions are often much tamer than the authentic dish.
Why is it called Kung Pao Chicken?
Kung Pao chicken ( 宫保鸡丁 ) is believed to be named after a Governor of Sichuan province who held the official title ‘ Gongbao ‘ or palace guardian. I’m sure you have seen the similarity already. Because of this Imperial connection it was renamed during the famous Cultural Revolution. The new name was the rather less catchy ‘ fast fried chicken cubes ‘. It’s more famous name was restored in the nineteen eighties.
Authentic Kung Pao Chicken
You make real thing from stir-fried soy marinated chicken, leeks and raw peanuts. Your flavour comes from Sichuan peppercorns and red chillies. They are first heated in hot oil with perhaps some ginger and garlic. Then you serve the finished dish with simply steamed rice.
My spicy Sichuan salt and pepper king prawns are the type of recipe I just love to eat and share. So it had to be the next recipe in this year’s celebration of the upcoming Chinese New Year. Be prepared, however, even though they have a spicy kick they are very addictive. The prawns are quickly deep-fried in the lightest coating then seasoned with my blend of salt, chilli, and pungent Sichuan pepper. If you like salt and pepper squid, you can substitute thinly sliced Calamari as an alternative. The result is mouth watering and delicious. Enjoy
This spicy salt blend is typical Sichuan Chinese cuisine. Sichuan cooking typically uses lots of strong flavours such as chilli bean paste, chilli oil, and Sichuan peppercorns. Authentic Sichuan salt is obtained from local springs and does not contain iodine, but I use sea salt as an alternative and there is no major difference in taste. Sichuan dishes are often very hot, and the peppercorns produce a slight tingling sensation on the lips.
Spicy Sichuan Salt and Pepper Mix
You will find this mix is
great as a rub for seasoning pork or chicken, like chicken wings, and can be used
as a dry dip as well as with seafood like king prawns or calamari. If you don’t
want to deep fry your prawns, you can stir fry them in their shells in a wok
and add the Sichuan salt and pepper mix a couple of minutes before serving.
Heat the Sichuan peppercorns and sea salt in a heavy-bottomed frying pan over medium-low heat, until the salt starts to turn grey. Toss the pan occasionally to stop the peppercorns from burning. Remove from the heat and allow the mixture to cool. Grind the mixture in a pestle and mortar with the chilli flakes and Star anise. Store in a dry air-tight container and use as required.
For this recipe you will need King prawns with the head on, that have had the shells removed and been deveined. You can get these from good fish-mongers or large supermarkets.
Mapo tofu (麻婆豆腐) is a very popular Sichuan Chinese dish made from tofu, Douchi or fermented black beans, rice wine, pungent Sichuan peppers and a double hit of chilli flakes and Douban, a chilli and bean paste. Classically the dish is made with ground beef or pork and so spicy as to make the diner sweat. In this recipe, I have substituted roughly chopped Shiitake mushrooms for the meat to make a tasty vegetarian option. Last year I posted a serious of recipes from one of my favourite Chinese cuisines to celebrate Chinese New Year including My Cantonese Pork and Crab and Sweetcorn Soup. This year I am going to post some Sichuan dishes to add to the collection.
Mapo Tofu History
The origins of the dish are a little confusing but one thing is for certain and all of the experts agree on the meaning of the name ‘ Mapo ‘. Ma stands for pockmarks and po is derived from the Chinese for old lady or grandma. So Mapo tofu is a shortening of the name Pockmarked Ma’s Bean Curd. This lady may have owned a restaurant, or been a relative of a restaurant owner, or simply being hospitable. whatever she created a stunning dish packed with flavour. Today there are many variations and recipes that are often adapted with less spice, but you should really give the authentic recipe a try. Enjoy.
Mapo Tofu Ingredients
Tofu or bean curd is made from soy milk. In a process similar to making cheese it is first made into curds which are pressed into blocks. The finished product has a soft yielding texture and is quite bland in taste but is often used in really highly-flavoured dishes such as Mapo tofu.
Sichuan pepper is not like any of its namesakes the smell and taste is unique. It has a citrus aroma, in fact, it is a member of the citrus family and creates a mild pleasant numbness in the mouth.
Doubanjiang or douban is a salty spicy paste made from fermented broad beans, soya beans and rice and red chillies. It is known as ‘ the soul of Sichuan cuisine ‘.
Douchi ( 豆豉 ) are semi-dried fermented and salted black soybeans used in Chinese cooking. The finished taste is both sweet and salty so the beans are used sparingly as a flavouring to dishes. Douchiare one of the oldest know products made from soybeans dating back over two thousand years.
Use a wooden spoon or flat spatula to gently stir the dish when cooking to avoid breaking up the tofu. As both the fermented black beans and the douban are salty check the flavour of the dish before adding any additional salt. If you want a little more Sichuan hit sprinkle the finished dish with extra freshly ground Sichuan pepper.
As you will be making this quickly in a wok it helps to have all the ingredients ready before you start cooking.
It is Chinese New Year and I am celebrating by posting some more of my favourite Chinese recipes and information about Chinese Cooking. One of my personal favourites is Cantonese food the most international of the different styles of Chinese cuisine. Cantonese food is all about letting the flavour of the key ingredients shine through with a few additional flavourings including garlic, ginger, soy sauce, and spices such as star anise and Chinese Five Spice.
Char sui – Cantonese BBQ Pork
This is my oven baked version of the classic Cantonese BBQ Pork recipe or Char sui with its distinctive colouring, sticky sweet marinade, and succulent melt-in-the-mouth texture. This recipe is made using belly pork, you can make Char sui with tenderloin for a less fatty finish but you need to reduce the cooking times. You will need to plan a little ahead for the best results and prepare the night before and the meat requires quite a long cooking process, but I guarantee you will not be disappointed with the end result. My recipe for Char sui includes a little Muscavado sugar not authentic I know but think it adds to the liquorice aniseed flavour. I like to serve Char sui simply, as the Chinese do, with any cooking juices on a bowl of perfectly fluffy plain boiled rice with maybe a few finely sliced spring onions or you can pile the sliced meat into steamed Bao buns with quick pickled mooli and carrot and fresh coriander.
Char Sui – Cantonese BBQ Pork
1 kg rindless Belly Pork
( ask your butcher to remove any bones and cartilage )
Place all the ingredients excluding the pork into a medium sized mixing bowl and thoroughly blend. Place the pork into a deep sided baking tray and pour over the marinade. Work the marinade into both sides of the pork with you finger tips then cover with cling film and refrigerate overnight.
Preheat your oven to 160 C / 325 F / Gas Mark 3. Place a piece of baking paper over the pork and then a double layer of aluminium foil sealing the edges. Place the tray in the oven and cook for three and a half hours, carefully removing the tray and basting the pork every hour, then resealing and placing back to continue cooking. Remove the foil and baking sheet and turn the oven up to 180 C / 350 F / Gas Mark 4, baste the pork again return to the oven and continue to cook for around another forty minutes while it caramelises around the edges.
Remove the pork from the tin and set aside on a clean tray covered in foil to rest for twenty minutes. Transfer the sauce to a small pan and spoon off any excess fat and bring to a gentle simmer. Slice the pork, it will be very tender and fall apart as you cut into it, and serve it on bowls of boiled rice with the remaining sauce poured over.
Allergens in this recipe are;
There will be Soya and may be gluten in your Soy Sauce