宮保雞丁
Gong Bao chicken with peanuts

Gong bao ji ding

As far as I’m concerned, this is one of the ultimate chicken dishes: quick and easy to make, and thrillingly delicious. With its kick of scorched chilli, tingle of Sichuan pepper and gentle sweet-sour sauce, it’s a typically Sichuanese combination of flavours. The crunchy peanuts, juicy spring onions and succulent chicken also give it a delightful mouthfeel. The dish is named after a late Qing Dynasty governor of Sichuan, Ding Baozhen, who is said to have enjoyed eating it. You’ll find versions of this dish, often known in English as Kung Po chicken, on virtually every Chinese restaurant menu, but this is the real Chengdu version. The cooking method is xiao chao, ‘small stir-fry’, in which all the ingredients are simply added to the wok in succession.

Ingredients

  • 2 boneless chicken breasts, with or without skin (11-12oz/300–350g in total)
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • An equivalent amount of fresh ginger
  • 5 spring onions, white parts only  
  • 2 tablespoons cooking oil
  • a good handful of dried chillies (at least 10)
  • 1 teaspoon whole Sichuan pepper
  • 3oz/75g roasted peanuts

For the marinade

  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons light soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon Shaoxing wine
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons potato flour
  • 1 tablespoon water

For the sauce

  • 3 teaspoons sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon potato flour
  • 1 teaspoon dark soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon light soy sauce
  • 3 teaspoons Chinkiang or black Chinese vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoon chicken stock or water

Method

1. Cut the chicken as evenly as possible into 1.5cm strips and then cut these into small cubes. Place in a small bowl, mix in the marinade ingredients, and leave while you prepare the other ingredients.

2. Peel and thinly slice the garlic and ginger, and chop the spring onions into chunks as long as their diameter (to match the chicken cubes). Snip the chillies in half or into 1.5cm sections. Discard their seeds as far as possible. Combine the sauce ingredients in a small bowl.

3. Heat a seasoned wok over a high flame. Add 2 tbsp oil with the chillies and Sichuan pepper, and stir-fry briefly until the chillies are darkening but not burnt (you can remove the wok from the heat if necessary to prevent overheating).

4. Quickly add the chicken and stir-fry over a high flame, stirring constantly. As soon as the chicken cubes have separated, add the ginger, garlic and spring onions and continue to stir-fry for a few minutes until they are fragrant and the meat is cooked through (test one of the larger pieces to make sure).

5. Give the sauce a stir and add it to the wok, continuing to stir and toss. As soon as the sauce has become thick and lustrous, add the peanuts, stir them in, and serve.

From Every Grain of Rice by Fuchsia Dunlop, W. W. Norton & Company 2013.