Monday, March 4, 2013

(Belated) Chinese New Year Meal #1: Cold Chicken with a Spicy Sichuan Sauce (Liang Ban Ji) and Stir-Fried Broccoli with Chili and Sichuan Pepper (Qiang Xi Nan Hua Cai)

Look everyone - I finally put together our first (belated) Chinese New Year meal!  And we have a bunch of other meals planned so stay tuned.  I am trying my best to not just cook from our new Fuchsia Dunlop cookbook, but there are so many recipes that I want to cook that it is difficult.  But I had to start off with two recipes from the cookbook that I have been dying to make.  As you can see, I am still squarely stuck in my broccoli phase.  And I threw in some chicken because why the heck not?  You can't have Chinese New Year without chicken.  Granted, the chicken is usually served whole and not shredded for New Year, but I'm taking a little creative license here.  Don't worry - the dumplings and noodles are both coming, but it's going to take a little time so you are going to have to be patient.  Whole fish is also traditional but as of right now the only concrete plan we have for seafood is for shrimp.  We might still make a whole fish because our plans aren't set in stone yet (and I have a few recipes set aside in case I switch things up), but I'm just giving you a sense of what is to come.  There will also be tofu, some more veggies, another chicken dish...  And then we will have to see what we decide on for our final Chinese New Year meal.  We went to Chinatown today for ingredients and noodle inspiration (more on that later), so we should be on track to post 3-4 more (Belated) Chinese New Year meals by the end of the week!  We might need to re-stock a bit or pick up a few minor ingredients along the way, but we are now re-stocked with the essentials.

As for the chicken and broccoli, if every dish we make from this cookbook turns out as well as these two, I will be very happy.  These recipes were not the best Chinese dishes we have ever cooked, nor did they particularly stick out amidst the other Chinese New Year meals we have prepared.  However, they were so easy to make that I really can't complain and I think they totally lived up to the premise of the cookbook (i.e. simple Chinese home cooking).  The broccoli was incredibly simple and it had really nice flavor.  I liked the combination of Sichuan peppercorns and whole chilis.  The broccoli was nicely cooked and lightly perfumed with sesame, heat and the sour, numbing flavor of the Sichuan peppercorns.  It's the perfect easy (and vegetarian) Chinese side dish.  As for the chicken, I have always been a fan of cold Sichuan chicken salads.  I love the combination of luscious poached chicken, spice, slight sweetness and scallion.  I have had better versions of this salad (and worse versions if we're being honest).  But I have never made a better version at home.  And that makes me happy.  We made a few minor modifications to each recipe - an extra dash of sesame oil here, a little extra sugar there, but isn't that what all home cooks do?  I would totally make both of these recipes again and bring them into the office for a fantastic lunch at my desk.  Or just make them for dinner again sometime - perhaps a potluck?  That's another totally viable option.

Recipes after the jump!

Cold Chicken with a Spicy Sichuan Sauce (Liang Ban Ji)
Every Grain of Rice:  Simple Chinese Home Cooking
By Fuchsia Dunlop

About 3/4 lb (300–350g) cold, cooked chicken, without bones
3 spring onions
1/4 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon sesame seeds (optional)
For sauce:
2 tablespoons light soy sauce
1 1/2 teaspoons Chinkiang (brown rice) vinegar
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
1 tablespoon chicken stock
3–4 tablespoons chili oil, with 1/2 tablespoon of its sediment (or more, if you wish)
1/4–1/2 teaspoon ground, roasted Sichuan pepper, to taste
1 teaspoon sesame oil
    Cut or tear the chicken as evenly as possible into bite-sized strips or slivers and place them in a deep bowl. Cut the spring onions at a steep angle into thin slices. Mix them and the salt with the chicken.  If using sesame seeds, toast them gently in a dry wok or frying pan for a few minutes, until they are fragrant and starting to turn golden, then tip out into a small dish.

    Combine all the sauce ingredients in a small bowl.

    When you are ready to eat, pour the sauce over the chicken, and mix well with chopsticks or salad servers. Arrange on a serving dish and sprinkle with sesame seeds, if desired. 

    Stir-Fried Broccoli with Chili and Sichuan Pepper (Qiang Xi Nan Hua Cai)
    Every Grain of Rice: Simple Chinese Home Cooking
    By Fuchsia Dunlop

    11 oz (300g) broccoli
    5-6 dried chilis, to taste
    4 tbsp cooking oil
    1/2 tsp whole Sichuan peppercorns
    1 tsp sesame oil

    Cut broccoli into florets, and cut large florets lengthwise into smaller pieces.  Peel the stalk and slice thickly.  Snip the chilis into halves or sections and discard the seeds as much as possible.

    Bring a generous 2 1/2 quarts of water to a boil, add 1 tsp salt and 1 tbsp oil.  Add broccoli and blanch for 2-3 minutes.  Broccoli should be bright and crisp.  Drain in a colander.

    Add remaining oil with the chilies and Sichuan peppercorns to a seasoned wok over high heat.  Stir-fry briefly until the chilis are just beginning to brown (take care not to burn them).  Add the broccoli and stir-fry for 30 seconds or so until the florets are coated in the fragrant oil, seasoning with salt to taste.  Turn off the heat, stir in the sesame oil, and serve.

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