If you don’t know a lot about Chinese food, the first thing to realize is that it’s incredibly diverse and region-specific. Much like the US, the food eaten in the south can vary greatly from the food eaten in the north. Szechuan, a region in southwest China is known for its fiery savory dishes. Notably, they use a type of peppercorn called Szechuan peppercorns, that have a fragrance and mouthfeel all their own. Any person who has eaten Szechuan food knows the feeling of your mouth searing and then numbing. In Chinese, this is referred to as ma la (numbing spicy).
Though my parents aren’t from Szechuan province, Szechuan food is my dad’s favorite. This recipe comes from the Woks of Life, one of my very favorite food blogs, and as soon as I saw it, I recognized it as something my mom occasionally made growing up. It involves chicken cut up into bite-sized pieces, marinaded for flavor, and then tossed in a wok with dried chili peppers and Szechuan peppercorns. The result is a slightly spicy, yet addicting chicken dish that is begging to be eaten with rice and a cold beer.
(adapted from the Woks of Life)
For the Chicken Marinade:
4 boneless skinless chicken thighs
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 teaspoon salt
3 teaspoons Shaoxing wine
1 teaspoon dark soy sauce
For the rest of the dish:
3 tablespoons canola oil
2 tablespoons Szechuan peppercorns, stems removed (I used a sieve to shake them out)
2 1/2-inch slices of ginger, cut into thin strips
5 cloves of garlic, sliced
1 cup whole dried red chilis
2 teaspoons Shaoxing wine
1/2 teaspoon granulated sugar
Cut chicken thighs into bite-sized pieces and place in a medium bowl. Add cornstarch, salt, Shaoxing wine, and soy sauce. Mix to combine and let marinate in the fridge for at least half an hour. (During this time, you can prep the ginger, garlic, and peppercorns).
When ready to cook, add oil to wok and heat over high heat. Add chicken and sear on the outside until golden-brown. Transfer chicken to plate. Turn heat down to medium low. Add Szechuan peppercorns to wok and fry for 2-3 minutes until fragrant. Add the ginger and garlic and cook for 1 minute, continuously tossing so that it doesn’t burn. Add the whole dried chilis to the wok and stir-fry for another minute.
Turn the heat back to high. Add chicken back to wok, along with Shaoxing wine and sugar. Toss to combine and cook until liquid has evaporated. Serve!