While sharing the food traditionally made in Chinese homes (instead of restaurant kitchens or street vendor stalls), Dunlop considers the realities of home cooks in general. She selects for ease, safeguarding us against recipes with long ingredient lists or numerous specialty ingredients, showing us how to prepare things efficiently — and correctly, so we’re able to pick up a beginner’s knowledge of Chinese food and culture as we go. Just having the formula for suan ni wei, the Sichuanese combo of garlic, sugar, soy sauce, vinegar and chile oil that acts like a spark plug for smacked cucumbers or anything else you toss in it, will give you something close to SHAZAM status in the kitchen.
Scale and get a printer-friendly version of this recipe here.
Coincidentally, Dunlop shows us how much this style of cooking dovetails with many of our present-day priorities as eaters; it’s economical, sustainable and — even if I think it’s a turgid phrase — vegetable-forward. It is interesting to see how modern dietary advice often echoes the age-old precepts of the Chinese table: “Eat plenty of grains and vegetables and not much meat, reduce consumption of animal fats and eat very little sugar,” she states in the early pages.
And while I’m sharing a dish that features chicken here, the theme holds up: The fermented black beans carry this Black Bean Chicken, and I’m amazed by what they can do and how easy they are to find. The dish comes from the Hunanese city Liuyang, which, Dunlop tells us, is known for its production of fireworks. If you ate it there, the chicken would be deep-fried. She has adapted it to a stir-fry to make it easier for home cooks. If you don’t like fireworks going off in your mouth, skip the chiles. If it’s a pyrotechnic spectacle you’re after, increase the amount.
This recipe is reflective of all of “Every Grain of Rice” — it doesn’t feature a laundry list of ingredients, it’s tied to a regional cultural history, and it’s keenly aware of the wants and needs of today’s home cook. And these days, that’s precisely what I’m looking for.
This recipe is from Week 5 of Voraciously’s Essential Cookbooks newsletter series. For more recipes like this one, sign up here. It appears as published in Fuchsia Dunlop’s “Every Grain of Rice,” with minor edits for clarity.
NOTE: To reduce the sodium in the marinade, use low-sodium soy sauce as a substitute for the light soy sauce.
- FOR THE MARINADE
- 1 tablespoon Shaoxing wine
- 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 1 1/2 teaspoons potato flour, cornstarch or potato starch
- 1 teaspoon light soy sauce (not the same as reduced-sodium soy sauce)
- 1 teaspoon dark soy sauce
- FOR THE CHICKEN
- 8 ounces skinless, boneless chicken thighs (about 2 thighs)
- 1 small green bell pepper, or 1/2 each red and green bell pepper
- 3 tablespoons canola oil
- 3 garlic cloves, sliced
- An equivalent amount (to the garlic) of ginger, peeled and sliced
- 2 tablespoons fermented black beans, rinsed and drained
- 1 to 2 teaspoons ground chiles, to taste
- Fine sea salt, to taste
- 2 tablespoons finely sliced scallions
- 1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
Stir together the marinade ingredients (wine, salt, potato flour, light soy sauce, dark soy sauce). Cut the chicken into 3/8- to 3/4-inch cubes and add it to marinade. Mix well.
Cut the pepper(s) into small squares to match the chicken. Heat a wok over a high heat, add 1 tablespoon of the oil, then the peppers, and stir-fry until hot and slightly cooked, but still crisp. Remove and set aside.
Reheat the wok over a high heat. Add the remaining oil, swirl it around, then add the marinated chicken and stir-fry to separate the pieces. When they have separated and are starting to become pale, add the garlic and ginger and stir-fry until they smell delicious.
Add the black beans and stir a few times until you can smell them. Then add the ground chilies and return the peppers to the wok. Continue to stir-fry until the chicken is just cooked through and everything is sizzlingly delicious, seasoning with salt to taste. Then stir in the scallions and, off the heat, the sesame oil. Serve.
Correction: The nutritional analysis in an earlier version of this story was incorrect. It was run with the incorrect amount of chicken. It has been corrected.
Nutritional facts (per serving): Calories: 445; Protein: 26 g; Carbohydrates: 12 g; Fat: 34 g; Saturated Fat: 5 g; Cholesterol: 100 mg; Sodium: 1287 mg; Fiber: 2 g; Sugar: 5 g.
Scale and get a printer-friendly version of the recipe here.