SINGAPORE (THE NEW PAPER) - If you like Sichuan flavours, try this dish of "la zi ji", which is Chinese for chilli chicken.
Do not be put off by the look of the chicken pieces surrounded by angry-looking chillies - the dish is far from insanely spicy.
I purchased Sichuan-produced dried chillies from a department store specialising in Chinese products.
The chillies are called "chao tian jiao", Chinese for "facing heaven".
The chillies are not as spicy as they look. I find them sweeter and more aromatic.
Do not de-seed them as the seeds contribute to the look, texture and taste of the dish.
If you want more flavour and heat, use spicy fermented bean paste, but remember to reduce or omit the soy sauce as the bean paste is fairly salty.
The Sichuan peppercorn is an important ingredient to impart a "ma la" (Chinese for numbing spiciness) flavour to the dish.
It can be difficult to find ground Sichuan peppercorn, but you can get whole Sichuan peppercorns, which are a dark brownish pink, at wet market provisions shops and in the Chinese spice section of certain supermarkets.
Lightly toast the Sichuan peppercorns using a dry frying pan. Once the spice releases its fragrance, use a spice grinder to turn them into a powder.
Sichuan Chilli Chicken
800g chicken, cut into bite-size pieces (5cm by 5cm)
3 Tbsp Chinese rice wine
1 Tbsp five-spice powder
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground Sichuan peppercorn
2 Tbsp light soy sauce
1 Tbsp sesame oil
2 Tbsp cornflour
400ml cooking oil for deep-frying
20g ginger, sliced
6 garlic cloves (30g), sliced
80g Sichuan dried chillies, rinsed and dried
3 garlic cloves, chopped
1 flat Tbsp of ground Sichuan peppercorn
2 tsp sugar
1 Tbsp light soy sauce
1 stalk of spring onion, finely sliced
1. Place chicken pieces in bowl. Add Chinese rice wine, five-spice powder, ground cumin and 1 tsp ground Sichuan peppercorn. Mix.
2. Add in light soy sauce, sesame oil and cornflour. Mix well.
3. Cover bowl with cling wrap and place in fridge to marinate for at least 30 minutes. Remove chicken from fridge 15 minutes before deep-frying.
4. In a wok or deep frying pan, heat cooking oil over medium heat.
5. Deep-fry the chicken in batches of six or seven pieces for 5 minutes until cooked through and golden brown.
6. Place on kitchen paper to drain excess oil. Set aside.
7. Heat remaining oil in wok and adjust heat to medium-low.
8. Place ginger slices in wok and deep-fry for a minute, then add the garlic slices. Deep-fry for 30 seconds and add the Sichuan chillies.
9. Deep-fry for a minute to two before removing from wok. Place fried chillies, ginger and garlic on kitchen paper to drain excess oil. Set aside.
10. Set aside 2 tablespoons of the fried chilli oil. Discard the rest.
11. In a clean wok, heat the chilli oil. Fry the chopped garlic for a minute until fragrant. Add chicken and 1 flat tablespoon of ground Sichuan pepper.
12. Stir-fry chicken for 30 seconds and add in fried chillies. Stir-fry for another 30 seconds.
13. Add in sugar and light soy sauce. Stir-fry for 30 seconds. Garnish with spring onion. Serve immediately.
Yields four servings.