Strips of chicken fillets seasoned with soy sauce, rice, wine, salt and ground Szechuan peppercorns are coated with starch, deep fried, tossed with warmed hoisin sauce and toasted sesame seeds. The coating gives the Szechuan chicken a crunch while the hoisin sauce makes them sticky. What crunch is lost with the sticky sauce, the toasted sesame seeds make up for while, at the same time, adding another layer of flavor to the chicken.
Szechuan chicken is one of those dishes where the most essential ingredient — Szechuan peppercorns — cannot be substituted with anything else.
Szechuan peppercorn is not related to black or white peppercorns. Szechuan peppercorn is not hot but has citrusy overtones.
Contrary to common belief, Szechuan pepper is not only important in Szechuan cuisine but is found in many Asian cuisines including Indonesian, Tibetan and Nepalese. It is the rust-colored husks that are valued as spice and some say the seeds should be removed before the Sichuan peppercorns are added to food. That, I believe is only true if the Sichuan peppercorns are intended to be served on the side or as a garnish. If they are intended to be pounded or ground then added to the food while cooking, I see no reason why the seeds need to be removed.
If you have Szechuan peppercorns, you can make Szechuan chicken.
- 10 chicken thigh fillets (skin-on or skinless, your choice — you can even substitute chicken breast fillets)
- about 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon Szechuan peppercorns
- 3 tablespoons soy sauce
- 3 tablespoons rice wine
- about ½ cup corn or tapioca, corn or potato starch
- about 2 cup cooking oil for frying
- 3 tablespoons hoisin sauce
- 2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds
- finely sliced green onion leaves, to garnish (optional)
- Cut the chicken into thin strips by holding the knife at a 45-degree angle. Place in a shallow bowl.
- With a mortar and pestle, grind the Szechuan peppercorns. Mix with the salt and sprinkle over the chicken. With your hands, mix lightly but thoroughly. Pour in the soy sauce and rice wine. Mix once more. Cover the bowl and marinate in the fridge for at least half an hour.
- Add the starch to the seasoned chicken. Toss, separating chicken strips that may stick together to make sure that all sides of every piece of chicken is coated with flour/starch.
- Heat the cooking oil in a wok until fine wisps of smoke float on the surface. Add the chicken, one at a time, and cooking only enough pieces in a batch to make sure that the pan is not overcrowded. Fry the chicken strips over high heat until lightly browned, turning them over halfway through for even cooking, about for minutes. Repeat with another batch until all the chicken strips are cooked. As each batch of chicken is cooked, place in a plate or shallow bowl lined with paper towels to remove excess oil.
- Pour off the cooking oil. Wipe the wok with paper towels to remove any residue. Pour the hoisin sauce into the still hot wok. Swirl or use a spatula so that the sauce covers as much of the cooking surface of the wok. Add the cooked chicken and the toasted sesame seeds. Toss and stir lightly, or do both, so that each piece of chicken is coated with some of the sauce and sesame seeds.
- Serve the Szechuan chicken at once. By itself or with rice.