Chengtu Chicken

Chengdu Ji

Preparation info

    Appears in

    Mrs. Chiang’s Szechwan Cookbook

    By Ellen Schrecker

    Published 1976

    • About

    Flavor: Unique

    I have long considered celery, along with monosodium glutamate, one of the great banes of bad Chinese restaurants. Cooked celery has such a strong taste that it almost invariably overpowers every other ingredient in the dish. Yet, treated with moderation, celery is a wonderful vegetable, crisp and slightly bitter. Mrs. Chiang uses it in this otherwise simple chicken dish to provide an unexpected combination of textures and flavors. Because the celery is added just before serving, it is barely cooked. It remains crunchy, and its flavor, though pronounced, doesn’t dominate the dish.

    Like so much of the food of Chengtu, the culinary heart of Szechwan, this recipe calls for a liberal dosage of dried red peppers. If you are unaccustomed to such fiery fare, omit some of the peppers. Not all, though, for it is the peppers that keep the celery under control.

    Method

    Preparation

    2 whole chicken breasts (about 1-½ to 2 pounds) Chop the chicken into cubes, roughly the size of walnuts. Leave the bones in, though the skin is optional.
    4 ribs celery Rinse off the celery and trim it, then chop it into little pieces, about ¼ inch in diameter.
    2 scallions Clean the scallions, then chop them, both white part and green, into small pieces, roughly the same size as the celery.
    1-½-inch piece fresh ginger Peel the ginger and chop it until the pieces are the size of match heads.
    6 cloves garlic Smash the garlic cloves with the side of your cleaver, then peel. Chop the garlic into the same size pieces as the ginger.
    7 whole dried red peppers or 1 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes If you are using the dried red peppers, cut them into little pieces, about the same size as the celery and scallion pieces.

    2 tablespoons cornstarch

    2 tablespoons water

    Combine the cornstarch and water in a small bowl; mix well and set aside.

    Cooking

    6 tablespoons peanut oil Heat your wok or pan over a high flame for 15 seconds, then add the oil. The oil will be hot enough to cook with when the first tiny bubbles form and a few small wisps of smoke appear.

    (garlic)

    (ginger)

    When the oil is ready, toss in the chopped garlic and ginger and stir-fry for about 30 seconds, using your cooking shovel or spoon to stir them around in the bottom of the pan and keep them from burning. Don’t be alarmed if they turn brown right away.
    (dried red peppers or pepper flakes) Now add the dried red peppers or pepper flakes to the pan and continue to stir-fry for another 25 seconds or so.

    (chicken)

    1-¾ teaspoons salt

    Add the chicken and the salt to the pan. Stir-fry them for about 1 minute 15 seconds, scooping the chicken pieces off the sides of the pan and spreading them around in the middle, so all are exposed to the hot oil.
    2 tablespoons rice wine or cooking sherry Add the wine and stir-fry for another 30 seconds.

    (scallions)

    ½ cup water

    Add the scallions and the water. Cook the chicken, stirring occasionally, for about 2½ minutes, or until it is almost cooked through, then cover the pan and let the chicken cook over the same high heat for 3 minutes more.

    1 teaspoon granulated sugar

    (cornstarch and water)

    (celery)

    Uncover the pan, add the sugar, and stir-fry for another 45 seconds.

    Stir the cornstarch and water to make sure they are thoroughly combined, then add the mixture to the pan, along with the chopped celery. Stir-fry everything for 1 final minute, then serve. The sauce should have thickened and become clear, and the celery should be just barely cooked and still quite crunchy.