Monday, September 1, 2014

Szechuan Peppercorn Chicken with Eggplant

Ages ago I bought some szechuan peppercorns for a recipe, and haven't tried many recipes with them since. They're very strange - they have what can only be described as a floral, citrisy taste, a bit like lychees (but less floral). In this dish, based loosely on authentic szechuan chicken recipes, they lend a really nice counterpoint to the chilies, but you don't want to add too much and overwhelm things. Note that this is a fairly dry stir fry.

I made this with Japanese eggplants, but if you only have normal eggplant, cutting it into cubes might actually be nice, since they'd be a similar shape to the chicken chunks.

Ingredients

2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts or thighs (breasts reheat better for leftovers), cubed
5 Japanese eggplants, in slices
3+2 cloves garlic, sliced
1.5 teaspoons peeled sliced fresh ginger
1 heaping tablespoon szechuan peppercorn
3-8 Chinese-style dried red chilis, seeds removed
3 tablespoons dry sherry or rice wine
2 tablespoons oil + more for cooking
1-2 tablespoons soy sauce
Salt to taste

Preparation

At least 1 hour before cooking: Over very low heat,  warm the szechuan peppercorns until they start to get fragrant, but without burning them. Crush 2/3 of the peppercorn in a mortar and pestle or spice grinder, and pour over chicken chunk. Add dry sherry, 2 tablespoons oil, 1 chili peper, mix, and let marinate in fridge at least one hour.

After chicken has marinated, start warming a pan until good and hot - I used a wok, but actually think a frying pan would have been a better choice, since we're not trying to make something saucy. While warming the pan, you can heat the chili peppers for more flavor if you like, but be careful not burn them.

Add oil to the hot pan, and briefly let 3 cloves of garlic and ginger sizzle before adding the chicken and chilis. You may need to cook the chicken in shifts if you want it to brown nicely. Cook until chicken is browned on the outside, it may not be fully cooked inside. Remove chicken from pan.

Add more oil, sizzle the remaining 2 cloves garlic, add eggplant. Let cook a minute or so before adding remaining (whole) szechuan peppercorns, let cook another minute or so before adding returning the chicken to the pan and adding soy sauce. Cook until chicken is cooked through and eggplant is tender.

Since this dish doesn't have much soy sauce, you may need to add salt. Serve on fluffy white rice.

If you need an addition veggie, I put some rice vinegar, a few szechuan peppercorns, and a grind of black pepper over sliced persian cucumbers.



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