Remember the time when cuisine from Mainland China was all the rage in Malaysia? That was when Sichuan peppercorn made its presence in a big way, lacing many dishes with its robust flavour and numbing spiciness, known as mala.
To bring out the characteristic piquancy of Sichuan peppercorns, it is usually extracted into a chilli oil which can be used in a variety of recipes that calls for it. The Sichuan chilli oil can be a bit overpowering, but if used sparingly, it imparts a wonderful vibrancy to even the most mundane of dishes.
The white poached chicken, the usual fare during Chinese festivals, can get an amazing makeover with a sauce infused with Sichuan chilli oil.
This chicken dish, known as kou shui ji, literally means saliva chicken. It is variously translated as mouth-watering chicken or salivating chicken, and hails from the Sichuan region of China. No surprises there.
Sichuan peppercorns are available at many Chinese sundry shops. But make sure you ask for red Sichuan peppercorns and not green, which is a lot spicier and predominantly used for mala steamboat. Green Sichuan peppercorn is also double the price of the red variety.
Many people already know how to prepare white poached chicken, and most families have their own techniques in cooking the chicken to the correct doneness and succulence. The usual test is to prick into the skin at the chicken thigh and it’s done if the juices run clear.
My wife usually does not run the chicken through an ice bath. Instead, she brushes sesame oil all over the chicken skin while it’s still hot for its fragrance to permeate into the meat. Then she allows the chicken to cool down to room temperature for about half an hour before slicing.
Kou shui ji is served cold and all the components can be prepared ahead of time, so you’d only need to dress the chicken with the sauce and garnish just before your table is seated. Bring it to the table and watch your family drool over this chicken dish, which has all the savoury elements of sweet, sour, bitter and spicy for the year ahead.
- 2kg whole chicken
- 2cm ginger, sliced
- 2 sprigs scallions, cut into 4cm strips
- 1 tbsp Shaoxing wine
- Sichuan chili oil:
- 2 tbsps chili flakes or chili powder
- ½ tbsp red Sichuan peppercorns
- ½ tbsp Chinese five-spice powder
- 1 tbsp sesame seeds
- ½ cup oil
- 1cm ginger, sliced
- 2 star anise
- 1 tbsp cumin seeds
- 2 bay leaves
- Dressing sauce:
- 5 tbsps Sichuan chili oil
- 1 tbsp sesame oil
- 2 cloves garlic, smashed
- 2 tbsps Shaoxing wine
- 2 tbsps black vinegar
- 1 tbsp light soy sauce
- ½ tbsp sugar
- pinch of salt
- 1 sprig scallions, minced
- 1 sprig cilantro, minced
- 1 red chili, sliced
- 1 tbsp sesame seeds, toasted
- Heat cooking oil to fry ginger slices. Add star anise, bay leaves and cumin, and temper spices over slowest heat until fragrant, taking care that they don't burn.
- In a heat-resistant bowl, mix together chili flakes, Sichuan peppercorn, five-spice powder and sesame seeds. Place a wire sieve over bowl of dry chili mix.
- Pour the hot oil directly into the dry chili mix in the bowl. Discard all the spices. Set the Sichuan chili oil aside overnight for the spices to meld together.
- Clean the chicken and pat dry. Bring about 4 litres of water to boil in a stock pot. Add chicken, scallions, ginger and wine. Bring the contents to a boil over medium heat to poach for about 5 minutes. Cover with a lid and turn off the stove to let the chicken steam in the residual heat for about 20 minutes.
- Prepare iced water in a large bowl. Plunge the chicken in the ice bath, turning over several times until the chicken is completely cooled down. Cut into bite-size pieces and arrange on serving plate.
- Toast sesame seed in pan until aromatic.
- Mix 5 tablespoons of chili oil with all the dressing sauce ingredients. Dress the chicken with the sauce, garnish with red chilli slices and toasted sesame seeds.