Today was not a great day. It was my first day back at work after three weeks holiday. The problem is that I have a brain like a juggernaut. It’s great when it gets up a head of speed because nothing can stop it. But to get it to change direction from holiday to work mode is like a juggernaut doing a three-point turn on a narrow road. It gets there in the end, but there’s lots of to-ing and fro-ing and its hard work.
To ease back in, I generally chew the fat to anyone about anything but work – new year’s resolutions and why they don’t work, cool Christmas presents, the state of the Euro, the property market and so on.
In one conversation, one of my team explained that she is going to cook recipes with strange and interesting names. She is also doing a Sichuan cooking course this year.
“Ooh I said, I cooked Firecracker chicken at the weekend, which ticks both boxes”. So I dedicate this cracking spicy Sichuan dish to her. I also dedicate it to the rest of my team, because I slightly pissed them off with my post I wish my life were like a lemon meringue pie.
Firecracker chicken is a recipe from Christine Manfield’s gorgeous Fire cookbook. I bought it about six months ago. Until now, I tended to ogle at it rather than cook out of it. That’s because some dishes are very elaborate. Recipes are really three of four mini recipes rolled into one. And within each of these mini recipes can be sauces, pastes or master stocks.
I’m overstating it slightly. There are some very doable dishes for the average cook like myself and Firecracker chicken is one of them.
Let’s be clear though. While straightforward, firecracker chicken is not for the faint-hearted. The recipe calls for six small (scud-like) chillies, chilli oil, chilli flakes, and Sichuan pepper. It’s a fiery dish. You could cut down on the chilli, but being a Sichuan recipe, I think you need it. It would be like not making enough roast potatoes for Sunday dinner.
You start by marinating chicken thighs in soy sauce (light and dark), rice vinegar, sea salt, and a teaspoon each of crushed white peppercorns and Sichuan pepper. Add potato flour. Leave the chicken to marinate for about 30 minutes. Then make the chilli/garlic sauce.
You need 60 ml of white chicken stock (there is a recipe in the Essentials section of the book. It takes a couple of hours, so make ahead), light and dark soy sauce, dried chili flakes, chili oil, sesame oil, rice vinegar, rice wine, sugar, garlic paste, finely chopped ginger, chili jam and Sichuan pepper.
To make chili jam properly you need to make it in large quantities. Christine stresses that you cannot, under any circumstances (even if your life depends on it) make it in smaller quantities than the recipe states. So I use the bought stuff instead.
The garlic paste is easy though. Cut a bulb in half, drizzle in olive oil and wrap in foil. Cook in the oven on 180C. After 30 minutes, take the garlic out of the oven. Leave until cool enough to handle and squeeze the soft garlic cloves out of the bulbs and squash them into a paste.
Cook the sauce ingredients on a medium heat until it simmers. Take it off the heat after about ten minutes or so.
Then remove the chicken from the marinade and stir-fry in a wok in a small amount of vegetable oil. Cook until brown. Add the sauce and one minute later add the capsicum. Right at the end add the spring onions and coriander and turn off the heat. Apart from taste, you need the capsicum, coriander and spring onions for vibrancy. The dark soy sauce makes it look a bit drab and gloomy. I am still on my diet (urgh!) so I cook it with about four grains of brown rice. It’s ready to serve and scoff.
It’s an interesting dish. The Sichuan pepper is numbing, the chillies make it fiery, but the taste of the sauce still comes through strongly. It’s hot, yet strangely balanced. It does make your brow sweat, but you’re not reaching for the fire extinguisher. It’s my first recipe out of Fire and this dish definitely lived up to its billing.