Saturday, January 12, 2013

Rosie Is In A Szechwan State Of Mind. Today, It's Gongbao Jiding.

I'm enjoying my new cookbook,

Today's selection was picked out by Mr. Hawthorne,
who was scared by the star anise in my first dish
I made from the book -
or red-cooked meat - a pork dish.
Middle Hawthorne, one of his buddies, and I
had no problem whatsoever
with the hongshao rou and the star anise flavor.

Perhaps it may be an acquired taste.
I see a slew of anise-flavored dishes
in Mr. Hawthorne's future.

And by the way, Mr. Hawthorne,
next time I hand you one of my books
and ask you to pick out ANYTHING you'd like me to make,
DO NOT, I repeat, DO NOT,
hand said book back to me with the selected pages DOG-EARED!

Today, I'm making gongbao jiding
AKA Grand Duke's Chicken with Peanuts.

I've been enjoying reading this cookbook
and learning about Mrs. Chiang's culture and Szechwan cuisine.
She grew up in Szechwan in a family of demanding gourmets.
The family raised most of their food;
her father butchered their own pigs;
her mother made her own vinegars and soy sauce.
As the author, Mrs. Shrecker, wrote,
"Everyone in China, from peasant to gentleman scholar,
was and is a gourmet."
The Szechwan province, isolated in central China,
was a prosperous and fertile province with a rich agriculture.
It was a province of gourmets.
Szechwan food is basically peasant food
that earned the people of Szechwan the nickname of
haochigui, "good-eating devils."
And Mrs. Chiang's food epitomizes
the everyday home-cooking of the Szechwan cook.
Early on, her life revolved around her mother's kitchen.

Mrs. Chiang recalls:
"She cooked all our meals on a big, wood-burning brick stove that practically filled the kitchen. My brothers and sisters and I would run in and snatch a piece of fruit or a bit of salted vegetable to eat on the way to school.

By the time I was ten, I was allowed to help my mother in the kitchen.  I loved it.  I washed pots, chopped vegetables, and kept the fire going.  Sometimes when my mother was very busy I got to cook a dish.  But mainly I watched, listened, and learned.  There was a lot to learn.  My mother made nearly everything we ate, including condiments.  I learned to make soy sauce and bean curd, hot pepper paste and wine.

Even when there was no company she cooked with great care.  My father was very demanding.  If he didn't like dinner, he would stomp out of the house and go to a restaurant.  My mother had to cook well."

According to Shrecker:

"Mrs. Chiang's mother was a superb cook and her father a demanding connoisseur.  As a girl in pre-revolutionary China, Mrs. Chiang knew her relations with a future mother-in-law would largely depend on her ability as a cook, so she applied herself to learning with a singlemindeness no American girl of today would match. ...  She loved to cook and, like most people from Szechwan, loved to eat."
"Not only did Mrs. Chiang's mother cook well, she taught her daughter the recipes that provide the bulk of this cookbook.  Even more important, she transmitted her deep understanding of food and her respect for its natural qualities.  Mrs. Chiang has an amazingly sensitive palate.  She can taste a dish at a restaurant, analyze its ingredients, describe how it was cooked, and say what should be done to improve it.  Such refinement can only come from years of eating, cooking, and talking about good food."

For lunch, I made Mrs. Chiang's  Gongbao Jiding, or Grand Duke's Chicken with Peanuts.  It was not uncommon for a celebrated Chinese gourmet, in this case, an anonymous grand duke, to allow his name to be used for a classic dish and, particularly one his sensitive criticism may have helped perfect.  Chicken with peanuts is considered one of the great dishes of Szechwan and many gourmets believe it epitomizes the true taste, or zhen wer, of the province.

There is some debate about the peppers.  Some only use dried red peppers, while others, like Mrs. Chiang, add green peppers.  The peanuts are a given.  And the peanuts must be fresh, neither roasted nor salted.

According to the notes preceding the recipe:
"Perfectly prepared, a gongbao jiding will have very little sauce, although it may be covered with a thin film of oil.  Szechwanese food occasionally seems oily; this is not a flaw, but a sign that the cook respected his ingredients enough not to adulterate them with any prepared sauce."

And by the way, mine had a thin film of oil on it. : )

Mrs. Chiang's recipe of Grand Duke's Chicken with Peanuts: 

1/2 cup fresh peanuts
1 large whole chicken breast (1 pound)
1 1/3 TB soy sauce
1/2 tsp sugar
1 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp Chinese rice wine or sherry
1 egg white
1 scant TB cornstarch
2 green peppers
10 cloves garlic
1/2-inch piece fresh ginger
5 dried red peppers
2 scallions

If the peanuts still have their red skins on, put them in a small bowl and pour boiling water over them.  Let the peanuts soak for about 3 minutes, then drain.  According to Mrs. Chiang, the skins will "practically pop off."

Remove all skin and bones from the chicken breast and cut the meat into 1-inch cubes.
Of course, I put the skin and bones into a freezer bag to make stock later.
Put the chicken pieces in a bowl and add the soy sauce, sugar, sesame oil, wine, egg white, and cornstarch.  Mix thoroughly and set aside to marinate while you prepare the other ingredients.

Wash the peppers and cut them into squares.

Smash the garlic cloves with the flat side of your knife, then peel.  Mince.

Peel ginger and mince finer than the garlic.

Cut red peppers into about 4 pieces each.

Chop scallions and add to the chicken.


3 TB peanut oil

Heat wok for 15 seconds over medium flame, then pour in the oil.  Wait for a few small wisps of smoke to appear, then add the peanuts.  Stir fry 2-3 minutes, agitating them around the pan so they are all exposed to the hot oil.  As soon as the peanuts turn golden brown, remove from the pan.

Add green peppers to the oil.  Stir fry for 30 seconds over high flame, then add salt and stir fry another 45 seconds.  Remove peppers from pan.

1/4 cup peanut oil
Remove pan from heat and wipe it out with paper towels.  Return to high heat for 15 seconds before pouring in 1/4 cup fresh oil.  When the oil is ready for cooking, add the garlic, ginger, and dried red peppers. I removed a lot of the seeds from the peppers before adding.  I didn't want all that heat in the dish.  Cook for 20 seconds, stirring constantly.

Add the chicken and marinade.  Stir fry 1 minute

Return green peppers to pan and stir fry with chicken another minute.

1 TB soy sauce

Add the soy sauce to chicken and stir fry until chicken is cooked through.  20 - 30 seconds.

Return peanuts to the pan and stir fry everything together for another 30 seconds.

My peanuts had skins on,
so I added boiling water
and let them sit for 3 minutes.

Mrs. Chiang notes,
"The skins will practically pop off."

Apparently, I have recalcitrant peanuts.
I needed the help of a paper towel to de-skin.

My chicken breast was a few ounces short of one pound.
I had three breasts in the fridge,
so I skinned and boned all bosoms.
I used enough to give me a little more than one pound for this dish.
I'm saving the other two breasts
for another preparation or freezing for later use.

One does not need a knife to skin and bone a chicken.
Your hands are your best tools in the kitchen.

Cut the chicken into 1-inch bites.

Be sure you save all the skin, bones,
and meat that didn't detach from the bone.
Put it in a freezer bag.
Label and date it.
On a rainy day,
after you've collected a bunch of these,
turn to the kitchen for solace.
Make chicken stock.
And then make chicken consomme.
You'll be glad you did.

First, gather your mise en place:

1/2 cup fresh, skinned peanuts
1 pound plus of chicken bosom, 1-inch cubes
1 TB + 1 tsp soy sauce (I used Tamari.)
1/2 tsp sugar
1 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp Sherry
1 egg white
1 TB cornstarch
 1 green pepper, chopped

This was the only deviation from the recipe.
The recipe called for 2 green peppers.
I had only 1 pepper.
Mr. Hawthorne commented that
the recipe would have benefited
by the addition of the extra green pepper.
I would've gone with green, yellow, orange, and red peppers.
I love mixing up the colors.
 I have a penchant for the pretty.

10 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 inch piece fresh ginger, minced
5 dried red peppers, chopped
scallions, sliced
Now, for the step by steps:
Soy sauce, or Tamari,
goes over the chicken.

1/2 teaspoon sugar

1 teaspoon sesame oil

1 teaspoon sherry

1 egg white

1 TB cornstarch

Mix thoroughly.

Set aside while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.

My mise en place:
1 pound plus cubed chicken in marinade
1 green pepper, chopped
1 cup skinned peanuts
chopped dried red peppers
minced garlic
minced ginger
sliced scallions

Now, I'm taking a break
and starting on the rice.
I checked my pantry and found red cargo rice
with no instructions.
Googling turned up Two Men and a Little Farm blog
with a recipe for red cargo rice.

First I rinsed the rice well.

Next, I added oil to cover the bottom of the pan,
heated over medium heat,
poured 1 cup rice in and added some salt and pepper.

 Saute for 3-5 minutes
to bring out the flavor and color.

Add in 2 cups water.
Bring the water to a boil,
then reduce to a simmer,
put the lid on,
and let it cook for 40-45 minutes.
Turn off heat and let stand, covered, for 5 minutes more,
to let the water be absorbed.

Wosie's weady to wok.

I heated my wok over medium flame
and added the peanut oil.
When the oil gets wispy,
add in the peanuts.

Stir constantly for 2 -3 minutes ...

When the peanuts are golden brown
remove to a bowl.

Add in the green peppers to the wok
and turn heat to high.

Stir fry 30 seconds.

Add 1/2 teaspoon salt.

Stir fry another 45 seconds.
Remove from pan.

Always read through the recipe in its entirety
before you start cooking.
I dumped the green peppers on top of the peanuts.
At the end of cooking time,
you add the peppers into the dish first,
 separately from the peanuts.
I had to pick all the pepper pieces out
when I got to that point in the recipe.

I don't know why the directions said to dump the oil,
wipe out the wok,
and add fresh oil,
but I'm following directions and doing as I'm told.

My chicken has been soaking comfortably.

I heated the wok over high heat,
added the oil (1/4 cup),
and when smoky wisps just started to come from the oil,
I added in the dried red peppers, minced garlic, and minced ginger.
Cook 20 seconds.

Then add in the chicken and its bath.

Stir fry one minute.

Return the green peppers to the wok.
Stir fry 1 minute.

Add in the soy.

Stir fry 15 seconds.

Add peanuts
and stir fry everything together,
30 seconds or until chicken is cooked through.

And serve.

My chicken was cooked perfectly.
Fork-tender and extremely juicy.

I like the nutty, chewy red rice.

 Mr. Hawthorne and I agreed
 that we could have used that extra pepper.

Other than that,
we both liked this.
A lot.

In case you're wondering,
there wasn't a whole lot of heat to this dish.
I could've used more of those seeds in this.
I like spicy.

Bottom line ...
this was goooood.

If you see it in a Chinese restaurant, order it.
Better yet, make it yourself!


Kathy said...

This looks extremely good, but I wouldam trying to think what to sub for the bell peppers, on account of they rip my insides to bits. Maybe some carrot, snow peas, mushrooms?

Rosie Hawthorne said...

Kathy, according to Mrs. Chiang, adding carrots and snow peas to everything is an American bastardization of the classic dish. Adding such things would be a travesty. But I would never tell.

Chris said...

Kathy, I'm sorry to hear that bell peppers rip your insides to bits. Mrs. Chiang actually prefers hotter fresh green chills in this dish (I try to use Anaheim or even Jalapeño chilis when I make this, along with many more dried red chilis than are called for in the recipe), but I suspect those sorts of peppers would cause you the same problems. One important thing that the green peppers add to the dish is a touch of bitterness (which red or yellow bell peppers would provide much less of), so you could try substituting a bit of baby bok choy or cabbage to produce a similar taste (and maybe adding a bit more dried red chili if you like the heat and those don't cause you trouble). As for Rosie's comments, I do not see in Mrs. Chiang's Szechwan Cookbook that anyone claims "adding carrots and snow an American bastardization of the classic dish", or that such a thing "would be a travesty", so I wouldn't pay too much attention to Rosie's pronouncements. Adding carrots and snow peas would, in my opinion, add much more sweetness to the dish, which would be rather different than the bitterness added by green peppers. Adding lots of vegetables that you enjoy would be a good thing, but of course a different thing than what Mrs. Chiang offers. One marvelous quality of this dish is that with a rather small and simple set of ingredients, the simple seasoning shines through. When I try to expand the basic recipe by adding many more additional vegetables, the essential quality changes. It is still an excellent dish, but somehow different. You should experiment with what you like to find your happy balance, but don't stray too far at the start from the genius of Mrs. Chiang.

Rosie Hawthorne said...

Chris, thank you for your comment. To quote from the book, "When we came back from that first glorious year on Taiwan, our worst doubts about American Chinese restaurants were confirmed. They were not preparing real Chinese food. They were cavalier about altering recipes; we were now knowledgeable enough to be shocked when they served the famous Szechwan chicken with hot peppers and peanuts made with snow peas and cashews ..." I was merely trying to not stray too far away from Mrs. Chiang's recipe.

And by the way, since I haven't had the "real deal," I would not be averse to adding carrots, bok choy, red sweet peppers, and/or celery to the dish, although Mrs. Chiang might well consider that blasphemy.

Rosie Hawthorne said...

Chris, one more quote from the book: "The casual substitution or omission of ingredients is a travesty."

Rosie Hawthorne said...

Kathy, throw in whatever you want!