It’s not often we are trusted with an iPhone, let alone a cleaver. But as we watched Fuchsia Dunlop effortlessly using one, how could we not want to try? She made it look so easy. Thankfully with her guidance it was, even for team left handed over here.
Fuchsia is one of the chefs who brought authentic Szechuan cooking to the mainstream Western palette and her knowledge is endless. Heaven facing chilies, green peppercorns and authentic black bean paste were all tested. There were a few guilty faces when she told us that sesame oil is actually supposed to be used as a dressing at the end, not at the start of a stir fry.
Gong Bao Chicken with Peanuts had hints of the slight tongue numbing effect that Szechuan chillies are known for, combined with tender velvety chunks of chicken and crunchy peanuts.
A vegetarian staple was given a reworking and turned into the scarily named Pock Marked Old Woman Tofu. The chili and black bean paste flavour hit blasted away a lot of preconceptions. Who knew bean curd could be this exciting?
We also made Bangbang Chicken. Words won’t do justice to how tasty this peanut sesame oil beauty is. You will have to trust us on this.
A finale of stir fried choy sum with sliced red chillies, garlic and soy finally filled our stomachs. Laughter, good food and all our fingers intact. Not bad for a Friday lunch.
Three things we learnt at Szechuan cooking school
You should always ‘season’ your wok before stir frying, which means coating it in a thin layer of oil before you start, chucking that out, then lightly topping it up again.
Fish eyes, horse ears, rice grains and silken threads are the beautiful names for some of the different cuts we learnt and will be unsuccessfully trying to recreate in our homes.
In case our exploits have made you curious, here is one of Fuchsia’s recipes kindly reproduced with her permission. Enjoy!
Gong Bao chicken with peanuts
Gong bao ji ding
2 boneless chicken breasts, with or without skin (300–350g in total)
3 cloves of garlic
An equivalent amount of fresh ginger
5 spring onions, white parts only
2 tablespoons cooking oil
a good handful of dried chillies (at least 10)
1 teaspoon whole Sichuan pepper
75g roasted peanuts
For the marinade
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons light soy sauce
1 teaspoon Shaoxing wine
11/2 teaspoons potato flour
1 tablespoon water
For the sauce
3 teaspoons sugar
3/4 teaspoon potato flour
1 teaspoon dark soy sauce
1 teaspoon light soy sauce
3 teaspoons Chinkiang or black Chinese vinegar
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon chicken stock or water
- Cut the chicken as evenly as possible into 1.5cm strips and then cut these into small cubes. Place in a small bowl, mix in the marinade ingredients, and leave while you prepare the other ingredients.
- Peel and thinly slice the garlic and ginger, and chop the spring onions into chunks as long as their diameter (to match the chicken cubes). Snip the chillies in half or into 1.5cm sections. Discard their seeds as far as possible. Combine the sauce ingredients in a small bowl.
- Heat a seasoned wok over a high flame. Add 2 tbsp oil with the chillies and Sichuan pepper, and stir-fry briefly until the chillies are darkening but not burnt (you can remove the wok from the heat if necessary to prevent overheating).
- Quickly add the chicken and stir-fry over a high flame, stirring constantly. As soon as the chicken cubes have separated, add the ginger, garlic and spring onions and continue to stir-fry for a few minutes until they are fragrant and the meat is cooked through (test one of the larger pieces to make sure).
- Give the sauce a stir and add it to the wok, continuing to stir and toss. As soon as the sauce has become thick and lustrous, add the peanuts, stir them in, and serve.