We’ve been in the mood for Chinese food a lot lately, but were wanting some new ideas. Opening some Chinese cookbooks at random led me to a chicken recipe in Land of Plenty that I’d never noticed before. It’s called Tai Bai, apparently in honor of the poet Li Bai. It’s easy to put together and involves very little chopping, which is a real selling point some nights. It has no garlic or ginger – the primary flavors are chiles, both dried and pickled, plus Sichuan pepper. It’s moderately fiery, so I wouldn’t recommend this one if you don’t have much spice tolerance. We think it’s delicious.
The recipe lets you substitute Thai pickled chiles for the Sichuan variety, which was lucky for us as we happen to have a large jar of Thai peppers that we bought on a whim last year, but it also tells you to add a spoonful of pickled chile paste to support the flavor. I used sambal oelek.
The first time I made this I had some fresh chicken stock on the stove that hadn’t been defatted, so the final dish was good and schmaltzy. The second time it was less oily, but still delicious – the chicken gets really tender and infused with flavor. We also tried steaming broccolini and then stirfrying it with the chicken at the very end so it would absorb some of the chile flavorings. Rice is a must with this – we particularly like it with slightly sticky sushi rice.
Tai Bai Chicken
From Land of Plenty: A Treasury of Authentic Sichuan Cooking by Fuchsia Dunlop
- 1 lb chicken thigh meat, boneless or bone-in, cut into 1½-2 inch chunks
- 1/2 cup peanut oil
- small handful dried red chiles, cut in half and seeds shaken out
- 4 Sichuan pickled chiles, or 6 Thai pickled chiles + 1 tsp pickled chile paste
- 5 scallions, white and green parts separated and cut into 2 inch pieces
- 1 cup chicken stock
- 1 Tbsp rice wine or sherry
- 2 tsp soy sauce
- 1 tsp Sichuan pepper (recipe calls for whole, but we used ground as I find biting into a whole Sichuan pepper a bit daunting)
- 1 tsp sugar
- pinch of salt
- 2 pinches white pepper
- 1 tsp sesame oil
Heat the oil in a wok over a high flame. Watching out for spattering, add the chicken in batches and stir fry about a minute, until it turns white but not cooked through or browned. Remove and set aside.
Remove all but 3 Tbsp of oil from the wok. Set over medium heat and add the dried chiles. Cook until fragrant but not too dark, then add the pickled chiles and paste. Stir fry briefly, then add the scallion whites and fry a bit longer. You don’t want any of the ingredients to burn, so go easy on the heat.
Add the stock, chicken, rice wine, soy, Sichuan pepper, sugar, salt and white pepper. Bring to a boil and simmer gently about 20 minutes, so the chicken cooks through and the sauce evaporates. Ideally you want just spiced oil coating the chicken by the end of cooking. You can remove the dried chiles at this point and discard them.
Just before serving, toss in the scallion greens (and steamed broccoli or other green vegetables if you want a one-pot dinner) and stir it all together. Drizzle in the sesame oil and serve with rice.