Thursday, 14 April 2011

Dong'an Chicken & Pounded Aubergines

Some time ago, leading up to a trip to Shanghai, someone recommended that I read Fuschia Dunlop’s memoir of her time living & cooking in Sichuan Province: Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Pepper.  Fuschia was the first foreigner to study at the Sichuan Culinary Institute in Chengdu so not only is the book a fascinating insight into Chinese life and cooking culture but it also includes many regional recipes that likewise, fascinated.

The trip to Shanghai followed, where friends were kind enough to introduce us to many regional restaurants to get a good taste of all the country has to offer (well some anyway, in fairness!).  It was then that my dislike of “Chinese food” garnered from rubbish Chinese takeaways in London changed to love - particularly of Sichuan & Hunan cuisines (and also of xiaolongbao which I’d love to attempt to make myself but I fear they wouldn’t turn out well - or does anyone know where to get excellent xiaolongbao in London?).

On my return I bought a copy of Fuschia Dunlop’s Sichuan Cookery from which I have cooked many, many things and cannot recommend enough.  It was this book that also cured me of another lifelong aversion: aubergines - now I love them, and positively crave fish-fragrant aubergine on a fairly frequent basis.

It was only a matter of time therefore before I knew I would have to get her second cookery book: The Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook this time focusing on Hunan cuisine, birthplace of the “Great Leader” himself, Chairman Mao.

What follows are approximations (unfortunately I threw away my notes!) of the two recipes I tried first: dong an zi ji (Dong’an chicken - also called “vinegar chicken”) and qing jiapo lei qie zi (pounded aubergines with green peppers) - both slightly adapted. 

I advise that you buy both books yourself as they are truly brilliant.  

Pounded Aubergines
Serves 1

1 aubergine
1 thin-skinned green pepper (of the type found in mediterranean / middle eastern supermarkets)
Light soy sauce
1 tbsp groundnut oil

Peel & slice aubergines thickly - sprinkle liberally on both sides with salt then set aside for approx 30 mins.

Meanwhile cut the pepper in half, cut away seeds & stem then slice thinly.  

After 30 minutes rinse the aubergines of salt then pat dry with kitchen towel.

Put the peppers into a wok over medium heat (obviously a flame is best when using a wok I’m afraid electric-hob users!), pressing down against the side of the wok until the peppers are softer and smell fragrant.

Set the peppers aside then add the oil to the wok and heat.  Add the aubergines and stir-fry for at least 15 minutes, pressing down on them firmly occasionally to break them down to a sludgy paste.  At the end they should be softened, about half the volume of the original slices but not coloured.

Return the peppers to the wok with the aubergine mush and stirfry for a few minutes until combined.  Season with a little light soy then serve.

Dong’an Chicken
Serves 1

1 chicken breast
weak chicken stock for poaching - about 500 ml
1½ inch knob ginger, unpeeled
2 spring onions
½ fresh red chilli, deseeded, deveined & cut into  very fine slivers
1 dried red chilli
1 tsp Shaoxing wine
1 tbsp rice vinegar (mine was seasoned japanese vingegar as that was what I had, but it should be clear)
¼ tsp sichuan peppercorns
½ tsp sesame oil
1tbsp lard

Poach the chicken: bring the chicken stock to boil in a saucepan, add the chicken and bring back to the boil.  Crush half the unpeeled ginger and 1 spring onion (I bash with a rolling pin) and add to the pan.

Reduce the heat and poach for about 5 minutes. Remove the chicken for the poaching liquid, and let cool (keep the poaching liquid to one side).  The chicken will only be about ¾ cooked which is what you want.

When it is cool enough to handle, cut along the grain into bite size pieces.

Now peel the remaining ginger and slice into verey fine slivers. Ditto with the green part only of the remaining spring onion.  

Heat the wok until starting to smoke and add the lard. When it has warmed up but isn’t fiercely hot and smoking, add the ginger and chilli, dried chilli & Sichuan pepper.  I remove from the heat and swirl around until all is fragrant but not burning - this only takes about 30 seconds or so.

Add the chicken and stirfry, splashing the Shaoxing wine in. Then add the vinegar and a pinch of salt (to taste).  Then add about 50 mls of the cooking liquid.  Bring to the boil then simmer briefly, stirring to ensure all is coated in the liquid and the flavours have mingled and penetrated the chicken.

Finally throw in the spring onion greens and stir around.  Remove from the heat stir in the sesame oil and serve with the aubergines and a little rice.

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