Balance and Harmony is a beautiful, grand encyclopaedia of Asian food by famous Aussie chef, Neil Perry. It has sat in majesty on my shelf, almost too good to touch. I finally skinned its plastic cover off and got stuck into it. It’s one of those books where you start to salivate as you flick through. I adore Asian food, but seldom make it at home for two chief reasons: firstly, that there is so much top notch Asian fare in Sydney to suit any budget, that it is worth simply saving yourself the trouble and eating out, and secondly, if you have ever poured through a prolific Asian cook book, you’ll see just how many ingredients actually go into one dish. This sometimes makes your mind hurt and you instantly are defeated by the thought of trekking around Asian supermarkets trying to find bizarre ingredients, so you don’t bother making anything at home. This is no longer the case in my world.
Inspired to eat a little more healthily after a rather indulgent few weeks of rich, decadent meals, I cooked Asian meals for a week. At first, I made up my own marinades but then it was time to get out the big guns. As I poured over delicious recipe after delicious recipe, one grabbed my attention as I had heard of it but never actually had it: Kung Pao Chicken. This Sichuan dish is packed with flavour and gives you great satisfaction as it tastes really authentic. Two ingredients I put the authenticity down to are Shaoxing Wine (a rice wine) and Chinkiang Vinegar, which is a black rice vinegar that imparts a smoky flavour. Both ingredients are readily available at Asian grocery stores and are extremely cheap.
- 350g free range chicken thing fillet, skin on, diced
- 3 tablespoons vegetable oil (I used peanut oil)
- 2 dried long red chillies, halved lengthways
- 8 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
- 1 small knob of ginger, peeled and finely chopped
- 2 red capsicums, diced
- 1 tablespoon shaoxing
- 2 teaspoons light soy sauce
- 2 teaspoons Chinkiang vinegar
- 2 tablespoons fresh chicken stock
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- 120g (3/4 cup) peanuts, roasted
- 4 spring onions, finely chopped
- Marinade – 2 teaspoons light soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon shaoxing
- 1/2 teaspoon sugar
- To make the marinade, mix together the soy sauce, shaoxing and sugar with the chicken and leave to marinate for 20 minutes.
- Heat a wok until just smoking. Add half the oil and when hot, stir-fry the chillies until they blacken. Add the chicken and cook undisturbed for 1 minute, allowing the chicken to start browning, then stir-fry for 1 minute, or until the chicken is brown on all sides but not completely cooked through. Remove.
- Heat the remaining oil in the wok and stir-fry the garlic and ginger until fragrant. Add the capsicums and stir-fry for 30 seconds, then deglaze the wok with shaoxing (this is where you remove the caramelized bits of food to make a sauce).
- Return the chicken and chillies to the wok with the soy sauce, Chinkiang, stock and sea salt and stir-fry until the chicken is cooked through. Add the peanuts and spring onions and stir-fry for 30 seconds, or until the spring onions are bright green. Transfer to a serving plate and discard the chillies before serving.
Note – Cooking in a traditional Asian way with a wok requires rater high heat. I cooked this outdoors on my BBQ’s wok burner. You need a big flame. If you only have a conventional stove without any large wok-burner hobs, you will not get the same result.