Firecracker chicken – laziji 辣子鸡

As 2014 is the Year of the Horse, perhaps I should be marking the Chinese New Year with a horse recipe (!) – but instead I‘ve put together one for that Chongqing classic, ‘Chicken with chillies’ (lazi ji 辣子鸡). You can read the full recipe on the Financial Times website here, along with a quick and easy version that does not require dismembering a poussin but uses chicken wings instead.

At first sight, this dish can appear terrifying to the uninitiated, because there are more chillies than pieces of chicken, a great red -silk-and-firecracker pile of them. But, as with that other notoriously chilli-laden dish ‘Water-boiled fish’ (shui zhu yu 水煮鱼), the spices are just there to lend their flavour to the cooking oil, and should not be eaten. Use your chopsticks to rummage out crisp morsels of chicken from among them. The fragments of skin will be the most delicious, and some of the little bones so crisp you can munch them.

This recipe is a speciality of Geleshan (Gele Mountain) in Chongqing, that vast municipality that was until 1997 a district of Sichuan Province. There, they use young free-range chickens, which is why I recommend using a poussin if you can find one – these small birds can be cut into the dainty little pieces that will become sizzly crisp and fragrant in the deep-frying oil. If you can’t find poussin, used boned chicken thigh meat instead.

Please make sure you buy dried chillies that have a deep red colour but are not too hot: avoid those aggressive little bird’s eye chillies, and choose instead larger varieties like Sichuan facing heaven chillies, or the pointy chillies you can see in my photographs. (Mexican de Arbols are a reasonable substitute.) I bought the ones you can see in the pics from New Loon Moon in Gerrard Street, Chinatown, London. Conveniently, they had already been cut into sections and largely deseeded, which saved time in the kitchen.

Serve the dish as part of a Chinese feast – ideally with some fresh, vibrant greens, a gentle broth to balance the fiery dryness of the chicken, plain white rice and any other dishes you fancy.

9 Responses to “Firecracker chicken – laziji 辣子鸡”

  1. Precarious Dave

    Oh, I remember your 辣子鸡 from Sichuan Cookery! (page 85, kids!) Even now the chilli content has me taking deep breaths. Maybe I’ll man-up and take the plunge one of these days. 😀

  2. Rick Brown

    This was part of the first meal I had on my first ever trip to China – about 12 years ago… I was in Kunming with an Aussie friend, and had no idea the chillies were not for eating…!

  3. Jonathan Rotberg

    Hi Fuchsia,

    I fell in love with Sichuan food a few years back and a friend of mine pointed me toward you and I’ve loved reading all your books.

    Quick question about this recipe:

    By BONED chicken thighs do you mean DEBONED? Or Chicken Thighs WITH Bones?

    Thanks! I hope this question isn’t stupid…maybe its because I’m American.

  4. Fuchsia

    Hi Jonathan – yes, I mean WITHOUT bones (in UK English, anyway, we use ‘bone’ as a verb meaning ‘to remove the bones’)!

  5. Wendell

    I have been looking for a 辣子鸡 recipe FOREVER. Glad I used this one. Reminds me of my travels in China. Great recipe!

  6. keith

    Hi Fuchsia – Thanks so much for this recipe. Since moving away from New York I’ve been trying to hunt down some recipes to reverse-engineer the dishes at my favorite Sichuan joint (Grand Sichuan) and several of yours do the job perfectly. (This one is very close to a dish on their menu they call Chongqing chicken.) However, there is one dish I adore there that i’ve never seen a recipe that approximates, I suspect because it may not be 100% canonical. They call it Guizhou chicken and it is extremely similar to this (Chongqing chicken) in its basic elements – the chilis, Sichuan peppers, deep-fried chicken pieces – except it has a subtly sweet element to it (honey?) and is a little more saucy, not to the point of leaving much in the bottom of the dish besides a little red oil, but enough to cling and really flavor the chicken. I am wondering if you have ever come across a dish like this and have any idea how they might have tinkered with a traditional 辣子鸡 recipe to pull it off? PS – Congratulations on the Beard awards!

  7. Pat Pilcher

    Chongqing chicken is one of my favourites – the pot sticker in san fran do a great version of it, and locally in Wellington, New Zealand Tiger also do a good version.

    I recently visited Huawei’s HQ in Shenzen and their staff cafe was serving this – it was excellent and I totally pigged out!

    We’re in London mid year and I’ve yet to find a decent sichuan restaurant, anyone got any reccomendations?

  8. Fuchsia

    Hi Pat
    Of course I have to recommend Barshu! Disclosure: I do work for them as a consultant – but please check on the web for impartial opinions! But it is excellent. Don’t miss the spicy pea jelly, Gong Bao prawns and chicken in a pile of chillies.
    I also recommend Sichuan Folk in Hanbury Street, and Tianfu in Shepherd’s Bush.

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