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.