Gong Bao chicken

Posted by Fuchsia on March 05, 2010
Cooking, Recipe, Sichuanese cuisine

I’m quite chuffed to read this thread on a Chinese web discussion board about Gong Bao chicken (apologies to those of you who can’t read Chinese). The poster said she’d tried more than ten different recipes without any success – until she tried mine from Land of Plenty/Sichuan Cookery, which she said produced as good as dish as one in a good Sichuanese restaurant!

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18 Comments to Gong Bao chicken

Liuzhou Laowai
5 March 2010

Well, I’m not surprised. Many of my Chinese friends here in Guangxi like to consult my copy of your book and make extensive notes.

You really should translate it to Chinese. I’m sure it would be popular!

Fuchsia
5 March 2010

Thanks Liuzhou Laowai! Perhaps one day it will be translated into Chinese…

James in Beijing
5 March 2010

Well, I am not surprised either. I will never forget when I made your mapo doufu for a bunch of Chinese friends in Washington, DC, soon after I first got the book. Several of them came up to me to ask which restaurant prepared the dish, since they had not found such authentic flavor in any US restaurant. They were stunned that a) I had made it and b) that it came from a book written by a laowai!

Fuchsia
5 March 2010

That’s so funny, James!

Actually it’s happened to me several times that people meeting me for the first time have been surprised to discover that I’m not Chinese – I think they see ‘Fuchsia’ as a potentially vaguely oriental flower name, and assume I’m married to an Englishman named ‘Dunlop’.

JC
6 March 2010

A local family owned Sichuan Chinese restaurant (considered to be one of the best and most authentic in the area) serves their Gong Bao (Kung Pao) Chicken with sliced rounds of baby cucumber. I find the crunch it provides makes their version really tasty and interesting.

In China did you encounter the dish made this way often, seldom, or never?

Fuchsia
6 March 2010

In Sichuan I don’t think I’ve encountered the dish made in the way you describe. The usual Chengdu version is as described in my book, with chicken and peanuts, and the 小配料 ‘small accompanying ingredients’ of ginger, garlic and spring onions (scallions). My impression is that Sichuanese restaurants in the West add vegetable ingredients like celery (or in this case cucumber) to bulk it out, because people expect bigger portions, and it would be too expensive to offer a big portion of just chicken, with no secondary ingredients.

On the other hand, the Sichuanese do cook other chicken stir-fries with secondary ingredients, like 醋熘鸡 chicken with vinegar, which is also in my Sichuan book, and which has celery as 配料 accompanying ingredient. Incidentally, chicken with vinegar is a wonderful recipe which I highly recommend: I rediscovered it some time ago, and now make it often. It’s a refreshing change from Gong Bao chicken, however addicted you are to it, and a bit more unusual.

brian
7 March 2010

i’ve never had gong bao ji ding at a sichuan restaurant, but i will say that i love your version in land of plenty!

my favorite might chicken dish of yours is probably ma la zi ji from the revolutionary cookbook. so delicious!

i bought both cookbooks after i spent 6 weeks in china 3 years ago and have been using them ever since!

you make authentic & delicious chinese food accessible when you’re in the west. thank you!

Mart
7 March 2010

I live in Italy and can’t get hold of decent chinese produce so now I grow my own thanks to you :-)

JC
8 March 2010

Thanks for the reply.
My curiosity led me to a post/discussion about Gong Bao Chicken on Serious Eats, where they debate the authenticity of not just cucumber, but even peanuts (your name comes up at one point as well):

http://www.seriouseats.com/2009/10/kung-pao-chicken-peanuts-nuts-chinese-food.html

Seems like maybe it’s a regional thing, I know the owners of my local restaurant are from Tianjin, not Sichuan proper.

I’m forever intrigued about local variations of “standardized” dishes (like your red braised pork post) be they from China, Vietnam, Italy or Lousiana (to name just a few places that come to mind).

I’ll have to revisit that Chicken with Vinegar recipe–sounds great.

Zhen
9 March 2010

Really, Fuchsia, your Gong Bao Ji Ding recipe reminded me of my hometown. I came from a family with a lot of food history. My grandfather worked in 龙抄手。My grandmother and my auntie worked in 芙蓉餐厅。 My uncle, now one of the chefs and co-owners of my father’s fast food restaurants worked in 耀华餐厅。

I can fool all of my Laowai friends and pretend to be a good cook when I follow your directions. Your gong bao ji ding recipe earned me a few brownie points as it is one of my boss’ favorite dishes from me.

Just a side note, I devoured your book “shark fin’s and sichuan pepper”, it made me miss Chengdu. I laughed out loud when I read the risotto vs. tang fan section. Aren’t we chengdu people just so blunt? ;)

Zhen

Fuchsia
10 March 2010

JC –
Yes, there are many different version of Gong Bao Ji Ding, but as Gong Bao (‘protect the palace’, ‘palace protector’) was what they called Ding Baozhen’s job in Chengdu, where he served as governor, I think it’s fair to assume that it’s really a Chengdu dish and that IF one wants to talk about an authentic version, that is where one should look.

But I understand that because Ding Baozhen was originally from Guizhou, they claim to have an original version in Guizhou too – do any of you blog readers know anything about this? I haven’t spent much time in Guizhou, and have not investigated.

Zhen – thanks so much for your message, and yes, you really are an old Chengdu food family! Long Chao Shou is one of my favourite places – the head pastry chef there, Fan Shixian, taught me so much, and was so kind to me. I spent many happy days in their kitchen, learning how to make various dumplings.

Alex
2 April 2010

Hi Fuchsia

Re: your comment about chicken with vinegar – I was talking about fish and chips with a Chinese friend of mine recently (she claims it’s the only “Western” dish she likes!) and she contended that batter is not used in Chinese cuisine (she’s from Shanghai area) and that there is no word for it in Chinese. As your chicken with vinegar recipe uses a light batter, I’m interested to know how you would refer to the batter in Chinese?

3hungrytummies
24 June 2010

I have been using both your book like a little bible. Everything works! Thank you!

Fuchsia
24 June 2010

Alex
Sorry, it’s been MONTHS since you posted your comment, I do hope that one day you find this reply!

When I was at cooking school in Sichuan, we did learn how to make various batters for deep-fried foods – applying the batter before frying was known as 挂糊 (gua hu, ‘cover in paste’).

3hungrytummies, thanks!

David
29 October 2010

Was wondering whether you’d found out anything further about Ding Baozhen and possibly gongbao jiding being from Guizhou?

I have travelled extensively in Guizhou, and though I love the place it’s extremely poor with none of Sichuan’s abundance. I’d sum the food up – at least in rural areas – as mostly comprising hefen, sour hotpot (fish or chicken) and dog. Chillies with everything, but no Sichuan pepper.

Many thanks for writing Sichuanese Cooking and the Revolutionary Cookbook – though in the latter wish you’d put more recipes in from the Fire Palace, one of my all-time favourite restaurants. Ah, everyone’s a critic…

best wishes

Gary Soup
6 December 2010

In response to David’s question (and for Fuchsia if she hasn’t seen this), the case for the Guizhou origin was made in this 2005 article in the New York Times, which also states that peanuts are not part of the original recipe. http://is.gd/iha0O

Jerms
14 February 2012

Hey, Fuschia, I’m very late in posting this, but I have a question. The way I had encountered this dish (during the year I spent in Chengdu) involved (about 70% of the time) this weird, crunchy light emerald green vegetable that seemed sort of like cubed chayote squash (but wasn’t), and thus celery or cucumber seemed like a close American approximation. I don’t really care about its historical authenticity in this case, I’d just be really thrilled if you knew what that vegetable is because I really loved it! I feel like as long as the food isn’t being “toned down” for western palates, the food will be authentic. I once read your recipe for hui guo rou in Go Chengdu but was let down at first when I noticed it wasn’t like the one I’d get from the homestyle place around the corner; they used fermented black beans and fermented chili-bean paste with the belly (and sometimes cabbage, which I loved!). There are so many variations of every classic dish out there, I guess some of it is a matter of taste, as long as it still clocks you in the face with bold chilis, garlic, hua jiao the way only Sichuan food can..

Fuchsia
16 February 2012

Hi Jerms
You are talking about stem lettuce, known in Chinese as qing sun or wo sun, and in English sometimes as celtuce. Restaurants sometimes add it to make the chicken go further! I agree that it’s a truly marvellous vegetable: it’s one of those that I miss most when I’m not in China.

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