Friday, June 10, 2011

Szechuan style chicken with wood ear 麻辣雞片炒木耳

When I think about Szechuan (四川) cuisine, the first thing comes to my mind is the smoking hot flavor. The kind of spiciness is a little different from the one in Hunan (湖南) cuisine. Szechuan cuisine uses a lot of Chinese peppercorns (花椒) in addition to the hot chilli, which give you a numb sensation at the tip of your tongue. This is a great dish for the lunch box, very tasty even after re-heating. The spiciness surely boost one's appetite. Remember to grab one more piece of tissue! 

  • 1 standard size chicken breast
  • 1 pack of compressed black wood ears
  • 1 Tbsp Chinese peppercorns
  • 5 cloves of garlic
  • 3-4 slices of ginger

Compressed wood ears
1. Soak the compressed wood ears in warm water. They will soon expand into 10 times of the volume. Use a pair of scissors to remove the hard stems. (It comes in a box with many small individually wrapped packs inside. This kind is more tender than the dried wood ears after soaking.)
2. Cut the chicken breast into thin slices. (I buy chicken breast when they are on sale, and aliquot them into small bags and freeze. When ready to use, I heat it in the microwave just until the surface is defrosted and the center is still hard. It is easier to cut into thin slices this way.)

3. Marinate the chicken breast slices with 1 Tbsp soy sauce, 1 Tbsp cooking wine, 1 Tbsp sesame oil, 1 Tbsp corn starch and 1 Tbsp chili sauce (personal preference).

Crushed (left) vs. whole (right) Chinese peppercorns
4. Crush the Chinese peppercorns in a tall glass (like a beer glass) with a rolling pin, so they are not easy to escape during crushing. 

5. Cut the garlic and ginger into thin slices.

6. Heat up two Tbsp cooking oil in pan. Add the crushed Chinese peppercorns, ginger and garlic in. Stir until the smell comes out.

7. Add the chicken breast slices. Stir-fry until it has changed color (so they are cooked).

8. Add the black wood ears. Season with 2 Tbsp of soy sauce (for color) and 1 tsp salt.

Black wood ears:
I know it has a weird name, and for most people, it looks weird too. The wood ear fungus does strongly resemble an ear, as it forms folds and whorls while it grows on the trunks and bark of mostly dead trees. It is a type of jelly mushroom found widely distributed in the Northern Hemisphere, and it is more commonly cultivated and used for food in parts of Asia. 

In its dried state wood ear are a rich store of vitamin D in particular and also contain vitamins B1 and B2. Nutrition institutes have recently reported that wood ear ranks second among food products in vegetable fiber and that it has three times as much iron as liver and twice as much calcium as milk.

Studies of the wood ear fungus have suggested that it may also have medicinal benefits. In addition to lowering cholesterol, the fungus also acts to prevent blood clotting. (See here for more information.)

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