GRAND DUKE'S CHICKEN WITH PEANUTS (gongbao jiding)
There is some debate as to just which grand duke gave his title to this celebrated chicken dish, usually called simply Grand Duke's Chicken on Chinese-American menus. As in Europe, it was not uncommon for a celebrated Chinese gourmet to allow his name to be used for a classic dish, one his sensitive criticism may have helped perfect. Whoever he was, our anonymous grand duke must have been a gentleman of impeccable taste, for his chicken with peanuts is one of the great dishes of Szechwan. Many gourmets feel it epitomizes the true taste of the province.
Debate also surrounds the composition of the dish; some cooks use only dried red peppers, while others, including Mrs. Chiang, add green peppers. But everybody uses peanuts.
When she can get them, Mrs. Chiang likes to use hot green peppers instead of the regular round variety. Together with the dried red ones, they produce a very hot chicken dish. Her gongbao jiding is light and aromatic, as brilliantly flavored as it is lovely to look at.
The peanuts for this dish must be fresh; neither roasted nor salted ones will do. You can get fresh peanuts at health food stores as well as at Chinese markets.
Perfectly prepared, a gongbao jiding will have very little sauce, a1though it may be covered with a thin film of oil. Szechwanese food occasionally seems oily; this is not a flaw but a sign that the cook respected his ingredients enough not to adulterate them with any prepared sauce.
1/2 cup fresh peanuts
1 cup boiling water (optional)
1 large whole chicken breast (about 1 pound)
1 1/3 tablespoons soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon granulated sugar
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon Chinese rice wine or cooking
1 egg white
1 scant tablespoon cornstarch
2 green peppers or * 3 large hot green peppers
10 cloves garlic
1/2-inch piece fresh ginger
3 tablespoons peanut oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup peanut oil
(garlic, ginger, and dried red peppers)
(chicken and its marinade)
(partially cooked green peppers)
1 tablespoon soy sauce
If the peanuts still have their dark red skins on, put them in a small bowl and pour boiling water over them. Let the peanuts soak for about 3 minutes, then drain them; the skins will practically pop off.
(If the peanuts have already been skinned, omit this step.)
Remove all the skin and bones from the chicken breast and cut the meat into cubes roughly 1 inch in diameter.
Put the chicken pieces in a bowl and add the soy sauce, sugar, sesame oil, wine, egg white, and cornstarch. Mix thoroughly and set it aside to marinate while you prepare the other ingredients.
Wash the peppers and cut them into squares that are approximately the same
size as the chicken pieces.
Smash the garlic cloves with the flat of your cleaver, then peel. Chop the garlic into little pieces, about the size of a match head.
Peel the ginger and mince it into slightly smaller pieces than the garlic. .
Cut each of the red peppers into about 4 pieces. Clean the scallions, then chop them, both green part and the white, crosswise into 1/4-inch pieces. Add the scallions to the chicken.
Heat your wok or pan for 15 seconds over a medium flame before you pour in the oil. The oil should be hot enough to cook with when the first tiny bubbles form and a few small wisps of smoke appear.
When the oil is ready, add the peanuts.
Stir-fry them for 2 or 3 minutes, using your cooking shovel or spoon in a scooping motion to agitate them around in the pan so all are exposed to the hot oil. (They can burn easily, so watch them carefully. ) As soon as the peanuts have turned a golden brown, remove them from the pan.
Add the green peppers to the oil in the bottom of the pan. Stir-fry them for 30 seconds over a fairly high flame, then add the salt and continue to stir-fry for another 45 seconds before taking the peppers out of the pan.
Remove the pan from the heat and wipe it out carefully with paper towels. Return it to the stove and reheat over a fairly high flame for 15 seconds before pouring in the fresh oil.
As soon as the oil is ready for cooking, add the garlic, ginger, and red peppers. (Mrs. Chiang tests the oil by floating a tiny piece of ginger in it. If the ginger sinks to the bottom the oil is too cold; if it turns brown immediately, it is too hot. The ginger should float on the surface, sputtering and hissing.) Cook the ginger, garlic and red peppers for 20 seconds, stirring constantly.
Then add the chicken and its marinade and stir-fry for 1 minute. Now return the green peppers to the pan and stir-fry them together with the chicken for another minute. Add the soy sauce to the chicken and stir- fry for about 15 seconds, or until the chicken is cooked through. The chicken is ready when it has stiffened and turned white.
Finally, return the peanuts to the pan. Stir- fry everything together for 30 seconds longer, then serve.