That was when Sichuan peppercorn made its presence in a big way, lacing many dishes with its robust flavour and numbing spiciness, known as mala.
To bring out the characteristic piquancy of Sichuan peppercorns, it is usually extracted into chilli oil which can be used in a variety of recipes that calls for it.
The Sichuan chilli oil can be a bit overpowering, but if used sparingly, it imparts wonderful vibrancy to even the most mundane of dishes.
The white poached chicken, the usual fare during Chinese festivals, can be given an amazing makeover with a sauce infused with Sichuan chilli oil.
Known as kou shui ji, which literally translates to “saliva chicken” or better phrased as mouth-watering chicken, this dish hails from the Sichuan region in China.
So the main ingredient is none other than Sichuan peppercorns which are available at many Chinese sundry shops.
Look for red Sichuan peppercorns and not green, which are a lot spicier and predominantly used in mala steamboat.
Green Sichuan peppercorn is also double the price of the red variety.
Many people already know how to prepare white poached chicken, and most families have their own technique to cook the bird to the correct doneness and succulence.
The usual test is to prick into the skin at the chicken thigh and it is done if the juices run clear.
My wife usually does not run the chicken through an ice bath.
Instead, she brushes sesame oil all over the chicken skin while it is still hot for its fragrance to permeate into the meat.
Then she allows the chicken to cool down to room temperature for about half an hour before slicing.
Kou shui ji is served cold and all the components can be prepared ahead of time, so you only need to dress the chicken with the sauce and garnish just before serving.
Bring it to the table and watch your family drool over the dish, which has all the savoury elements of sweet, sour, bitter and spicy for the year ahead.
Kou shui ji
2kg whole chicken
2cm ginger, sliced
2 sprigs scallions, cut into 4cm strips
1 tbsp Shaoxing wine
Sichuan chilli oil
2 tbsps chilli flakes or chilli powder
½ tbsp red Sichuan peppercorns
½ tbsp Chinese five-spice powder
1 tbsp sesame seeds
½ cup oil
1cm ginger, sliced
2 star anise
1 tbsp cumin seeds
2 bay leaves
5 tbsp Sichuan chilli oil
1 tbsp sesame oil
2 cloves garlic, smashed
2 tbsp Shaoxing wine
2 tbsp black vinegar
1 tbsp light soy sauce
½ tbsp sugar
pinch of salt
1 spring onion stalk, minced
1 cilantro stalk, minced
1 red chilli, sliced
1 tbsp sesame seeds, toasted
Heat cooking oil and fry ginger slices.
Add star anise, bay leaves and cumin, and temper spices over low heat until fragrant, taking care that they do not burn.
In a heat-resistant bowl, mix together chilli flakes, Sichuan peppercorn, five-spice powder and sesame seeds. Place a wire sieve over bowl of dry chilli mix.
Pour the hot oil directly into the dry-chilli mix in the bowl. Discard all the spices.
Set the Sichuan chilli oil aside overnight for the spices to meld together.
Clean the chicken and pat dry.
Bring about 4 litres of water to boil in a stock pot.
Add chicken, scallions, ginger and wine. Bring the contents to a boil over medium heat to poach for about five minutes.
Cover with a lid and turn off the stove to let the chicken steam in the residual heat for about 20 minutes.
Prepare water with ice in a large bowl. Plunge the chicken in the ice bath, turning over several times until the chicken has completely cooled down. Cut into bite-size pieces and arrange on serving plate.
Toast sesame seed in pan until aromatic.
Mix five tablespoons of chilli oil with all the dressing sauce ingredients. Dress the chicken with the sauce, garnish with red chilli slices and toasted sesame seeds.
View this "Mouth-watering Chicken (Kou Shui Ji)" recipe on kuali.com.
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