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“Traditionally, Chongqing chicken is made by encasing the meat in crunchy batter, like popcorn chicken but better. To make it at home, we decided to mimic the effect with a simple cornstarch dredge and just a little oil, sparing you both time and the stress of deep-frying. Practiced eaters focus their chopsticks on the meat, avoiding the many chiles and Sichuan peppercorns that give the dish its tongue-tingling character, but we encourage you to risk the lovely agony.”
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into 1-inch pieces
3 tablespoons Shao Hsing rice wine (see Tips) or dry sherry, divided
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3 tablespoons canola oil, divided
4 scallions, whites halved lengthwise and greens thinly sliced, divided
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh ginger
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
2 teaspoons Sichuan chili-bean paste (see Tips)
1 cup whole dried Asian red chiles or ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 tablespoon whole Sichuan peppercorns (see Tips)
½ teaspoon sugar
½ teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon sesame seeds, lightly toasted
1Combine chicken and 2 tablespoons rice wine (or sherry) in a medium bowl; let marinate for 15 minutes. Pat the chicken dry, then combine with cornstarch and salt and toss to coat.
2Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large flat-bottomed wok over medium-high heat. Add half the chicken in a single layer and cook, turning only once, until golden brown and crispy, 1 to 3 minutes per side. (Use caution, the oil may splatter a bit.) Using a slotted spoon, transfer the chicken to a paper-towel-lined plate. Repeat with the remaining chicken.
3Add the remaining 1 tablespoon oil to the wok and reduce heat to medium. Add scallion whites, ginger, garlic and chili-bean paste and cook, stirring frequently, until the scallions are softened, about 1 minute. Add chiles (or crushed red pepper) and peppercorns and cook, stirring frequently, until the chiles are very fragrant, about 2 minutes.
4Return the chicken to the wok and add sugar and the remaining 1 tablespoon rice wine (or sherry). Cook, stirring constantly, until the chicken is hot and well coated, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in scallion greens and sesame oil. Serve sprinkled with sesame seeds.
Tips: Also known as Shaoxing, Shao Hsing is a seasoned rice wine used in Chinese cooking. Look for it in Asian markets or with other Asian ingredients in well-stocked supermarkets. Dry sherry is a good substitute.
Sichuan bean paste, sometimes called Pixian chili bean paste (doubanjiang), is a fermented condiment made from fava beans and er jin tiao chiles. It adds a spicy, salty, earthy flavor. Find it at Asian supermarkets or buy online.
Despite the name, Sichuan peppercorns (reddish-brown dried berry husks used in Chinese and Southeast Asian cooking) aren't related to black, white or chile peppers. And, instead of making your mouth burn, they make it a little numb and tingly. Look for them at Asian markets or online.