On the eastern edge of Guangdong province, near the coast, lies the city of Chaozhou, the ancestral home of the Chiu Chow people. The Chiu Chow were seafarers are now widely distributed as far away as Taiwan and Hong Kong. Throughout their diaspora, they have managed to preserve a unique dialect (which is similar to ancient classical Chinese) and a great culinary tradition. The Chiu Chow elements in this dish include fish sauce and the garnish of fried herbs.
Frying the spinach is easy. The leaves must be very dry before adding to the oil, and even then, there will be some sputtering and popping. I recommend either covering the wok with a lid for a few seconds immediately after adding the leaves, or else standing back a few feet.
Before stir-frying, the chicken is marinated and then blanched for about a minute, which is just enough time for the outside to turn white and the inside to begin to lose its pink color. This technique, called “velveting,” makes the pieces stay wonderfully tender and juicy.
INGREDIENTS and PREP:
- 1-2 cups large basil leaves, washed and very thoroughly dried
- 1 lb boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into bite-sized pieces and marinated for 25 minutes in a mixture of 1 egg white, 1 Tbsp Shaoxing rice wine, 2 tsp soy sauce, and 2 tsp potato flour
- 2 tsp Sicuan peppercorns (husks only), and 4-5 dried red chiles, snipped into 1/3″ pieces (seeds discarded)
- 1 Tbsp dark soy sauce, 3 Tbsp chicken stock, 2 tsp fish sauce, 1 Tbsp oyster sauce, stirred together
- Bring a large pot of water to boil. Add the chicken pieces (#2) and boil for 1 minute, then drain in a colander.
- Pour peanut oil in your wok to make a pool about 1″ deep. Heat the oil until hot but not smoking, perhaps about 350°F. Add the basil leaves (#1) and deep-fry for about 1 minute until the leaves turn bright green. Remove the leaves with a strainer and drain on paper towels; be careful, because the leaves will be very fragile. Pour off all but 2 Tbsp oil from the wok.
- Heat the remaining 2 Tbsp peanut oil in your wok until barely smoking. Then add the chicken and stir-fry for about a minute. Next, add the chiles and Sichuan peppercorns (#3) and stir-fry for another 30 seconds, until fragrant. Reduce the heat a bit and add the sauce (#4); stir until everything is coated and hot.
- Serve the chicken and garnish with the fried basil.
VARIATIONS: Use any leafy herbs in place of the basil. Vary the contents of the sauce; fir a slightly richer taste, use more of the fish sauce and oyster sauce and less chicken stock.