In my house, this is the single most popular dish I have brought back from China. We have it often. The name comes from the ancestor-worshipping practice of the Dai minority people who, after offering a ceremonial boiled chicken to their dear departed, sensibly shred the meat to make this high-octane cold dish. It’s a great do-ahead when you want to leave food in the fridge for the kids or take something different along to a picnic. I found it at Baita Daiwei Ting, a tiny Dai restaurant in Kunming, and their version is the dish on the right. The Dai people live in southern Yunnan near the Laotian border; note the presence of lime, rare in Chinese cooking.
2 chicken breasts, skin-on and bone-in, about 1.5 lb
1.5 t fresh lime juice
1 t chile bean paste with garlic; Lan Chi if you can find it
1 t red-chile oil, or to taste (this is available in Asian markets)
1 t Sichuan pepper oil (see below)
1 t rasp-grated fresh ginger
1/2 t rasp-grated garlic
1/2 t minced fresh mild long red chile
1/2 t salt
1 C fresh cilantro sprigs
Steam chicken. When cool enough, coarsely shred and discard skin and bones. Stir together all other ingredients except salt, adding up to 2T steaming liquid from chicken if it seems needed. Dress the chicken, add the salt gradually to taste, and toss with cilantro sprigs just before serving.
Sichuan Pepper Oil
Sichuan pepper, hua jiao, the dried berry of the Chinese prickly ash, has a hot and also temporarily numbing effect on the tongue. For this reason the primary flavor profile of Sichuan is called ma-la, numbing and hot, which refers to the combination of hua jiao and hot chile peppers. Used on its own, at home, Sichuan pepper can be a bit much. The test kitchen at Gourmet came up with this alternative, which is easy to make and keeps for 3 months in the refrigerator. You will need an electric coffee/spice grinder.
2 t Sichuan peppercorns
1/4 C peanut oil.
Pulse the peppercorns to a coarse grind.
Heat oil with peppercorns in a 1-1.5 qt heavy saucepan over medium heat, swirling occasionally, until peppercorns appear a shade darker, about 1 min. Transfer to a heatproof bowl. Stir before using. Store in a covered glass jar.
Bean Jelly is a signature food of Yunnan Province, with every town having its special version made from a local bean (producing a different color jelly). Here in the U.S. you have only one choice at Asian groceries–dried mung bean starch, which makes a snow-white jelly. This is an unflavored base food, like pasta, which shows off any number of sauces; it has the consistency of very firm jello and is much lower in calories and carbohydrates than pasta. You can cut it into any shape or shave it into ‘noodles’. It is firm enough to hold up to stir-frying, although as this dish has traveled across China in the last decade, showing up on restaurant menus and in home kitchens, it has become most popular in the cold form described below.
Yunnan is adjacent to Sichuan, hence this Yunnan-style sauce has the ‘ma-la’ flavor.
2 3/4 C water
1/2 C mung bean starch
1/2 t salt
Bring water, bean starch, and salt to a boil in a 2-3 qt heavy saucepan, then boil, over moderate heat, stirring constantly, until it turns thick and translucent. Transfer to an 8″ square baking dish (or other mold of your choice) and cool to room temperature. Cover with plastic wrap and chill until firm, about 2 hours or up to one day.
2 T soy sauce
1 T Chinese black vinegar
2 t sugar
2 t Sichuan pepper oil
1 t red-chile oil
1 t rasp-grated ginger
1/2 t rasp-grated garlic
3 large scallions (white and pale green part) cut into shreds
1 3-inch piece of daikon, peeled and cut into matchsticks
For garnish: shopped scallion green tops, coarse-chopped roasted peanuts
Mix together sauce ingredients. Run thin knife around side of jelly to loosen, unmold on cutting board. Cut into strip shapes. Gently combine with sauce, scallions and daikon; top with sliced scallion tops and peanuts.
SALT-ROASTED BROAD BEANS
Fried salted broad (fava) beans are a popular snack and drinking tidbit in China, which led to me placing them on a fictional table somewhere in The Last Chinese Chef. Yet when a reader wrote to me asking for the recipe, I was flummoxed. I had never thought of making them. In China they are sold in most convenience stores; it would be like deciding to make potato chips. However, people do that… soon, the idea began to appeal to me. Commercial broad bean snacks in China are invariably deep fried. Why couldn’t I roast fava beans in the oven with a little olive oil instead?
I adapted the following recipe from one I found on the internet. This is the plain version–olive oil and salt, but your imagination is the limit as far as additional seasonings are concerned.
One problem–and it is a problem with the commercial version of the snack in China too–is that the beans don’t cook evenly and every so often you bite into a bean that is hard as a rock. If, in the boiling step below, you let the beans ‘explode’, they will roast up light and crispy, never hard. Though they erupt they will still hold together in the roasting process.
1 C dried fava beans
1 t salt or to taste
about 5 t olive oil (or your choice)
Soak beans 6-8 hours or overnight. Drain, rinse, cover with cold water. Bring to a boil and boil until the beans pop (something like a corn kernel.) They won’t all open at the same time, so remove when you feel most are ready.
Handling the beans gently now, drain and let them cool a little, then toss in the oil and salt and spread on a baking sheet to roast in a 350-degree oven until they are golden brown (around 25-40 min, but check and taste often; you don’t want the center of the bean to still have any moisture after cooling ). Evenness of cooking time may still be a problem and you may have to discard some; pick over before serving.