Gung Bo Chicken

Gung Bo ChickenChinese Legend
I like my Chinese food spicy, which is a good thing because most of the different regions of China come with their own brand of mouth-numbing heat. If I had to pick my favorite I’d probably go Sichuan over, say, Hunan or Cantonese. But, that’s mainly because it is what I have been exposed to the most. Plus you can never go wrong with a Sichuan Hot Pot.

I have written before about my personal challenges with Chinese cooking. It’s like I have a mental block when it comes to cooking with a wok. This is why, when I am craving Chinese food, I will generally leave it in the hands of the experts and order take-out. There have been a number of favorite establishments over the years that have helped me sooth my spicy cravings. And, there are a couple I frequent currently—but there is only one that remains head and shoulders above the rest.

Back in the dark ages, WAY before my husband and I started dating, our group of friends frequently dined at Emeryville’s Public Market. It was the perfect place for a large group to meet and eat because you could satisfy everyone’s appetite. You could get anything you wanted. Ginormous burritos? Yep. Afghani cuisine? Check. Noodle Bowls? Check. Hofbrau? Of course. Nine times out of ten, though, I found myself in the long line at The Crispy Fry for their Gung Bo Chicken, extra spicy. It was the perfect dish of spicy and saucy served over a huge mound of steamed rice. It was the ideal ending to a hard day of work or the best answer to a hard night of partying. And if the craving struck mid-week for lunch? You knew you had to get there early ‘cause the line started forming the minute the doors opened to the market.

When they remodeled the Public Market and the Crispy Fry ultimately closed, I was distraught. I have been searching for a replacement that is just as good ever since but have not had much luck. So, I have been forced to face my demons and try to do it myself. It’s been a process though I have had some success. This recipe for Gung Bo Chicken comes close but I am quickly coming to the conclusion that nothing could ever take the place of The Fry.

Gung Bo Chicken
Adapted from Food 52
Yields 3 to 4 servings

For the marinade
2 chicken thighs, deboned and cut into 1/2-inch cubes (if yours are tiny, you may want to throw in 1-2 more)
1/2 teaspoon beaten egg
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 pinch salt
1 teaspoon Chinese cooking wine

For the stir fry
2 teaspoons dark soy sauce
2 teaspoons dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon Chinese dark vinegar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
6 tablespoons chicken stock
1 handful of peanuts (generous amount)
1 red bell pepper, chopped into 1/2-inch squares
2 green onions, chopped into 1-inch lengths
4 garlic cloves, skin removed, smashed and chopped
6 slices of ginger
8 red dried Morton and Basset chiles, chopped
4 teaspoons Spicely Szechuan peppercorns
1/2 cup La Tourangelle Wok Oil

Marinate the chicken
In a medium-sized bowl, mix together the liquids for the marinade and toss to coat the meat. Set it aside while preparing the rest. This is a good do-ahead as it can be stored in the fridge earlier that day or even the day before.

Prepare the stir-fry sauce
Mix the liquid ingredients, brown sugar, and corn starch and set aside to use as the sauce for stir-frying.

Stir fry the meat
Make certain you have pre-cut all your ingredients and have them ready to add as needed. I like to use separate small bowls to hold the individual ingredients like on the cooking shows.

Heat the wok with the wok oil until shimmering and hot, about 120° C.

Dip half of the meat into the oil and move around until half-cooked (about 2 minutes). Remove the chicken with a slotted spoon and drain the oil. Repeat for the remain pieces of chicken.

Cook the vegetables
Drain off all but 2 tablespoons of the oil from the heated wok, toss in the chiles, peppercorns, garlic, ginger, bell pepper, and spring onion. Stir-fry the aromatics until fragrant (about 2 minutes). Add the peanuts and stir-fry for another 1-2 min.

Finish the dish
Next, add chicken cubes and stir-fry until the chicken is cooked (about 3 minutes).

Pour the reserved stir-fry sauce into the wok and simmer until the dish thickens (about 3 minutes).

Garnish with ground Sichuan peppercorns, and serve over steamed rice.

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