I believe Szechuan Chinese is the most flavorful of all the Chinese cuisines. I think it gets downgraded by the Chinese chefs because the cooking techniques often used are not as elaborate as their Cantonese counterparts. I think they need to stop hating.
The last real Chinese meal I ate in Beijing was Szechuan. I was in Beijing for two months back in 2008.
Tonight, I have gotten very close to the flavors I grew to love that summer in China (and randomly found at Metro Café at the intersection of 8th Ave and 51st St. in Brooklyn). Be forewarned, Szechuan food is some of the hottest stuff on the planet.
Szechuan Stir Fry Recipe
Ingredients: things you must have.
-Chili garlic paste (sometimes very difficult to find; when you do find it, buy the biggest one you can find — it does not go bad)
-Rice wine vinegar (potentially a hard ingredient to find)
-Toasted Sesame oil (ditto)
-A Serrano pepper (double ditto)
-Fresh ginger (most grocery stores should have this)
-5-6 Dry red chili peppers (like you find whole in many Chinese dishes, ditto)
-Soy sauce (a good one like Kikkoman, do not buy crappy soy sauce any way)
-Dry sherry wine (Flavor is important but does not required)
– A medium or small onion
-3 cloves of garlic (if using garlicky chilie garlic paste use just two)
-A bell pepper (red is nice because it would be sweet, green is a little blander but still a distinctive flavor, yellow or orange I often find to be a little tart but that would add an interesting flavor to this)
– ½ pound of mushrooms (you don’t want to use a whole pound, but if you go a little over maybe it’s a little better)
-1 cup of white rice
-Chicken, Shrimp, lean steak or lean pork (it does not really matter, any meat would work and add a different flavor).
First, start cooking that rice, put in a half teaspoon of salt in 2 1/3 cup water before you dump the rice into it. The topping is going to be plenty flavorful, so don’t worry too much about flavoring the rice. You want the rice to cook for at least a half and hour, especially if you pick long grain white. You want the rice to be sticky. I use a small, loosely aerated sauce pan.
Really you don’t need to pay attention to it, because the prep work takes awhile. If you have chicken, beef, or pork. Cut it into relatively meaty pieces.
For two chicken breasts worth – what I believe would be the ideal portion for this meal – cover with 2 tablespoons of soy sauce and 2 tablespoons of dry sherry. Mix in well using your hands.
If you use a little less meat, say one chicken breast’s worth, use a tablespoon for each. You don’t want too much liquid for this dish but you don’t want too little. Marinate in a good-sized bowl out in the open. You don’t want the meat to be too cold when it hits the pan.
Mince dried red chili peppers, get the pieces as small as possible. This I believe delivers the dry heat Szechuan food requires. Put that in a small mixing bowl. You need a lot of them to get the appropriate flavor.
Take a bulb of fresh ginger, peel the outer cover away if you can. Grate small using the smallest holes of a box grater. Grating the ginger instead of just chopping it releases a little bit of juice. Once you smell this, you will realize you want this flavor in there. Put that in the small mixing bowl with the minced chilies.
You want about a tablespoon (and go a little on the heavy side) of ginger. Fresh ginger is not as potent as dry ginger. If using dry ginger as a substitute (not recommended), reduce amount to one teaspoon.
Take the three cloves of garlic and put them through a garlic press. Like the ginger this releases a little bit of juice. Mincing them fine is a substitute. If using a less than stellar garlic press like the one I have, take the garlic carcasses out of the press and mince them relatively fine. Put that in that same bowl.
Take that one Serrano. Cut it length wise right down central. Then slowly chop into relatively fine half moons. Separate and lay out horizontal and chop over at least once. Put this in the same bowl as the chilies and ginger.
Put in two teaspoons of chili garlic paste in the bowl. Put in a tablespoon of toasted sesame oil. Mix well, preferably with a small whisk (that size that you buy with a pack of three whisks and say, “When am I ever going to use this.”).
Cut up an onion – first cut, perpendicular to the bias and then chop into ¼ inch strips and then cut those in half. Cut up a green pepper. The way I like to do a green pepper: cut the top off, relatively close to the stem. You pull from the stem and it should release a ring of green pepper, cut that into ¾ inch sections. Remove the seeds and some of the ribs. Cut the bell directly down the bias opposite the base. Cut the halves into threes, cut those strips with three strokes.
Last step of prep, pour a tablespoon each of soy sauce and dry sherry into a medium to large size mixing bowl. Put in a teaspoon of rice wine vinegar and toasted sesame oil. Last put in a teaspoon of sugar (sugar, I believe, helps that whole bowl of heat we just put together not to be so rough). Mix well.
Get a large skillet, probably the biggest one you have and put it on a big burner. Put in a little oil, about a tablespoon of vegetable and a dash of toasted sesame oil. Cook your meat first. Get a nice opening sear. Unless you are using shrimp, set the skillet to medium high (you want this pan to be hot). With shrimp, set to medium (but if your medium is a little on the cool side put it on medium high).
Once you have the opening sear. Flip the pieces then stir in two-minute intervals with tongs, making sure to flip every so often. I would estimate about 12-minute total cook time for chicken, 10 minutes for pork, five minutes for steak and two minutes for shrimp at this stage. A little undercooked is preferable here because we’re going to hit the meat again at the end of this process.
Pull your meat and set aside, preferably in a bowl, something to catch any accumulated juices. Let the pan sit for just a minute, raise heat if cooking shrimp. Pour in an eighth of a cup of dry sherry. Deglaze the pan, making sure to scrape nice and good. Let the wine cook down for just a few seconds. Throw in onions and mushrooms. Cook for about 2 minutes and throw in green pepper. Start stirring very often and periodically removing from heat. After about five minutes throw in the bowl of fire. Keep mixing very often. The smell that begins to radiate from this is heavenly.
Keep cooking for 10 to 15 minutes. You want the onions to be translucent but maintain some chew and the green pepper to be crisp. This is an interesting dynamic and may defy a definite time. Again keep stirring it. After about 10 minutes, throw in the sauce you put together. Keep stirring it. Cook that for about a minute, enough for the sauce to reduce just a little. Turn off the heat and throw in your meat. Again keep stirring it. Cook this three to five minutes, depending on how undercooked your meat is. Remove from heat source.
Get a nice plate of rice and top that fluffy rice with the stir fry. I suggest mixing it all together and allowing that rice to pick up the flavors you just developed in that pan (and diluting the powerful heat). I saw plenty of Chinese people eat it just like this in Beijing.