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Food

Kung pao chicken without chiles? It exists and it’s delicious.

A salty-sweet fermented yellow bean paste sauce coats chicken and walnuts.
A salty-sweet fermented yellow bean paste sauce coats chicken and walnuts.
(Yuki Sugiura / For The Times)

Fuchsia Dunlop learned to make the Shandong version of stir-fried chicken in Jinan with veteran chef Li Jianguo. It’s nothing like the kung pao most of us know. Here, chicken is marinated in Shaoxing wine, starch and egg whites, then cooked in lots of oil at a low temperature. The pieces are then drained and quickly stir-fried with a fermented soybean paste, scallions and walnuts. It’s without a hint of heat, and its deeply savory and sweet sauce shines through.

Here’s the complicated history of America’s most famous Chinese dish: kung pao chicken.

Shandong-Style Stir-Fried Chicken With Yellow Bean Paste

Jiangbao Jiding 酱爆鸡丁

30 minutes. Serves 4.

Ingredients

Marinated Chicken

  • 10 ounces boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into ½-inch cubes
  • 2 tablespoons potato starch
  • 1 tablespoon Shaoxing wine
  • 1 large egg white
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt

Sauce

  • ¼ cup cold homemade or store-bought unsalted chicken stock or water
  • ¾ teaspoon potato starch
  • 1 teaspoon light soy sauce
  • ¾ teaspoon dark soy sauce

Stir-Fry

  • ⅓ cup walnut halves (optional)
  • 3 scallions, white parts only
  • 1 ½ cups plus 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 tablespoons fermented yellow bean paste (huángdòu jiàng)
  • 2 tablespoons Shaoxing wine

Instructions

  1. For the chicken: Combine the chicken, starch, wine, egg white and salt in a small bowl. Mix until evenly coated.
  2. For the sauce: Mix the stock, starch and both soy sauces in a small bowl.
  3. For the stir-fry: If using walnuts, bring a small saucepan of water to a boil. Add the walnuts, boil for 1 minute, then drain well. (A scrupulous Chinese chef would then peel them but I reckon life is too short to peel walnuts.)
  4. Lay the scallion whites on a board and smack briskly with the flat of a cleaver blade or a rolling pin to loosen them; then slice in half lengthwise and cut into ¾-inch pieces.
  5. Heat 1½ cups oil in a large wok or saucepan over high heat until a deep-fry thermometer registers 265 degrees. If you add a piece of chicken, the oil should sizzle gently but not violently around it. Add the marinated chicken and fry, separating the pieces, until they have turned pale and are separated but not cooked through, 3 to 5 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to transfer to a plate. Carefully pour out the oil and brush out the wok if browned bits remain.
  6. Return the wok to the stove over very high heat. When the wok is smoking hot, add the remaining 3 tablespoons oil and then the scallion whites. Stir-fry briefly until they are aromatic but not colored, about 30 seconds. Add the yellow bean paste and stir as it sizzles, about 1 minute. Return the chicken to the wok and stir. Splash the wine around the edges of the wok. Give the sauce a good stir and then pour into the center of the wok. Stir as the sauce thickens and cloaks the chicken, about 5 minutes. If using walnuts, quickly stir them in now. Serve immediately.

Adapted from “The Food of Sichuan” by Fuchsia Dunlop.


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