Sunday, 13 September 2015

Spicy Szechuan Chicken

Try something outside of your Chinese cooking comfort-zone, that’s very easy to cook, and surprisingly subtle in terms of flavour, with a little bit of a kick to it!

The official name of this dish is Hot and Numbing Chicken (Ma La Zi Ji), but don't let that scare you off - it's really not *that* hot and it isn't going to anaesthetise your mouth, I promise!

Nowhere near as spicy as you might think, this dish gets its name from the numbing, tongue tingling qualities of the Szechuan / Sichuan pepper (not used to excess in this dish, so don’t worry, it’s quite subtle!) and the heat from the chillies (which you can also moderate, by leaving out the seeds, for quite a mild dish). It’s actually a Hunanese dish, which is why the amounts of pepper in it are quite conservative, because the Hunanese are not overly fond of the strange tingling flavour of their neighbours’ peppercorns!

Serves two, 235 calories per portion. Easily doubled, or halved.


  • 250g chicken breast, cut into bite-sized pieces (about 1.5cm cubes) [275]
  • 6 sprays pump oil spray OR ½ teaspoon oil (feel free to use more if you're not counting calories) [23]
  • 1 red pepper, de-seeded and cut into bite-sized squares (110g) [29]
  • 1 large red chilli, finely sliced (de-seed it first, if you don’t want it too hot) [7]
  • 4 spring onions (scallions), cut into inch long slices on the diagonal, including the green parts (wash out any grit first) [28]
  • 1 tsp Szechuan peppercorns, ground (in a pestle and mortar, or a spice/coffee grinder – this is quite subtle, up it to 2 tsp if you want a real kick from it!) [7]
  • ½ tsp toasted sesame oil [23]

For the marinade
  • 1 tbsp Shaoxing wine (or dry sherry) [21]
  • 1 tbsp light soy sauce [8]
  • 1 tsp dark soy sauce [4]
  • 1 tbsp potato flour (or substitute cornflour, arrowroot etc.) [33]
  • 1 tbsp water

For the sauce
  • 1 tbsp light soy sauce [8]
  • 1 tbsp rice wine vinegar [2]
  • 3 tbsp (45ml) chicken stock [2]
  • 50ml water


1. Combine the ingredients for the marinade together, mix it thoroughly with the chicken and set aside while you prepare the other ingredients.

2. Combine the sauce ingredients together also, and set aside. Make sure you have some recently boiled / hot water set aside too, in case you need to thin the sauce at the end of cooking.

3. Heat a decent-sized wok (or deep frying pan), with a good non-stick coating/seasoning (necessary due to the small amount of oil used) over a high heat, and then add the oil spray/oil to it (not the sesame oil).

4. Remove the chicken from the marinade with a slotted spoon (tip the remaining marinade into the reserved sauce ingredients) and add the chicken to the hot wok, stir-frying it for 3-4 minutes, until the outsides are browned.

5. Add the chopped vegetables, chilli pepper and ground Sichuan pepper and continue to stir-fry for another 1-2 minutes, until fragrant.

6. Give the sauce/added marinade a quick stir, to make sure the flour hasn’t settled all at the bottom, then add to the pan, stirring briskly as the sauce thickens.

Test one of the largest pieces of chicken (whip out and cut in half) to make sure it’s cooked through, and if so, serve. If the chicken is not quite cooked (the size of your chicken pieces, and the heat of the wok etc. are going to be variables for everyone), continue to stir fry until cooked, adding extra hot water if needed, to thin the sauce.

Enjoy with steamed or boiled rice (or noodles), or for a low carb, low calorie meal serve with cauliflower rice, courgette noodles, or shirataki (zero) noodles.

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