Chinese food scholar, Fuchsia Dunlop, shares her chicken with young ginger recipe whilst taking us on a journey to the ancient land of Jiangnan. From Land of Fish & Rice.
Mencius, the Chinese sage of ancient times, famously said that ‘the gentleman keeps his distance from the kitchen’ – a line that is often used to explain the disdain that scholarly gourmets have traditionally expressed for actual cooking. Even Yuan Mei, author of the classic eighteenth-century cookbook Food Lists of the Garden of Contentment, is not thought to have personally tried his hand at the wok or chopping board, although he treated his favoured chef with great respect.
I’m often reminded of Yuan Mei and his chef when I spend time with Hangzhou restaurateur Dai Jianjun and his personal chef Zhu Yinfeng at his retreat in rural Zhejiang. Every day, after presenting his dishes, chef Zhu joins Dai at the table and receives a meticulous commentary on his cooking.
This is one of Zhu Yinfeng’s dishes, a succulent stir-fry of chicken with crisp young ginger. I originally learned to make it with ginger that Zhu and I had plucked out of the earth that morning, in the shade of a stand of peach trees. Ginger is a gorgeous, prehistoric-looking plant, with dramatic sprays of spear-like leaves that recall the colours and shapes of a Rousseau painting. Dig down beneath the leaves and you will find clusters of yellow rhizomes with pink tips singing out their fresh, zippy fragrance.
For this dish, use plump, tender ginger that is not too fibrous – a small piece should break off cleanly, with no fibres poking out of the cut.
Ingredients Serves: 4
- Peel the ginger and cut it into 2mm slices. Smack the spring onion white gently with the flat side of a Chinese cleaver or a rolling pin to loosen its fibres. Cut the chicken into 2cm cubes, put it in a bowl with the marinade ingredients and stir well.
- Combine the sauce ingredients in a small bowl. Heat the oil in a seasoned wok over a high flame. Add the ginger and spring onion white and stir-fry until they smell wonderfully fragrant. Add the chicken and continue to stir-fry over a high heat, separating the pieces as you go.
- When the chicken is cooked through and beginning to colour, splash in the Shaoxing wine, then give the sauce a stir and add to the wok. Bring it to a fast boil and season with a pinch or two of pepper to taste. Give the starch mixture a stir and add it to the wok, stirring as the liquid thickens to a glossy sauce. Add the spring onion greens and give them a brief lick of heat. Finally, off the heat, stir in the sesame oil, then serve.
Extract taken from Land of Fish and Rice by Fuchsia Dunlop, Bloomsbury, £26, Hardback. Photography © 2012 by Chris Terry