23 January 2012

Feast: Gung Hei Fat Choi! Kung Pao Prawns and Squid

Welcome to the Year of the Dragon!

According to this cbc.ca article, the Dragon brings optimism, as well as high amounts of energy and prosperity, and specifically movement.

Whether or not you believe in zodiacs, is truly beside the point. It's a cause for celebration...and with celebrations come food. (Really...I don't know of any joyous moment where food is not present).

This year I decided to play with a favourite at many Chinese restaurants: Kung Pao Chicken.

Like many dishes, this one is open to interpretation. At its heart are chicken and chillis and nuts. I've had some really salty versions (where the only seasoning seemed to be soy sauce) and I've had others where it seemed to be a chicken and veggie stirfry with chilli peppers and peanuts.

My version is heavily borrowed from a Kung Pao Chicken recipe I found on NPR, by the wonderful Fuschia Dunlop. Apart from the pedigree, one ingredient struck me: Sichuan peppers.

I first used the fizzy, rose-tinted pods when I reviewed Beyond the Great Wall a few years ago. They are gorgeous, tiny little pods that make your tongue go tingly and fizzy...and, if you're like me and tend to snack on such things, just a wee bit numb. Apart from their signature buzz, there's a citrussy note to them that, to me, borders on juniper. They aren't peppercorns per se, but the Chinese prickly ash seeds. They aren't necessarily the easiest spice to find in shops (unless you've thorough spice merchants or gourmet shops in town), but you can purchase them online.

I really can't think of another spice you can use, that has a similar effect to Sichuan peppercorns. If you don't have them, you could use lightly crushed black pepper (not fully ground pepper) and you should be fine, and add a squeeze of lemon near the end of the recipe.

As it's the Dragon, I thought I'd take liberties and make this a seafood kung pao, with jumbo prawns and squid. I suppose you could throw in some scallops as well, or just leave it as one type of seafood--it's up to you.

This is a very quick and easy recipe to pull together--the important things to keep in mind are to realise there's a balance of flavours: salty, hot, sour and sweet and not to overcook the seafood.

Gung hei fat choi!

Kung Pao Prawns and Squid
adapted from Fuschia Dunlop's Kung Pao Chicken Recipe
Serves 4

225g (0.5lb) jumbo prawns, cleaned, deveined and chopped into two-three pieces each
225 (0.5lb) squid, cut into rings
2-3Tbsp (30-45ml) flavourless oil, as needed
0.5-0.75tsp (2.5-3.75ml) Sichuan (Szechuan) peppercorns
1-2 fresh red chilli peppers, seeded (if you wish), finely sliced, to taste
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 thumb (4-5cm/1.75"-2" piece) ginger, grated
6 green onions, white and light green parts only, cut in 2.5cm (1") pieces, slit in half
200g (250ml/1c) toasted cashews

For the marinade
0.5tsp (2.5ml) salt
1Tbsp (15ml) light soy sauce
1.5tsp (7.5ml) rice wine vinegar
2dspn (20ml/4tsp) water

For the sauce
2dspn (20ml/4tsp) brown sugar
1.5tsp (7.5ml) cornflour (cornstarch)
1.5tsp (7.5ml) light soy sauce
1.5tsp (7.5ml) dark soy sauce
1.5tsp (7.5ml) rice wine vinegar
1Tbsp (15ml) black Chinese vinegar
1.5tsp (7.5ml)sesame oil
2dspn (20ml/4tsp) water

For the garnish:
finely minced spring onion greens (to taste)

Mix squid and prawns in the marinade ingredients and let sit for about 15 minutes.

Mix the sauce ingredients and set aside.

Heat the oil over a high flame, until it's almost smoking. Drop in the Sichuan peppers and the chillis and stir until the the spices release their scents. Remove from the wok.

Add the garlic and ginger to the seasoned oil and stir until fragrant. Add the seafood and stir until the prawns are opaque and take on a pinkish hue.

Add the white and light green parts of the green onions as well as the fried chilli mixture. Stir to combine. Pour in the sauce, stir so everything is coated and the sauce thickens. Balance flavours to taste. Tumble in the nuts and stir.

Garnish with the minced stalks of the green onions and serve with rice and veggies.

  • If don't have Sichuan peppers, you can use crushed black pepper instead ( you won't get the same buzz as with Sichuan peppers) and add a squeeze of lemon.
  • Traditionally peanuts are used instead of cashews
  • Of course, if you don't want to use seafood, you can use 450g (1lb) of chicken or pork instead

I'm a quill for hire!


Mikaela Cowles said...

I love that you have a substitute for Sichuan peppers! Sometimes finding all the ingredients can be such a challenge, especially if you are like me and rushing to throw dinner together at the last minute. But, this sounds so quick and easy. It will make a great weeknight meal. Thanks for sharing.

And, Happy Dragon to You!

Auria said...

I seriously wish I hadn't come to your blog today and seen this recipe. Now I want this for dinner but I have chicken, mushrooms and pasta with pesto planned. My tastebuds are confused and planning a revolt. I'm going to make this for dinner TOMORROW night! Thank you for sharing.