Chicken with black bean sauce is a popular restaurant dish. Too often, however, one is served overcooked vegetables with scraps of chewy chicken swimming in a gloopy sauce.
This version is a colourful dish of mixed bell peppers, onion, spring onion and bone-in chicken pieces in a light black bean sauce. Some diners might complain about the bones in the chicken but the meat tastes so much better that way.
This dish isn’t a simple stir-fry, because you need to oil-blanch the chicken first. Oil blanching – frying the chicken briefly in hot oil so it is partially cooked – gives the meat a lovely, silky texture.
Buy a fresh chicken from the poultry shop and have the vendor cut it up Chinese-style, through the bone into bite-size pieces. You won’t need the head or feet; they can be bagged up and frozen and, when you have enough bones and other parts, used to make chicken broth.
Put the chicken pieces in a large bowl and add the soy sauce, rice wine, sugar, salt and white pepper. Mix thoroughly, then leave to marinate at room temperature for 30-60 minutes.
Put the black beans in a small bowl, add 60ml (¼ cup) of boiling water and leave to soak for about 15 minutes. Drain the black beans through a sieve placed over a bowl and reserve the soaking liquid. Use a spoon to lightly crush the black beans.
Remove and discard the stem and core of the bell peppers. Cut the peppers and onion into bite-sized pieces. Thinly slice the garlic. Finely mince the chillies (if you want the dish to be less spicy, cut the chillies in half lengthwise, then scrape out and discard the seeds and stem before mincing the flesh). Cut the spring onions into 3cm (1¼in) lengths.
Sprinkle the cornstarch over the chicken in the bowl and mix thoroughly to create a thin, light coating. Pour cooking oil into a wok to a depth of about 8cm (3⅛in), or, if using a large skillet, add oil to the depth of 2cm (⅞in). Heat the oil to 180°C (350°F). Add about one-third of the chicken pieces to the hot oil and fry for two to three minutes, or until three-quarters cooked, stirring often. Use a large slotted ladle to remove the chicken pieces from the oil, then drain them on paper towels. Cook the remaining chicken in two batches the same way.
Pour off almost all the oil from the wok (or skillet), leaving behind about 30ml (2tbsp). Place the wok over a high flame and when it is hot, add the spring onions. Stir-fry for about 30 seconds, or until the spring onions turn bright green. Remove the pieces from the wok, leaving behind as much oil as possible.
Place the wok (or skillet) over a high flame and when it is hot, add the garlic and ginger and stir-fry for about 30 seconds. Add the bell peppers and onion and cook, stirring often, for about a minute. Add the chopped chillies and the black beans, then mix in the chicken pieces. Pour in the black-bean soaking liquid and about 60ml (¼ cup) of hot water and mix well. Turn the flame to medium, then cover the wok with the lid.
When the chicken is cooked, add the spring onion pieces back to the wok and stir. Scoop the ingredients into a large bowl, then serve with steamed white rice and stir-fried vegetables.