For several years, gai bo (“chicken pot”) was all the rage at Hong Kong hotpot restaurants. It starts life as one dish – chopped up, bone-in chicken pieces with a thick, complex sauce seasoned with lots of spices that you might not normally associate with Chinese food, but it ends up as something else. After most of the meat has been eaten, hot broth is stirred into the sauce remaining in the pot, which is then used to poach raw ingredients.
Don’t let the long list of ingredients intimidate you: this dish is easy to cook and doesn’t require any special techniques.
The chicken should be cut through the bone into bite-size pieces for stir-fries; you can do this yourself, or have the butcher do it for you.
Behind the spice and numbness of Sichuan dishes, lies a dark and bloody history of wars and conflicts. Listen more on Eat Drink Asia podcast about this cuisine of diversity and excitement.
Buy Sichuan peppercorns on the Goldthread shop.
Make the chilli paste mixture. In a bowl, mix together the chilli sauce, doubanjiang, oyster sauce, chu hou paste, soy sauce, rice wine, sugar and salt. Put the cut-up chicken in a bowl and pour about half of the chilli-paste mixture over the meat. Mix well so the chicken pieces are evenly coated. Set aside the chicken and remaining chilli-paste mixture while preparing the other ingredients.
Pull the stem ends from the dried chillies and shake out and discard as many seeds as possible. Put the chillies in a bowl, cover with hot water and leave for about 15 minutes, then drain before blotting them with paper towels.
Remove and discard as many black seeds as possible from the Sichuan peppercorns, leaving behind the husks. Loosely wrap the nutmeg in a paper towel and put it on a cutting board. Hit the nutmeg with a meat mallet to break it into two or three pieces. Break each star anise into two pieces. Cut the garlic cloves in half. Place the chunk of ginger on the cutting board and hit it with the meat mallet to lightly crush it.
Sprinkle the cornstarch over the marinated chicken and mix well. Pour cooking oil to a depth of about 8cm (3⅜inch) in a wok (or use a wide, deep pan and add oil to the depth of about 4cm [1½inch]) and heat to 180ºC (350ºF). Fry the chicken pieces in batches for about a minute - just long enough to set the exterior but not to fully cook the meat. Drain the chicken on paper towels.
Heat 30ml (2tbsp) of cooking oil in a large Chinese clay pot that holds about two litres (two quarts). When the oil is hot, add the dried chillies, Sichuan peppercorns, cinnamon stick, nutmeg, star anise, cardamom pods, whole black peppercorns, fennel seeds, cumin seeds, garlic, shallots, ginger and fresh chillies. Cook, stirring frequently, until the spices are toasted and fragrant.
Add the remaining chilli-paste mixture and stir constantly for about 30 seconds. Add the chicken pieces and about 120ml (½cup) of water. Bring to the boil and stir well to combine. Lower the heat then cover the pot with the lid. Simmer for about 45 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until the chicken is cooked through. The sauce should lightly coat the chicken, but shouldn’t be entirely dry; if the meat is in danger of sticking to the bottom and sides of the pot, stir in more water. Taste the sauce and correct the seasonings, if necessary.
Cut the Chinese celery and spring onions into 3cm (1¼inch) lengths. Stir them and the fresh coriander (cilantro) sprigs into the pot and simmer until wilted. Serve the chicken pot with hot steamed rice and a dish of stir-fried vegetables.
After eating most of the chicken, add about 1.5 litres of unsalted chicken broth (or water) to the pot and place it over a portable burner. Bring to the boil, then serve with an array of raw meats, seafood, vegetables, noodles and other hotpot ingredients. Let your guests mix their own dipping sauce from ingredients that include soy sauce, sesame oil, sesame paste, chilli oil, crushed peanuts and chopped fresh chillies, garlic, spring onions and coriander (cilantro) sprigs.