Stir-fried chilli chicken is a dish that you can have cooked and on the table in 45 minutes or less. The meat needs to marinate just briefly – I use that time to prepare the other ingredients and start cooking the rice. Serve the chicken with steamed or stir-fried vegetables.
As with most boneless chicken dishes, I start with bone-in thighs. Once you get the hang of deboning the thigh, it takes less than 30 seconds for each one. Often, the prepared boneless dark meat you find in supermarkets is the whole leg – thigh and drumstick – and the drumstick has lots of tough sinews. You can also use boneless breasts, but take care not to overcook the meat.
Know the spice level of the whole dried chillies you use for this dish. The ones I use are a slender variety, about 3cm long, which I find in Thai and Indian shops. If you use another variety that’s hotter or milder, adjust the amount accordingly.
If using bone-in thighs, remove the bone. Lay the thigh skin-side down on a cutting board. Use a sharp paring knife to cut the meat down the entire length of the bone. Run the tip of the knife around one joint to detach the meat from that side. Scrape the knife along the bone to cut away the meat and when you reach the other joint, detach the chicken from that side.
Cut the meat into 1.5cm (⅔ in) cubes and put the pieces in a bowl. Sprinkle the salt over the chicken and mix well.
Whisk the egg white until frothy, then pour it over the chicken and mix. Add the cornstarch or sweet potato flour and mix again. Set aside while preparing the other ingredients.
Put the Sichuan peppercorns in an unoiled skillet and place it over a medium-low flame. Constantly stir the peppercorns until they are lightly toasted. Remove from the flame and cool to room temperature.
Pick out and discard the seeds (if any) from the Sichuan peppercorns. Use a mortar (I prefer a Japanese suribachi) to grind the peppercorns to a rough powder.
Mix the soy sauce with the rice wine, vinegar, sugar and sesame oil.
Halve the garlic cloves. Cut the spring onions into 2.5cm (1 in) lengths.
Heat about 450ml (1 ¾ cup) of cooking oil in a wok placed over a medium flame. When the oil reaches 170° C (340° F), add the peanuts or cashews and cook until pale golden. Use a slotted skimmer to scoop the nuts out of the oil, then drain them on paper towels.
Add the whole chillies to the hot oil and stir well. As soon as they start to darken, scoop them from the oil and drain on paper towels.
Reheat the oil to 170° C (340° F). Stir the chicken well, then add about a quarter of the pieces to the hot oil. Stir almost constantly for about 30 seconds, then remove the pieces from the hot oil and drain them on paper towels. Cook the rest of the chicken in batches the same way; if necessary, add more oil to the wok.
If the chicken pieces have clumped together, separate them.
Pour almost all of the oil out of the wok. Place the wok over a high flame.
Add the garlic cloves and stir constantly for about 15 seconds, or until fragrant and just starting to turn pale golden.
Add all the chicken pieces to the wok and sprinkle with the Sichuan peppercorns. Add the chillies, then mix with a wok spatula. Pour in the soy sauce mixture and mix well so the meat is evenly coated.
Pour in about 60ml (¼ cup) of hot water and stir-fry the chicken for about a minute, or until the meat is fully cooked. Taste a piece of chicken, then adjust the seasonings as necessary.
Add the nuts and the spring onion to the wok. Stir constantly for about 15 seconds, or until the spring onion is wilted.
Scoop the ingredients out of the bowl into a serving dish. Serve with white rice and steamed or stir-fried vegetables.