Szechuan cuisine, Sichuan cuisine, or Szechwan cuisine (Chinese: 四川菜; pinyin: Sìchuān cài or Chinese: 川菜; pinyin: chuān cài) is a style of Chinese cuisine originating from Sichuan province in southwestern China. It has bold flavours, particularly the pungency and spiciness resulting from liberal use of garlic and chili peppers, as well as the unique flavor of the Sichuan pepper. There are many local variations within Sichuan province and the Chongqing municipality, which was part of Sichuan until 1997. Four sub-styles include Chongqing, Chengdu, Zigong, and Buddhist vegetarian style. UNESCO declared Chengdu to be a city of gastronomy in 2011 in order to recognize the sophistication of its cooking.
Sichuan is colloquially known as the "heavenly country" due to its abundance of food and natural resources. One ancient Chinese account declared that the "people of Sichuan uphold good flavor, and they are fond of hot and spicy taste." Most Szechuan dishes are spicy, although a typical meal includes non-spicy dishes to cool the palate. According to at least one Chinese culinary writer,[who?] Szechuan cuisine is composed of seven basic flavours: sour, pungent, hot, sweet, bitter, aromatic, and salty. Szechuan food is divided into five different types: sumptuous banquet, ordinary banquet, popularised food, household-style food, and food snacks. Szechuan cuisine has changed little over the years, and milder versions of Sichuan dishes remain a staple of American Chinese cuisine.
Szechuan cuisine often contains food preserved through pickling, salting, and drying and is generally spicy owing to heavy application of chili oil. The Sichuan pepper (Chinese: 花椒; pinyin: huājiāo; literally "flower pepper") is commonly used. Sichuan pepper has an intensely fragrant, citrus-like flavour and produces a "tingly-numbing" (Chinese: 麻; pinyin: má) sensation in the mouth. Also common are garlic, chili peppers, ginger, star anise and other spicy herbs, plants and spices. Broad bean chili paste (simplified Chinese: 豆瓣酱; traditional Chinese: 豆瓣醬; pinyin: dòubànjiàng) is also a staple seasoning in Szechuan cuisine. The region's cuisine has also been the source of several prominent sauces widely used in Chinese cuisine in general today, including yuxiang (魚香), mala (麻辣), and guaiwei (怪味).
Common preparation techniques in Szechuan cuisine include stir frying, steaming and braising, but a complete list would include more than 20 distinct techniques. Beef is somewhat more common in Szechuan cuisine than it is in other Chinese cuisines, perhaps due to the prevalence of oxen in the region. Stir-fried beef is often cooked until chewy, while steamed beef is sometimes coated with rice flour to produce a very rich gravy. Szechuan cuisine also utilizes various bovine and porcine organs as ingredients such as intestine, arteries, the head, tongue, skin, and liver in addition to other commonly utilised portions of the meat.
Kung Pao chicken, (Chinese: 宫保雞丁; Mandarin Pinyin: Gōngbǎo Jīdīng; Wade–Giles: Kung1-pao3 Chi1-ting1; Jyutping: gung1 bou2 gai1 ding1), also transcribed as Gong Bao or Kung Po, is a spicy stir-fry dish made with chicken, peanuts, vegetables, and chili peppers.
The dish is believed to be named after Ding Baozhen (1820–86), a late Qing Dynasty official, and governor of Sichuan Province. His title was Gongbao (Kung-pao; Chinese: 宫保; pinyin: Gōngbǎo; Wade–Giles: Kung1-pao3; literally "Palace Guardian"). The name "Kung Pao" chicken is derived from this title.
During the Cultural Revolution, the dish's name became politically incorrect because of its association with Ding. The dish was renamed "Fast-fried chicken cubes" (Hongbao Jiding) or "chicken cubes with seared chiles" (Hula Jiding) until its political rehabilitation in the 1980s
One day, Ding Baozhen visited the home of his good friend, Wang Xiaoqin, where he looked forward to devouring his customary plate of steamed chicken. On this occasion, however, there was not enough time to steam the bird, so Wang Xiaoqin chopped it into small cubes, added dry chili peppers and garlic, and boiled it. As soon as the improvised dish hit his taste buds, Ding Baozhen was full of praise for Wang's adventurous cooking style.
Ding Baozhen, governor of Sichuan, held a banquet for his colleagues. Wang was also invifed, and when the guests tasted his dish, they extended their compliments, and asked what it was called. Ding Baozhen was stumped. Although he had enjoyed this dish for 10 years or more, he had never given it a name, and the illiterate Wang was unable to assist.
One of the guests suggested that it be given Ding's official title. It was thereafter known as Gongbao Jiding. It was only a matter of time before the ingredients and cooking method were made public. This Sichuan recipe has been handed down over generations, and is now a national favorite.
Gongbao Jiding is a delicate mix of flavors that combine sweet, savory and spicy. It has even been canned and sent to outer space, for the delectation of Chinese astronauts.
The original Sichuan version uses chicken as its primary ingredient. In this original version, diced chicken is typically mixed with a prepared marinade. The wok is seasoned and then chili peppers and Sichuan peppercorns are flash fried to add fragrance to the oil. Then the chicken is stir fried and vegetables, along with peanuts, are added. Shaoxing wine is used to enhance flavor in the marinade.
Kung Pao chicken starts off with fresh, moist, unroasted peanuts or cashew nuts. These are often used instead of their pre-roasted versions. The peanuts or cashew nuts are dropped into the hot oil on the bottom of the wok first, then deep fried until golden brown before the other ingredients are added.
In Sichuan, or when preparing authentic Kung Pao chicken, only Sichuan-style chili peppers such as facing heaven pepper or seven stars pepper (Chinese: 七星椒; pinyin: Qīxīngjiāo; Wade–Giles: Ch'i1-hsing1-chiao1) are used. Smaller, thinner Sichuanese varieties may also be used.
The most important component of the dish is handfuls of Sichuan peppercorns. It is these peppercorns that give authentic Kung Pao chicken its distinctive numbing flavor. Use of hot and numbing flavor (Chinese: 麻辣味型; pinyin: Málà wèixíng; Wade–Giles: Ma2-la4 wei4-hsing2) is a typical element of Sichuan cooking.
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