Daniel posted a picture on Instagram the other weekend of some absurdly delicious-looking Szechuan-style fried chicken. You can’t do that and expect me not to demand the recipe. Non-negotiable. Here it is.
I love Szechuan food. All of it. But there’s one dish in particular that I crave and eat with disturbing frequency. It’s called La Zi Ji, deep-fried boneless chicken morsels and an insane amount of dried red chiles (they’re there for flavor, you’re technically not supposed to eat them, I usually do) stir-fried with lots of garlic, ginger, and Szechuan peppercorns. It’s also known as "Hide and Seek Chicken" because you spend so much time sifting through the peppers in search of chicken. It’s an incredible dish, and this isn’t it.
What it is is “classic” southern-style (buttermilk-brined, flour-dredged) fried chicken parts dusted with a Szechuan-inspired spice mixture as soon as it comes out of the oil. The spice mix is ground red chiles (I use the Korean version called Gochugaru), ground Szechuan peppercorns, some cumin, sugar, and salt. Full disclosure: in one version, instead of salt I used a packet of instant chicken ramen seasoning, because sometimes I have the palate of a six-year-old. Not ashamed.
The chicken is soaked in buttermilk and salt. If you want, you can spike that mixture with all of those same spice mix ingredients to amplify the Szechuan flavors, but I leave it be in case there are people at the table who just want plain fried chicken. The chicken operation itself is pretty standard. The only “trick” is to splash some of the buttermilk mixture into the flour dredge to form little clumps that you press into the chicken; those are what give the chicken its craggy, crispy crust.
Once the chicken is fried and spiced there’s an optional final flourish (a little nod to that "Hide and Seek Chicken"). I put a bunch of thinly sliced garlic and a handful of small dried red chiles (these are great) in a fine mesh strainer and dip it down into the hot oil to crisp the garlic and toast the chiles. The strainer is just to keep everything in the same place and prevent you from having to fish out rambunctious slivers of garlic flying around a big pot; if you can accomplish that before they burn, God bless. Scattering the garlic and chiles over the chicken gives it an extra punch of flavor, plus it’s cool to look at, your guests will think you’re interesting, and it gives you the dangerous option of nibbling (or devouring) a bunch of spicy peppers that you’re not supposed to eat. (Some Szechuan cucumbers on the side would not be a bad thing.)
The recipe is below. You’re welcome, Mark.
This bird (soaked in buttermilk and dredged in flour) starts out like “classic” southern fried chicken, but takes a spicy turn at the end with a dusting of chile and Szechuan peppercorns. Combined, the heat of the chiles and tingling of the peppercorns makes this chicken kind of hard to put down.
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