Chongqing Chicken (or chongqing la zi ji –重庆辣子鸡) is a dish that has everything going for it. It’s legendary. It’s dramatic. It’s mouthwatering (to me, anyway). And despite its deadly spicy look, it’s actually really good.
For those of you who don’t know, Chongqing is located in the Sichuan province of China and has over 30 million people living there. Imagine how much Chongqing chicken and other spicy hot food is being consumed there!
If you’ve seen a picture of it on a menu at a Chinese restaurant, you might not have dared touch it for fear of burning a hole through your mouth. All those chili peppers can be intimidating, but I love it!
When I order Chongqing Chicken in a restaurant, my only complaint is usually that there are always more peppers than chicken. Which is why I decided it was time to make it at home.
Before I start, I want to clue you in on a couple of facts about this dish that I DID NOT follow, and why. First of all, the dish is usually made with chicken on the bone, chopped into small pieces. I myself am a big fan of this, as are most Chinese people (for some reason, whether it’s meat or fish, we really don’t mind navigating tiny bones), but for your easy enjoyment (and at Sarah’s request), I chose to use boneless chicken thighs instead.
Secondly, the chicken is usually marinated and then deep-fried. In my opinion, it’s not necessary. A good wok-searing job can make the chicken taste just as good without all that oil.
Lastly, as I mentioned, there are almost ALWAYS more chilies in this Chongqing chicken La Zi Ji dish than chicken.
Usually, the dried red chili peppers just about cover the chicken when it’s presented at the table, and diners have to pick through and search for the meat. I wasn’t a fan of this. It just seemed like a waste of chilies. I’ve made adjustments accordingly to my recipe, while still (hopefully) achieving the dramatic look this dish deserves.
Buying & USING DRIed chili peppers
You can find these dried chili peppers at your local Chinese grocery store, or at The Mala Market, an online shop that offers curated premium Sichuan and Chinese ingredients.
For this dish, you can use fewer dried chilies if you like. This dish won’t actually be that spicy, unless you break open some of the dry hot peppers. If you do like the dish spicy, don’t break open more than six peppers. It will be hot enough, trust me.
Chongqing Chicken: Recipe Instructions
Okay, let’s start.
Rinse the chicken and cut it into bite-sized pieces. Add the chicken to a bowl and toss with the cornstarch, salt, oil, Shaoxing wine, and dark soy sauce. Set aside for 30 minutes.
Prepare the rest of the ingredients. When you’re ready to cook, heat 3 tablespoons oil in a wok over high heat. Add the chicken in a single layer, and let it sear (DO NOT STIR at this point). Once you’ve got a good, crisp crust on the bottom of the chicken, stir and continue to sear the chicken until it’s browned and crisp on all sides.
You really need a hot wok to achieve this. Turn off the heat and remove the chicken to a plate with a slotted spoon.
There should be about 1 tablespoon of oil left in the wok at this point. Add more if you need to. Heat the wok over medium low heat, and add the Sichuan peppercorns. Let them toast for 1-2 minutes, until fragrant. Add the ginger and garlic, and cook for 1 minute.
Add the whole dried red chilies, and stir for another minute. Monitor the heat levels to avoid burning.
Turn up the heat to high, and add the chicken, Shaoxing cooking wine, sugar, and scallion.
Continue to stir-fry, until any liquid in the wok has evaporated.
Serve your Chongqing chicken (la zi ji) with lots of steamed jasmine rice and a veggie on the side! We’d recommend simple garlicky broccoli or bok choy.