Start to finish: 1 hour / Servings: 4
Sichuan peppercorns give crispy fried chicken a citrusy, floral note followed by tingling—but not eye-watering—heat. To toast the peppercorns, heat them in a small skillet over medium. Cook, shaking the pan, until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and let cool, then finely grind. We used the peppercorns in a light, cornstarch-based coating that added crunch and flavor to briefly marinated chicken thighs. For additional heat, we made our own chili oil from Sichuan chili flakes, more peppercorns and whole dried red Sichuan chilies. Tailor the heat of this dish by using more or less of the chili oil.
Don’t marinate the chicken longer than 30 minutes or it will be too salty.
⅓ cup soy sauce
3 tablespoons unseasoned rice vinegar
4 tablespoons white sugar, divided
2 large egg whites, lightly beaten
2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
264 grams (2 cups) cornstarch
¼ cup Sichuan peppercorns, toasted and finely ground
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 quarts peanut oil
6 tablespoons Sichuan chili oil, plus extra to serve (see recipe here )
8 scallions, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon Sichuan seasoning salt, plus extra to serve (see recipe here )
1 cup lightly packed fresh cilantro
1. In a large bowl, combine the soy sauce, vinegar, 2 tablespoons of sugar and the egg whites. Stir until the sugar dissolves. Stir in the chicken, cover and marinate at room temperature, 20 to 30 minutes. Meanwhile, set a wire rack in a rimmed baking sheet. In a large bowl, mix the remaining 2 tablespoons sugar, the cornstarch, Sichuan pepper and salt.
2. Drain the chicken in a colander. Add ⅓ of the chicken to the cornstarch mixture and toss to coat, pressing the pieces into the cornstarch. Transfer to a mesh strainer and shake to remove excess cornstarch. Transfer to the prepared rack in a single layer. Repeat with the remaining chicken and cornstarch mixture.
3. Set another wire rack in a rimmed baking sheet. In a large Dutch oven over medium-high, heat the peanut oil to 350°F. Add half of the coated chicken and cook, stirring occasionally, until well browned, about 5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to the second rack. Allow the oil to return to 350°F, then repeat with the remaining chicken.
4. In a small microwave-safe bowl or glass measuring cup, microwave the Sichuan chili oil on high until just warm, about 30 seconds. Combine the chicken and scallions in a large bowl, sprinkle with the seasoning salt and drizzle with the warm chili oil, then toss to coat. Add the cilantro and toss again, then transfer to a platter. Serve with additional chili oil and seasoning salt at the table.