Famed for its searing tongue-numbing properties, Chong Qing diced chicken with dried chilli (La Zi Ji or 辣子鸡) appears to be a simple dish with deep-fried ingredients.
Unless you get your fundamentals right, however, you will not achieve the perfection this dish demands.
Si Chuan Dou Hua (四川豆花) Restaurant Executive Sichuan Chef Zeng Feng has been with the restaurant for over 20 years since its inception in 1996. Despite spending over two decades living in Singapore with his family, the mild-mannered Chengdu native still loves his local cuisine.
When it comes to the kitchen, Chef Zeng believes time and experience—not just talent—are the essential ingredients to becoming a great chef.
As he prepares the signature dish, he shares the lessons that have guided his career, earning him the accolade of “National Advanced-Grade Master Chef” from the Chinese government.
The short list of ingredients for the La Zi Ji dish are easily available, and include chicken thighs, dried chilli, peppercorns, and spring onions.
Cooking always starts with the basics, says Chef Zeng. As with many other aspects of life, you cannot jump right into the deep end without learning the fundamentals of what works and what does not.
Prepare to coat the chicken in cornstarch, Chinese rice wine, and salt with a bowl.
Chef Zeng has every spice and herb at his disposal, but he sometimes gets requests that boggle the mind. The Sichuan-famous La Zi Ji dish is considered spicy by many standards, yet Chef Zeng has met customers who do not flinch a single bit no matter how much chilli he adds according to their request.
In his 20 years working at Si Chuan Dou Hua, he has met all kinds of challenges, including cooking without salt and oil. Despite the numerous accomplishments under his belt, Chef Zeng embraces new challenges which he believes will sharpen his skills even more.
Coat the sliced chicken thighs with the cornstarch, Chinese rice wine, and salt.
In Chinese cooking, getting your hands involved is par for the course. Doing so allows you to accurately gauge how each dish should be seasoned and marinated before frying.
Instead of using a blender or automated mixer to batter the chicken, use your hands. Getting hands-on, literally, is the cornerstone of the culinary industry, relates Chef Zeng.
Fry the chicken in a wok.
Know when to use high, medium, or low heat to get the results you want. Experience maketh a good cook.
Deep-frying chicken thighs may sound easy, but do you know how to achieve a dish with crispy skin which envelops the juicy flesh inside?
Chef Zeng fries the diced chicken a second time to create the crispy texture on the exterior that customers love.
Recipes are always handy but, Chef Zeng believes that in the food industry, the repeated trial and error go a longer way than the instructions in a book.
Chef Zeng starts frying the chilli and Sichuan peppers, both imported directly from China.
The career of a chef is long and tedious, but Chef Zeng has achieved the status of top chef while still looking a good ten years younger than his actual age of 51. He reveals that staying cheerful and being stress-free are the secrets to his youthful looks.
The spicy chicken, or La Zi Ji, is now ready to be served. The intense red of the chilli and peppery spices may look scary, but their taste is second to none.
||Si Chuan Dou Hua Restaurant, PARKROYAL on Beach Road
7500 Beach Road, Singapore 199591
||+65 6505 5722
||11:30am to 2:30pm (lunch)
2:30pm to 6:00pm (high tea)
6:30pm to 10:30pm (dinner