I'm often reminded of Yuan Mei and his chef when I spend time with Hangzhou restaurateur Dai Jianjun and his personal chef Zhu Yinfeng at his retreat in rural Zhejiang. Every day, after presenting his dishes, chef Zhu joins Dai at the table and receives a meticulous commentary on his cooking.
This is one of Zhu Yinfeng's dishes, a succulent stir-fry of chicken with crisp young ginger. I originally learned to make it with ginger that Zhu and I had plucked out of the earth that morning, in the shade of a stand of peach trees.
Ginger is a gorgeous, prehistoric-looking plant, with dramatic sprays of spear-like leaves that recall the colours and shapes of a Rousseau painting. Dig down beneath the leaves and you will find clusters of yellow rhizomes with pink tips singing out their fresh, zippy fragrance. For this dish, use plump, tender ginger that is not too fibrous - a small piece should break off cleanly, with no fibres poking out of the cut.
- 75g plump fresh ginger
- 1 spring onion, white part only
- 350g boned chicken thighs
- 2tbs cooking oil or lard
- 1tbs Shaoxing wine
- Â¼ tsp potato starch mixed with Â½ tsp cold water
- A few 5cm lengths of spring onion, green parts only
- 1tsp sesame oil
- Ground white pepper
For the marinade
- Â½ tsp salt
- Â½ tbs Shaoxing wine
- 2tsp potato starch
- 2tsp cold water
For the sauce
- 1tsp light soy sauce
- Â½ tsp dark soy sauce
- Â½ tsp caster sugar
- 2tbs stock or water
Peel the ginger and cut it into 2mm slices. Smack the spring onion white gently with the flat side of a Chinese cleaver or a rolling pin to loosen its fibres. Cut the chicken into 2cm cubes, put it in a bowl with the marinade ingredients and stir well.
Combine the sauce ingredients in a small bowl. Heat the oil in a seasoned wok over a high flame. Add the ginger and spring onion white and stir-fry until they smell fragrant. Add the chicken and continue to stir-fry over a high heat, separating the pieces.
When the chicken is cooked and beginning to colour, splash in the Shaoxing wine, then give the sauce a stir and add to the wok. Bring it to a fast boil and season with a pinch of pepper to taste. Give the starch mixture a stir and add it to the wok, stirring as the liquid thickens to a glossy sauce.
Add the spring onion greens and give them a brief lick of heat. Finally, off the heat, stir in the sesame oil, then serve.
Recipe taken from Land of Fish and Rice: Recipes from the Culinary Heart of China by Fuchsia Dunlop (reviewed here). Photography by Yuki Sugiura