Gong Bao Jiding [split from SF]
[Note: This post was split from the SF Bay board: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/524678 -- The Chowhound Team].
I know you specified Sichuan-style in your post, but I was reminded of an article (with recipe) that appeared in the NY Times a couple years ago about the dish.
It's a fun read, and focuses on the dish's purported origins in Guizhou province.
'"Last but not least, authentic gong bao jiding should have absolutely no peanuts," Mr. Wang said sternly. Unlike Sichuan or American versions, the dish was indeed peanut-free.'
If you want to be dogmatic, since peanuts originated in South America, a Chinese dish with peanuts would be "fusion" rather than "Chinese." Of course I consider that a good example why people who insist on foods that are pure and authentic are ... full of it. Cuisines and the foods that embody them are always changing, and there are virtually no cuisines that haven't been and don't continue to be influenced by ingredients that were introduced from other parts of the world.
re: Ruth Lafler
I agree; the chili peppers are also imports from the New World, so there's no point in being a stickler for indigenous ingredients.
Basically there is a set of vegetables which seem to crop up together in a lot of Chinese dishes which I find personally repugnant: onions, bell peppers, celery, and water chestnuts. I wonder if there is some term for this particular combination. As a result I am very leery of ordering a dish that says "with vegetables", especially since the waiter is often not truthful about which vegetables there exactly are (I am a huge fan of broccoli, eggplant, green beans, asparagus, and bok choy, and I prefer a "meat & veggies" combo over ordering separate meat and veggie dishes).
There's a lot of variation here in Sichuan as well - my favourite is dark, not too ma (numbing) , and sweet.
There are at least 3 versions of this dish because the hero (Ding Bao Zheng) the dish is named after was 1) born in Guizhou Province, where this dish that he grew up eating is called Jian4 La4 zi3 ji1 ding1 (jian4 = sauce, La4 = spicy, zi3=young, ji1=chicken, ding1=cubes); 2) he worked in Shan Dong Province as head of the patrol and with much gusto and precision managed to ambush the much hated Eunich, An De Hai, and his gang and brought them to the Palace to be tried while the powerful Empress Ci Xi happened to be sick and thus her son the young powerless emperor was able to execute the Eunich without hinderance. 3) Ding Bao Zheng became governor of Sichuan Province, with an additional title of Tai4 Zi3 shao4 Bao3. this title is where the name Gong Bao Ji Ding set in.
Apparently, Ding Bao Zheng enjoys eating. When he is outside his home province, he invites local chefs to come to his house to cook the dish he craves for him. Naturally, each place will have the special spin on ingredients and taste. The Sichuan version changed the method of making the chili sauce - instead of pulverizing the reconstituted (soaked, then meticulously picked and prepared) chili pepper into a paste and then fry in oil, the Sichuanese use the dried whole chili pepper as is. In addition, the Sichuanese added skinless fried peanuts and sichuan numbing pepper flakes. The Shan Dong chefs also use dried whole chili peppers, but they also add their own special Dou4 Jian4 (i think a kind of soy bean paste) that adds a little sweetness to the dish and rounds off the spiciness.
There's even a Japanese version, brought over by a Mr. chao Hui Ming, (was a government official of Gui Yang City of Gui Zhou Province) when he studied abroad in 1918 at one of the famous University. He loved to eat and was also a good cook. His Japanese friends loved the dish and called it "Mr. Chao Chicken".
The official intro to the rest of the world was in 1986's entry to the 5th International food festival in Luxemburg (i always come across this in Chinese reference, but am not sure of the exact name of the Food Festival/Fair anyone knows?)
So, that's in a nut shell, the story of Gong Bao Chicken. Hope all chefs of all region can gedt along, and not get too stubborn about who's got the right version as there are ore than one!
The Taiwanese restaurant version tends to be Sichuan style, unless you are eating at a native Guizhou person's home. I'm curious to see how the Japanese version is, since Mr. chao is from Guizhou. For that matter, by 1986's Luxemburg event, the presentation by the Mainland Chinese could be of either one of the threee or some sort of combination!
By the way, i got the above information from a book written in 2001 by Mr. zhu Zhen Fan.
I don'rt know what happened to the main body of my post.I must have accidently erased it when rushing out of the restautant 2 nights ago. Anyway I will write it again:
There is a sort of anomaly in that NY Times article. First of all the correct spelling of the peppers is ci ba (糍粑辣椒）according to the official Chinese spelling system of pinyin. And the peppers are a ground mix of semi-rehydrated DRY peppers(Huaxi peppers-花溪辣椒 from Guiyang） and usually ginger and garlic.So here is the strange part-the chef said use fresh ci ba peppers. So I will go and ask him what he meant by that. Here are the 3 possibilities that I can think of:
1). Freshly ground as opposed to ground a week ago
2).He is from Anshun City in Guizhou Province and means to exclude any fermented peppers from the ci ba peppers(sometimes a 70/30 mix of dry and fermented peppers is made in the southeast part of the city) or
3). something none of my Guizhou chef friends have ever heard of that is unique to that chef and his version of the dish.
I had a similiar mis-understanding in Guizhou a few years ago when a chef was teaching me his sublime hot sauce. I asked him what was the pasty ground pepper mix he was using and he replied that it was fresh. Upon further questioning he clarified that it was freshly ground, not made from fresh hot peppers, so that is my guess as to what the correct answer is.I will report back soon as I am going to Guiyang tomorrow
p.s. ci ba is also the name of a great snack found all over Anshun city, but I like the version from the rural outskirts of Zhenning city better with the dry tofu dice. Adds a bit of firm chewy texture to compliment the very chewy sticky rice wrap.
Went there on Saturday evening and was at first turned away because the restaurant was living up to its reputation as more of a wedding banquet hall than a restaurant. The hostess politely asked me to return when the banquet was finshed at about 8:30pm. I walked up the street to their newer location but they were of course holding a wedding reception as well.
I did return at about 8:45 and ordered the gong bao ji ding. I was a bit skeptical that they could produce anything as good as I had eaten at Guiyang's most famous gong bao ji ding restaurant 5 days before, but it was great. Not as spicy or as strong flavored compared to my favorite version, but still great. Yes the ci ba la jiao is made from 100% dry peppers that are semi reconstituted, and judging from the subdued level of heat from the peppers, they were probably all from Huaxi-which is a district about 6 miles from the central downtown of Guiyang City, instead of from Zun Yi which is noted for hotter peppers.
Not a single nut to be found anywhere in the dish, though I have had one in Guiyang city 2 years ago that contained peanuts. The chef who made that version learned it from his father-who hailed from Sichuan Province!
Anyway, it did have a light sweetness that complimented the hot peppers well and the chicken could hardly have been more tender.