Authentic Sichuan dishes should not just taste spicy, but rather should highlight a vast spectrum of flavors and sensations. Culinary writer and historian Andrew Coe explains, “Sichuan food is really about a variety of flavors: spicy, flowery, salty, sour, sweet, bitter, smoky, etc. Frequently all of those flavors are combined in one dish. The result is a cuisine with an incredible depth and complexity of flavor, hitting all sense receptors in your mouth, nose, and gastrointestinal system at the same time.”
You don’t need to go to a restaurant in search of high quality Sichuan cuisine. Test out these simple Sichuan-style chicken dumplings in your home kitchen. Pro tip: don’t be surprised when your mouth starts to tingle —that’s coming from the Sichuan peppercorns!
For the Wontons
- 1 lb ground chicken
- 2 tsp kosher salt
- 1 Tbsp sugar
- 1 tsp ground white pepper
- 2 scallions, finely minced
- 1-inch hunk fresh ginger, peeled and minced
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 tsp Shaoxing wine or dry sherry
- 40 square wonton wrappers
For the Sauce
- 5 dried hot Chinese red peppers (or arbol chilies), stems removed
- 2 tsp Sichuan peppercorns
- ¼ cup vegetable oil
- 1 Tbsp sesame oil
- 3 Tbsp black vinegar
- 2 Tbsp soy sauce
- 1 Tbsp sugar
- 1 garlic clove, grated on a microplane
- 1 Tbsp sesame seeds, toasted
- ¼ cup peanuts, roughly chopped (optional)
- 1 bunch cilantro, leaves picked and roughly chopped
1. Combine chicken, salt, sugar, white pepper, scallions, ginger, garlic, and wine in a medium bowl and knead and turn with clean hands until the mixture is homogeneous and starting to feel tacky, about 1 minute.
2. If you have a few minutes to spare, test your filling for seasoning: place a saute pan over medium-high heat and add a splash of grapeseed oil. Once the oil is very hot and shimmering, add a pinch of the filling to the pan. Cook until browned on both sides, then taste. Add more salt, sugar, or white pepper as desired. If you’re in a hurry, just trust your instincts and skip to step 3
3. Set up a workstation with a small bowl of water, a clean dish towel for wiping your fingers, a bowl with the wonton filling, a parchment-lined rimmed baking sheet for the finished wontons, and a stack of wonton wrappers covered in plastic wrap.
4. To form dumplings hold one wrapper on top of a flat hand. Using a spoon, place a 2 teaspoon- to 1 tablespoon-sized amount of filling in the center of the wrapper. Use the tip of the finger on your other hand to very gently moisten the edge of the wrapper with water (do not use too much water). Wipe fingertip dry on kitchen towel.
5. Carefully fold one tip of the wonton wrapper across to meet the opposite tip to form a triangle. Seal edges of the triangle, carefully pushing out all air from within the wrapper as you work. Pull the two corners on the hypotenuse of the newly formed triangle to meet, moistening one with a little water, crossing them and pinching to seal. Transfer finished dumplings to the parchment lined baking sheet and prepare sauce before cooking.
6. Make the sauce: place chilies and Sichuan peppercorns in a medium saucepan and place over medium-high heat. Cook, tossing or stirring often, until the peppers smell toasty and fragrant, about 4 minutes. Transfer to a mortar and pestle or a food processor and crush until it’s about the texture of store-bought crushed red pepper flakes, then transfer to a heat-proof mixing bowl.
7. Heat oil in a skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Immediately pour hot oil over chili/peppercorn mixture (it should sizzle). Let cool for 5 minutes, then add sesame oil and set aside.
8. Add the sugar, vinegar, soy sauce, garlic, and sesame seeds; stir to combine. Set aside until ready to use. (Sauce can be stored in a sealed container in the fridge for up to 2 weeks).
9. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add 12 to 16 wontons and cook until they are completely cooked through, about 4 minutes. Drain wontons and transfer to a warm serving platter. Spoon sauce on top. Sprinkle with peanuts and cilantro and serve immediately.