I know, Saliva chicken is not the most appetising of names for a dish but unfortunately, that is the direct translation of the Chinese recipe name, Kou Shui Ji (口水鸡). Delicious, Scrumptious et al, don’t quite cut it. Drool worthy or mouthwatering are probably better sounding alternatives. But if truth be told, I’ve always cringed at both descriptions too! Whatever name you are, or are not comfortable with, let me assure you, no saliva was harmed in the making of!
I used to employ this Chinese lady, Jenny Tsu, to come and give Chinese cooking classes for me. This was at our old place, when all my classes were run out of my big kitchen. Coming from Singapore, I’ve always cooked Chinese food, but Singaporean Chinese food is not quite the same as Chinese food from China. Ain’t nothing like the real thing – you’ve heard me say that before!
Anyway, I met Jenny at our local Chinese grocer, we got to talking, and one thing led to another. She ended up teaching fortnightly classes for just over a year, and in that time, we covered foods from all over China, along with another Chinese chef who used to do classes sporadically. Needless to say, I learnt along with my students, and after she left, I took over her classes, as it was just the natural thing to do. So this is one of Jenny’s recipes, and the first time I tasted it, well, what can I say? I
The contrast between the almost bland, lightly poached chicken and the tingly, spicy, slightly tangy chilli oil is so exquisitely vivid, you almost start seeing stars! It enslaves you. It hangs on to your soul until the very last bite, and to quote the Bard, it makes hungry where most it satisfies.
Cooking Saliva Chicken at Home
Sichuan Chilli Oil and the Heat Level
I have to warn you though, Saliva Chicken is not for the faint hearted. It is spicy and it is almost swimming in oil. While you can control the heat level by reducing the amount or changing the type of chillies used, there is not much you can do about the oil itself. The Sichuan chilli oil sauce that we make for this recipe, is the sum of so many great things, and the number one star is the Sichuan oil, so don’t skimp!
I made a slightly more basic Sichuan chilli oil a few weeks ago, minus a few aromatics. On that post, you can read more about what to do with the extra oil that you will have left, after making the sauce:
If you have access to ready made good quality Sichuan oil, and fancy “cheating”, by all means, go right ahead.
Sichuan food is well known for its spiciness, along with its tingly Sichuan peppercorns (click to read more). As mentioned above though, reduce the amount of chillies, and/or change the type of chillies by using milder chilli flakes and mild chilli powder, and you’ll be able to enjoy this dish without crippling heat.
If you can’t get Sichuan peppercorns, leave them out, although you should be able to find them easily if you have access to Chinese grocers, online or otherwise.
Dried Sichuan peppers are hot. Substitute them with dried kashmiri chillies, and use just 2 of them in this recipe, for less heat.
Traditionally, a whole chicken is used for this dish; poached whole, then cut up. I prefer to use chicken legs as they make for a prettier presentation and easier serving. Plus the fact that I’m a huge fan of the darker meat.
You could also use chicken breasts if you prefer, but get them on the bone of you can. Poach them for just 10 – 15 minutes, depending on their thickness.
And this Saliva chicken is meant to be cooked and eaten with its skin on; the soft skin, covered, and dripping with the chilli oil sauce, is one of the best pleasures to be had! So leave the skin on – we’ve already ascertained that this is no diet food!
Chinese Black Vinegar
Chinese Black Vinegar is, as its name, suggests, a very, very dark vinegar. It is also quite commonly known as Chinkiang vinegar and has a very deep character, is a touch smoky with hints of sweetness right at the back of it all. Click here to read more about it and for how to substitute it.
How do you serve Saliva Chicken?
The best way to enjoy the multi dimensional flavour of the sauce is to pair it with some regular, old steamed white rice. Nothing allows you to savour a complex dish better than a bowl of white rice. When I have any left over, I have it for lunch the next day with just some salad and rice.
Kou Shui Ji makes the perfect centrepiece on any Oriental themed dinner table, or it can be one of many side dishes, if serving a big group. To get an idea of other Chinese or even Japanese dishes, head on over to the respective pages:
- 250ml (1 cup) vegetable or peanut oil
- 2 Tbsp Sichuan peppercorns
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 star anise
- 1 small cinnamon stick
- 5 dried Sichuan peppers, torn in half (or any other non-smoked, dried, red chillies)
- 5cm (2") ginger, sliced
- 2 spring onions (scallions), torn in half
- 2 cloves garlic, sliced
- 1 handful unsalted, toasted peanuts
- 1 Tbsp toasted sesame seeds
- 2 Tbsp red chilli flakes
- 1 tsp hot chilli powder
- 1 tsp salt
- 4 chicken legs
- 5cm (2") ginger, sliced
- 3 spring onions (scallions), chopped in large pieces
- 1 Tbsp Shaoxing wine
- 2 Tbsp light soy sauce
- dash of ground white pepper
- 2 Tbsp Shaoxing wine
- 1 Tbsp Chinese black vinegar
- 1 Tbsp sesame oil
- half tsp white sugar
- 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 Tbsp light soy sauce
- coriander leaves (cilantro), chopped
- 1 spring onion (cilantro), sliced
- 1 red chilli, sliced
- Heat the oil in a small saucepan on low heat and add the Sichuan peppercorns, dried Sichuan peppers, bay leaf, star anise, cinnamon, ginger, spring onions (scallions) and garlic. Bring to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes, by which time, all the aromatics will be brown-ish and wrinkly.
- While waiting for the oil above, crush the peanuts to a coarse grind, either in a chopper or place in a bag and go over with a rolling pin. Or in a pestle and mortar. However you prefer to do it.
- Place the crushed peanuts in a large bowl big enough to take the oil that's cooking away.
- Add the sesame seeds, chilli flakes and salt to the bowl of peanuts.
- When the oil is done at 10 minutes, immediately strain the very hot oil onto the dry peanut mix, using a metal strainer. Just in case your plastic one isn't heatproof. Set aside.
- Bring a large saucepan of water to boil and add the ginger, spring onions (scallions), Shaoxing wine, soy sauce and white pepper.
- When the water is boiling, put the chicken legs in and bring the water back up to boil on high heat.
- As soon as the water is boiling, turn cover the saucepan, turn the heat off and take the saucepan off the hot hob.
- Leave the chicken legs to poach for 20 minutes. While the chicken is poaching, we'll move on to the chilli oil.
- Place all the sauce ingredients into a medium sized bowl and add 6 tablespoons (more or less, to taste) of the Sichuan chilli oil in and mix thoroughly. Set aside.
- Take the chicken out of the poaching liquid, and cut into pieces, on a chopping board, right through the bone. You would have to use a very sharp/big knife like a meat cleaver. Or a sharp knife with a hammer to drive through the bones! Whatever you have that works!
- Place the chicken pieces onto individual serving dishes or onto a large serving platter.
- Spoon the Sichuan chilli oil sauce all over the chicken, garnish and serve immediately.