Okay, I know I’m a little late. By all of three days. But I have a good excuse. And a good recipe to show for it.
Last night I was out having stir-fried chilli beef and braised seabass in M&L Szechuan on Dublin’s Cathedral Street, washed down with pints in The Palace. Tuesday it was ebi gyoza (prawn dumplings), tako sunomono (octopus and seaweed salad) and sushi in Musashi on Capel Street, followed by the most random and enjoyable pub quiz in Nealons, with a real coal fire at our side. (I now know that Japan is home to the world’s largest whisky still, amongst other important facts.) And Monday I was busy up in Sandyford’s China Sichuan helping celebrate the start of the auspicious Year of the Dragon, a year last night’s waiter explained is associated with luck granted or received from external sources.
It was some party, kicking off at 7pm and the wine still flowing well after 10.30pm when I made use of my return Luas ticket back into town. A highlight was some inspiring Shaolin dragon dancing from the Dublin-based Lung Ying Academy. There was a surreal moment involving the glittering dragon spitting iceberg lettuce all over my ex-boss, herself a famous Dragon.
Despite the usual communal anxiety at parties featuring finger food (that you will be overcome with booze-fuelled hunger) we all left exceedingly well fed, thanks to the generosity of our host Kevin Hui. If you don’t know the restaurant, I’d recommend making an acquaintance. And not least because, after generations of business down in their original Stillorgan location and a trickily-timed move to Sandyford, the restaurant went under in 2010. As in closed, kaput, game over. In some miracle of perseverance – perhaps a willingness to believe in life after death and endings being beginnings – China Sichuan reopened about a year ago, and went on to be awarded Best Ethnic Restaurant at the FOOD&WINE Magazine Restaurant of the Year Awards 2011 last August.
At the end of the summer, myself and the gang from For Food’s Sake approached Kevin to do a movie night with us in The Sugar Club. We wanted to show Eat Drink Man Woman (itself a movie about finding new life at the end of an old one) and to serve up authentic Chinese food to film-watching punters. Kevin originally was reluctant to commit, for good reason. On the night in question, he was going to be about halfway between Paris and Nice on a 700km charity cycle, something he had promised himself he would do if his restaurant made it through the rebirthing process. Though he was understandably reluctant to undertake a pop-up presence without being there to oversee it, Kevin eventually capitulated and loaned us his chefs for the night.
(The deal we finally struck was that we donate half of the money made that night to the Paris2Nice charity to raise money for Special Olympics and Cerebal Palsy Sport Ireland; the other half went back into the For Food’s Sake kitty to fund future events – more of which anon.)
His chefs cooked up a storm for our movie goers, starting with ‘Bon Bon Chicken’ spicy lettuce parcels, which is what last Monday night’s feast also kicked off with (see below for recipe). Further festive New Year’s bites included deep-flavoured vegetable spring rolls, butterflied sesame prawns, crunchy prawn toast and my highlight: moreish Chinese turnip cakes.
All of which reminded me that China Sichuan is a restaurant worth getting on the Luas for, especially if we want it to be a Dublin dining option for another 20 odd years.
To encourage you to go visit, I asked for a recipe for that Chicken Bon Bon. And generous as ever, Kevin gave it up. Fair play. And may that generosity bring him much good luck from many external sources. Some of them may even come via the Luas. Happy New Year!
RECIPE: Bang-bang ji (Bang-bang chicken, or Bon Bon chicken)
This is a fairly quick and simple starter to make and is meant to be served cold.
3x 200g fresh skinless chicken breasts
For the sauce
- 4 tablespoons light soya sauce
- 2 tablespoons Sichuan vinegar (Chinese black vinegar is fine)
- 15g granulated sugar
- 15g sesame paste
- 5g sesame seeds, roasted and crushed
- 1 teaspoon chilli oil
- ½ teaspoon ground roasted Sichuan peppercorns
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- 20g iceberg lettuce, chopped
- 5g scallions, chopped
- 1–2 red chillies, seeded and sliced (optional)
1. Boil the chicken breasts for 30-35 minutes until they are cooked through. Tear or
cut the chicken into shreds approximately 3-4cm in length. (The traditional method would be to hit the chicken a few times with a wooden stick until the meat starts loosening up and then to tear it into little strips, using your hands.)
2. To make the sauce, thoroughly mix all the ingredients together.
3. To serve, place a small mound of lettuce in the centre of each of the serving plates. Arrange some chicken shreds on top and pour the sauce over it. Finally, scatter the scallions over the dish, and some chillies if you want to pick up the heat (as they did at the New Year’s party).