The classic gong bao dish (named after a former governor of Sichuan province, Ding Baozhen) is made with chicken. But the flavours, including the heat of chilli and numbing ‘ma la’ qualities of Sichuan peppercorns, suit prawns too. I’ve suggested this quick dish is made lip-tingling through Sichuan chilli oil, rather than peppercorns, as good versions of the latter are hard to come by. By contrast there are a number of decent oils available, and you can use that oil frequently in your cooking, whether spooned over a fried egg or on the haggis wontons.
This is a good-size meal for two but is arguably better spread across more people as part of a larger meal, with other Sichuanese classics such as smacked cucumber, fish-fragrant aubergine, wood ear mushroom salad and mapo tofu. You’ll either be familiar with these already, or otherwise, if the ma la sensation here pleases you, seek out the other dishes and cook up a feast next time the urge arrives (try @red.house.spice on Instagram and the writer Fuchsia Dunlop for recipes).
Ed Smith’s cookbook, Crave, is available now.
Gong Bao Prawns
- 40 g (1 1⁄2 oz) blanched peanuts
- 300 g (10 1⁄2 oz) raw prawns (shrimp), peeled and deveined
- 2 tbsp neutral cooking oil
- 6 dried red chillies, halved and deseeded or 1 tsp dried chilli flakes
- 20 g (3⁄4 oz) fresh ginger, peeled, sliced into thin matchsticks
- 4 spring onions, scallions, finely chopped, whites and greens separated
- 3 cloves garlic, finely sliced
- 2 tbsp Sichuan chili oil
- leaves and thin stems picked from 8–10 sprigs coriander
- 1⁄2 tbsp Shaoxing wine
- 1⁄2 tsp ground white pepper
- 1⁄2 tsp cornflour cornstarch
- ⅓ tsp flaky sea salt
- 2 tbsp light soy sauce
- 1 tsp cornflour cornstarch
- 1 tbsp Chinkiang black rice vinegar
- 1 tbsp Shaoxing wine
- 3 tbsp water
- 1 tbsp golden caster superfine sugar
- Cook the rice according to the packet instructions (or to your preferred method).
- Heat the oven to 200°C/180°C fan/400°F. Spread the peanuts out in one layer on a baking sheet and roast until golden (around 15 minutes), transfer to a cold plate and leave to cool.
- Combine the marinade ingredients in a bowl, add the prawns, mix and leave to marinate while you prepare the remaining ingredients.
- In a small bowl stir the soy sauce into the cornflour to make a paste, then whisk in the remaining liquids and sugar.
- Place a wok over a high heat and add the cooking oil. When it’s hot, add the dried chillies, ginger and the white parts of the spring onions and fry for 60 seconds or so until fragrant.
- Add most but not all of the green parts of the spring onions and the garlic, fry for 30 seconds then push to one side of the wok and add the prawns and any residual marinade, which will ideally fit in one layer. Cook for 60 seconds or so, stirring occasionally, until they begin to turn pink and start to tighten. Add the sauce, mix everything together and let it bubble and thicken a little for around 90 seconds. Throw in the peanuts and remove from the heat.
- Give your chilli oil a good stir to dredge up the bits from the bottom and add two tablespoons (including sediment) to the wok, stirring until it’s well mixed. Serve over plain rice, with the remaining spring onion greens and the coriander as a garnish.