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Grand Dukes Chicken With Peanuts

Grand Dukes Chicken With Peanuts

GRAND DUKE'S CHICKEN WITH PEANUTS (gongbao jiding)

There is some debate as to just which grand duke gave his title to this celebrated chicken dish, usually called simply Grand Duke's Chicken on Chinese-American menus. As in Europe, it was not uncommon for a celebrated Chinese gourmet to allow his name to be used for a classic dish, one his sensitive criticism may have helped perfect. Whoever he was, our anonymous grand duke must have been a gentleman of impeccable taste, for his chicken with peanuts is one of the great dishes of Szechwan. Many gourmets feel it epitomizes the true taste of the province.

Debate also surrounds the composition of the dish; some cooks use only dried red peppers, while others, including Mrs. Chiang, add green peppers. But everybody uses peanuts.

When she can get them, Mrs. Chiang likes to use hot green peppers instead of the regular round variety. Together with the dried red ones, they produce a very hot chicken dish. Her gongbao jiding is light and aromatic, as brilliantly flavored as it is lovely to look at.

The peanuts for this dish must be fresh; neither roasted nor salted ones will do. You can get fresh peanuts at health food stores as well as at Chinese markets.

Perfectly prepared, a gongbao jiding will have very little sauce, a1though it may be covered with a thin film of oil. Szechwanese food occasionally seems oily; this is not a flaw but a sign that the cook respected his ingredients enough not to adulterate them with any prepared sauce.

1/2 cup fresh peanuts

1 cup boiling water (optional)

PREPARATION
If the peanuts still have their dark red skins on, put them in a small bowl and pour boiling water over them. Let the peanuts soak for about 3 minutes, then drain them; the skins will practically pop off. (If the peanuts have already been skinned, omit this step. )

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