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No matter how good the cold tripe and tongue in hot sauce, or the lotus root, or the spicy braised fish, whenever we go to a Sichuanese restaurant, we can’t quite resist the siren call of the Chongqing chicken. Fuchsia Dunlop writes that the dish is from Geleshan, a town in the mountainous Chongqing municipality, bordering Sichuan province. Chongqing was once part of Sichuan, but separated in 1997 to become its own prefecture. Its namesake dish is a deliciously fiery concoction of dried red chiles, Sichuan peppercorns, and garlic tossed with crisp nubs of fried chicken. Think of it as chiles with a side of chicken. You sometimes find the same preparation with pork intestines or other protein.
The dish is available all over the city, but we recently ate it at the relatively new Upper East Side Sichuanese restaurant, Wa Jeal.
Wa Jeal definitely does not make one of the top Chongqing chickens in the city. The chicken is too blond and sports a fried breading that’s not quite right; it could also use more chiles, believe it or not. Still, it’s a tasty dish, with the requisite slew of Sichuan peppercorns and fat hunks of garlic and ginger. Find it on the menu under the name “chicken with a thousand chiles.”
Most people do not eat the peppers, instead fishing around for the bits of chicken, which have absorbed the toasty-tingly-spicy flavor of the seasonings. But we like to pop the chiles along with the chicken: The peppers are dark and smoky, slightly mellowed and deepened from their time in a hot wok. Plus, Wa Jeal removes the seeds, taming them further. But only to a point–they’re still hot, very hot. Eat the dish with enthusiasm, and it will make you wobbly, high, and happy.
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