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
There are a few steps to the recipe:
- We make the Sichuan Chilli Oil – this goes into making our Red Sauce
- Poach the chicken (cook it by steeping it in hot water)
- Make the Red Sauce that goes all over the chicken
- Bring it all together – take the chicken out of the hot water, chop it up and serve on a plate with the sauce all over
Making the Red Sauce
The Red Sauce that you see all over the chicken and the plate, is the defining flavour in this Saliva Chicken recipe. It is spicy, aromatic and tangy and is made up of Sichuan chilli oil, some vinegar, some Chinese wine, etc. To make it, we first make our own Sichuan Chilli Oil. A few tablespoons of the Sichuan chilli oil is then added to the ingredients mentioned above to make up the Red 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 (see below). You can control the heat level by using less 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.
Dried chillies – Dried Sichuan peppers are hot. Substitute them with dried kashmiri chillies, and use just 2 of them in this recipe, for less heat.
What to do with the extra Sichuan Chilli Oil?
We will only be using a few tablespoons of our Sichuan Chilli Oil to make the red Sauce. Store the rest in a sterilised jar and keep in the fridge. It will last a good 6 months.
When you want to use it, give it a stir, then scoop out some of the oil, with all the bits; I have to warn you, you’ll get addicted very quickly!
You could also just scoop out the oil, if you want, to drizzle or to use as a stir fry oil. With bits or without – completely up to you, depending on your mood and what you are using it for! And you can use it in so many different ways:
- It makes a very convenient condiment. As I cannot have a meal without some sort of spice, the Sichuan Chilli Oil makes a great flavour and spice enhancer at meal times, much like the sambal belacan does. In this instance, I would stir and use with all the lovely bits in it.
- I also use it in stir fries. When a recipe calls for chillies or chilli paste, just use this Sichuan Chilli Oil, with the actual oil substituting the oil in your recipe. The result is a fabulous, deep and spicy dish. Here, I use just the oil, no bits, but do what you want!
- I love to spice up mayo and aioli with this chilli oil, when using them as dips or in sandwiches. Again, just the oil, no bits.
- Speaking of sandwiches, oh man, just lightly brush your chosen bread with a layer of this Sichuan Chilli Oil, whatever filling you have, and you’ll be in heaven! Definitely with all those yummy bits.
- As part of a marinade, it adds oomph to any baked or roast dish you’re planning. For eg, add a tablespoon (or more) of this to our Sichuan Roast Chicken, for an even spicier result. With or without bits will work.
Poaching the Chicken
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!
The chicken is cooked in hot water, which is called the poaching liquid. When you’ve taken the chicken out, keep the poaching liquid, add some seasoning (garlic, ginger, salt and pepper) and vegetables like some shredded cabbage and thinly sliced carrots, and turn it into a light broth to serve with this Saliva Chicken and some rice.
“Pesky” Ingredients in the Saliva Chicken
Click here to read more. Despite the name, Sichuan peppercorns are not peppercorns and therefore, not related to our common black peppercorns at all! Sichuan peppercorns are the highly aromatic husks of the prickly ash berries which are dried and sold and they look like miniature flowers. ￼
Their claim to fame is their mouth numbing characteristic; you get a tingling sensation on your tongue which sets the stage for the typically spicy dishes found in Sichuan cuisine. That is why, you’ll often (but not always) find them in fiery Sichuan dishes with hot chillies, this mouth numbing trait is believed to reduce the crippling heat of the chillies used, letting diners enjoy the flavours of the dish.
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.
Chinese Black Vinegar
Click here to read more about it and for how to substitute it. 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.
Is Chinese rice wine, made from fermented rice. Easily substituted with dry sherry. If you don’t do alcohol, then just add a quarter tsp of regular, white vinegar for every tablespoon of rice wine, as a substitute for any recipe.
How do you serve Saliva Chicken?
The best way to enjoy the multi dimensional flavour of the Red 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. For more ideas and for similar recipes, head on over to the Chinese Page and the Singapore and Malaysia Page, for recipes like:
Kou Shui Ji (口水鸡), Sichuan Chicken in Chilli Oil, aka Saliva Chicken!