One of my favourite places to eat in Melbourne is Dainty Sichuan Hot Pot. There is nothing much better on a cold winter's night than sitting in front of a bubbling yin yang pot of aromatic stock, dipping your favourite meats and vegetables into the boiling broth, then slurping the flavour-laden soupy goodness at the end. My go-to broth at Dainty is spicy chicken; it's chock full of numbing Sichuan pepper, herbal ginseng and a tonne of chilli. I love it so much that I decided to use it as a basis of inspiration to make my (sorta) Chinese chicken stew. It's warming, aromatic, as spicy as you like it, and with the addition of fistfuls of Asian mushrooms and tofu, it's a comforting and substantial meal that will make your house smell brilliant and your belly happy.
The process involves roasting and then stewing. Why the extra step? More flavour, la! While it's true that you could probably throw the chicken in and cook it down without the roasting step, all those roasty chilli flavours and caramelised chicken skin give a greater depth of flavour in the overall dish, plus you kind of get two recipes for one if you stop at the roasted chicken, so what's not to love?
For the Chinese roast chicken part
1 large brown onion, peeled and sliced into 1.5cm rounds
1 free range, organic chicken (you get what you pay for)
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
1 thumb sized piece ginger, smashed
4-5 cloves garlic, smashed
2 star anise
1 tablespoon chilli flakes
1 teaspoon Sichuan peppercorns
1 teaspoon pink peppercorns
1/2 teaspoon white pepper, ground
2 long, red chillis, chopped in half, widthways
4-5 cloves, whole
For the stew
1 thumb sized piece ginger, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1/2 bunch coriander, trimmed and chopped (stems and leaves) - reserve some leaves for garnish
3 cups chicken stock
1 tablespoon Thai fermented chilli paste (or anything with a heap of dried shrimp and chilli in it)
1 tablespoons Lau Gan Ma chilli flakes in oil
2 teaspoons kecap manis
3 cups mixed Asian mushrooms (I like a combo of black fungus, shittake, enoki and shimeji)
1/2 block firm tofu, cubed into 1.5cm pieces
Steamed rice, to serve
Preheat an oven to 200c. In a baking tray, place the onion slices evenly in the centre, as this will act as a trivet for your chicken (as well as add flavour). Thoroughly wash the chicken, pat the skin dry with paper towel and place the chicken on top of the onions. Pour over the vegetable and sesame oils and rub the entire outside of the skin, to evenly coat. Place the ginger and one star anise in the cavity and the garlic in the roasting tray.
Sprinkle the chilli flakes and peppers, over the chicken, rubbing all over, to evenly coat. Throw in the remaining anise, fresh chilli and cloves into the baking tray and roast for 25-30 minutes, breast side up, until the skin is golden. Flip the chicken, continue to roast for 10-15 minutes, then turn down the heat to 170c and continue to roast for a further 20 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside until cool enough to handle. You could stop here, and you'd have a pretty cracking Chinese-spiced roast chicken, but we'll crack on, shall we?
In a casserole dish or heavy based pot on a medium heat, add a tablespoon of vegetable oil and the chopped ginger, garlic and coriander. Fry for 1 minute until aromatic, then add in the chicken stock. Once cool enough to handle, chop the chicken into pieces, discarding the central frame (leave the rest of the bones in, I think it gives the stew a better flavour but if you wish, you can remove the skin and meat from the frame and throw that in, sans bones).
Bring a kettle to the boil and pour about half a cup of boiling water into the roasting tray and use a spatula to scrape all the baked on flavours from the sides. Pour all of this spicy, chickeny goodness, along with any chunks of roasted onion and chilli, into the pot.* Place the roasted chicken pieces into the stock, along with the chilli paste (I'm obsessed with this one), chilli oil and kecap manis. Bring to the pot to a simmer, stir to combine and season to taste. After 5-10 minutes, add in the mushrooms and tofu, stir to combine, then reduce the heat and continue to simmer to reduce the stock to a thick, stewy consistency. Season to taste, then set aside to cool slightly.
Serve with steamed rice, or if you like, mix the rice and the stew together, then serve. Garnish with fresh coriander. This will, as with any soup, stew or curry, taste better the next day.
*This step will not only add a greater depth of flavour to your stew, but get you a head start on clean up.