“Take a young chicken, chop it into square pieces, and mix with a marinade of autumn sauce and rice wine. When the diners are ready for the chicken, take the pieces out of the marinate and sear them in a pan of boiling hot oil. Remove the chicken from the pan and repeat this searing process three times in a row. Sprinkle vinegar, rice wine, powdered starch and chopped green onion on the chicken immediately before plating.”
The literal translation of this dish is “raw stir-fried chicken”. I’m translating “炮” as simply “stir-fry”, though a more accurate translation would be “explosively hot stir-fry”, perhaps like the “爆” (bao) technique? Or maybe it was more of a shallow frying technique? As for why the recipe name explicitly states that the chicken was stir-fried raw, it may have be that most meats at the time were actually cooked huiguo in some form and stir-frying from the raw state was actually out of the ordinary. That said, it’s just a guess.
As for the recipe itself, two things stand out. First, there is the repeated sear and remove technique, which is uncommon in modern Chinese cuisines. Doing this likely prevented the accumulation of juices seeping from the chicken in the wok, which keeps the wok hot enough to give the chicken the right texture and good wokhei. This is the same idea as not crowding the pan when searing food in Western cuisine, since it cools the pan down too much and causes the food’s juices to pool and steam. This in turn prevents the Maillard reactions from occurring, and results in bland uninspiring food: A relatively common beginner’s error.
The second thing that stands out in this recipe is the use of powdered starch. In Chinese cuisine, a thin starch water slurry is commonly used finish a dish, but this is the first time I have heard of finishing with dried starch. As for why this was done, my guess is that it “dries” things up by soaking up some of the juices from the chicken and prevents the dish from becoming wet too quickly upon plating. I’ll give this a go next time I stir-fry some chicken and write more about it.