Jiaomaji (椒麻鸡) Cold Chicken in Sichuan Pepper-Scallion Oil
Chengdu Challenge #2: The Magical Combo of Cold Chicken and Hot Peppers
For the most part, chicken is chicken. But 椒麻鸡 (jiāomájī) sauce, now that’s a discovery! Jiaoma refers to Sichuan pepper, and the sauce is made by mixing the peppercorns together with a load of scallions and adding oil. Combine that with red-hot chili oil and Sichuan pepper oil and a little starter of cold chicken, jiaomaji, is the most exciting thing on the table. That’s what’s so brilliant about Sichuan cuisine. It has a million ways to make plain old protein absolutely sing with flavor.
Of course, this is assuming the numbing spice sings to you. Though Sichuan pepper is an acquired taste, it’s an easily acquired one, the numbing quality more than compensated for by the unique and intense flavor, which I struggle to describe because nothing else tastes like it. I particularly like the jiaoma sauce used in this dish because the peppercorns aren’t left whole, where they can blow you away, but they’re also not ground to a diminished powder. Instead they are ground into small pieces that carry a real punch but not a knock-out.
I like this jiaomaji dish best with green Sichuan peppercorns and green Sichuan pepper oil, which give it a fresh and zingy taste and stay with the green color theme.
The recipe in Sichuan Cuisine in Both Chinese and English just jumps right in and calls for pre-cooked chicken, leaving the decisions on how to cook the chicken to the cook. The first time I made it with chicken breasts, which, thinking like a Westerner making chicken salad, I poached. Chinese do poach whole chickens, and other recipes I’ve since seen for this dish use that method. But Chinese also steam chicken, which I thought might be better for this preparation.
So the second time I steamed bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs, which I hacked into pieces afterward, bone and all (see bottom photo). The chicken was way more moist and flavorful steamed than poached. The next time—and there can never be too many times because we all love this and it’s wonderful left over straight from the fridge—I tried bone-in breasts, which were equally good if not better (top photo). I sneak a lot of grated ginger under the skin and salt it well, and at the end both the chicken and its juices emerge with a lovely flavor. I then use that chicken juice in the jiaomaji sauce.
After you’ve steamed the chicken, the cooking is done! You just mix up a sauce, pour it over the cooled chicken, and the dish is complete. The recipe calls for chili oil without flakes, its bright-red color a great contrast to the scallions. Follow our recipe for homemade chili oil, and you’ll have plenty of flake-free oil for use in recipes like this jiaomaji (and plenty of flakes too when recipes call for that). I use bottled Sichuan pepper oil since it is made with fresh peppercorns hours after harvest. The freshness gives the oil a tangier bite than one made from dried peppercorns at home.
But really the sauce is all about the jiaoma oil. Instead of mixing it in with the other oils, which diminishes its bright green color, I use it as more of a garnish, spooning it over the finished dish.
There’s a reason Sichuan has so many versions of cold chicken in chili oil (including this better-known version called mouth-watering chicken). But I have a particular soft spot for this version, since it contrasts that spice with a hit of fresh and numbing green.
Jiaomaji (椒麻鸡) Cold Chicken in Sichuan Pepper-Scallion Oil
- 1½ pounds bone-in, skin-on chicken (2 split breasts or 4 thighs)
- 2 tablespoons fresh ginger, grated
- kosher salt
- 6 fresh scallions, finely chopped by hand or food processor
- ¼ to ½ teaspoon freshly ground green Sichuan pepper see note
- 3 tablespoons canola oil or cooked caiziyou (Chinese roasted rapeseed oil)
- 1 tablespoon plus ½ teaspoon toasted sesame oil
- ¼ cup clear chili oil see note
- 3 tablespoons Chinese light soy sauce (Zhongba preferred)
- 1 tablespoon tengjiaoyou (green Sichuan pepper oil)
- 4 tablespoons juice from steamed chicken
- Wash and dry chicken pieces and put in a glass pie plate or bowl that fits in your steamer. Lift skin and spread ginger paste between skin and flesh. Sprinkle skin with kosher salt.
- Fill steamer with water, and when it starts to steam, carefully place bowl into steamer and replace lid. Let steam over moderate heat around 35 minutes for breasts or 30 minutes for thighs. Remove chicken from bowl to a cutting board and let cool enough to handle. Slice into large bite-size pieces, chopping through the bones and including them if you have a meat cleaver. Arrange on a serving plate or bowl.
- Make jiaoma sauce by mixing minced scallions with Sichuan pepper powder, canola oil and ½ teaspoon sesame oil.
- Mix remaining ingredients in a separate bowl or measuring cup: 1 tablespoon sesame oil, chili oil, soy sauce, Sichuan pepper oil and juice from steamed chicken. Mix well and pour over the chopped chicken. Spoon jiaoma scallions over the top of the chicken. Serve at room temperature.
Thanks, now I’m addicted to jiao ma paste !
few pictures :p
there is also another recipe with ginger
Your jiao ma chicken looks delicious! And this is another great cold chicken recipe. Love it!
These have to be some of the simplest and yet most rewarding dishes I’ve ever cooked… and so fun too! It wasn’t until I started to seriously investigate the local Asian supermarkets that I discovered how easily obtainable the Chinese ingredients actually are. I’ve already cooked a few of the main dishes and made various la Jiao and Hua Jiao oils. Even in New Zealand, the Huang Men Ji Golden Chicken Stew was a perfect Winter dish. The Shui Zhu Niu Rou was far too spicy for my less enlightened colleagues but I found it perfect and, most importantly, authentic. Tonight I’m going expand my portfolio of Sichuan dishes by cooking the Jiao Ma Ji Cold Chicken in Sichuan Pepper-Scallion Oil. Thank you so so much! I’m heading back to Leshan in November and can’t wait to pay back the kindness and hospitality of all my friends by preparing a true feast for them.
Thank you so much, Mike! I’m thrilled to hear this. I test all these recipes several times before I post them, but that still doesn’t mean that they will work for other people. It’s immensely helpful and heartening to hear from someone when they do. Thanks for letting me know. I hope your friends in Leshan are duly impressed!
There’s a wonderful Sichuan restaurant in Spokane (Gordy’s Sichuan) that used to offer Jiao Ma Salmon, comprised of tempura salmon on thin disks of tempura eggplant (or cucumber slices, uncooked), and Jiao Ma sauce spooned on top. (I believe Gordy’s sauce is the close to yours, but adding sesame seeds.)
I have begged for Gordy’s to bring back Jiao Ma for years to no avail.
So, I was thrilled to find your blog with my long-sought recipe and all of its secrets! Thank you so much for sharing this!
Wow, that sounds creative and delicious! So glad I could help with a jiao ma recipe. Let us know if it works!
Love your site.
Just receive my copy of the Sichuan cuisine in chinese and english. Great stuff.
Next week my wife’s nice arrives. She livedin Chonqing for3 years and we willhave a feast.
I livein the south of france, and we got lots of ducks here. So duck tongues might be on the menu.
I am growingSichuan pepper and chillis here. Loads of aubergines, too.
Will report about the dinner
Thanks, Robby! I would love to hear how your experiments with The Cookbook go–especially if you’re going to be making duck tongues or other things I haven’t tackled yet. Send photos too if you can: info @ lotusculinary.com
I wish I was eating Sichuan food in the south of France. 🙂 Enjoy!
Thanks a million for posting this recipe! This is one of my favorite Sichuan dishes, I had two favorite restaurants in Chendu that offered this and I fell in love with it. I can’t wait to try it. Since I dont have the green hua jiao oil, could I try to make some oil with red hua jiao (I have lots of that)?
Hi, Richard. You could use either red or green hua jiao with this recipe. And you can probably get away with leaving out the Sichuan pepper oil, as long as you use plenty of crushed Sichuan pepper in the paste. With fresh hua jiao it will be plenty numbing!