Stir-Frying to the Sky’s Edge
The Ultimate Guide to Mastery, With Authentic Recipes and Stories
by Grace Young
Irene Khin Wong, owner of Saffron 59 Catering in New York City and a native of Myanmar (formerly Burma), taught me this recipe, one of her signature dishes. Wong’s parents were both born in Myanmar but her father’s family was originally from Guangzhou, China. Wong remembers as children she and her siblings loved Burmese food, but because her grandmother lived with the family they mainly prepared traditional Cantonese stir-fries; her father and grandmother did not eat chilies, nor did they enjoy the spices typical of Burmese cooking.
This recipe reflects the fusion of Chinese, Burmese, and Indian cuisines. The paprika, cumin, and chili powder are Indian spices that were incorporated into Burmese cooking, creating layers of lush flavor — a great counterpoint to the mild heat from the fresh chili in this stir-fry. At first bite the heat level is mild but it gradually builds as you eat. Wong says instead of chili powder she sometimes uses ⅛ to ¼ teaspoon cayenne.
She also prefers dark meat but you can use chicken breast. The chicken is cut into large, thick slices the same way it is for Stir-Fried Chicken with Pineapple and Peppers. This recipe requires a wok. I tried cooking it in a skillet and the spices burned.
Chinese Burmese Chili Chicken
- 1 pound skinless, boneless chicken thigh or breast, cut crosswise into ½-inch thick large slices
- 2 tablespoons peanut oil or vegetable oil, divided
- 1½ teaspoons cornstarch, divided
- ¾ teaspoon salt, divided
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
- 2 teaspoons sweet paprika
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 small yellow onion, quartered and cut into ¼-inch chunks
- 2 teaspoons minced ginger
- 2 teaspoons minced garlic
- 1 medium red bell pepper, cut into 1-inch squares (about 1⅓ cups)
- 1 medium green bell pepper, cut into 1-inch squares (about 1⅓ cups)
- 2 tablespoons fish sauce
- 1 Anaheim chili, cut into scant ¼-inch thick slices, with seeds (about ¼ cup)
- 1 medium zucchini, halved lengthwise and cut into scant ½-inch thick slices (about 1½ cups)
- ½ teaspoon chili powder
- In a medium bowl combine the chicken, 1 tablespoon of the oil, 1 teaspoon of the cornstarch, ½ teaspoon of the salt, and pepper. Stir to combine. In a small bowl combine the remaining ½ teaspoon cornstarch and ⅓ cup cold water. In another small bowl combine the paprika and cumin.
- Heat a 14-inch flat-bottomed wok over high heat until a bead of water vaporizes within 1 to 2 seconds of contact. Swirl in the remaining 1 tablespoon oil, add the onions, then, using a metal spatula, stir-fry 30 seconds or until the onions begin to wilt. Push the onions to the sides of the wok, carefully add the chicken, and spread it evenly in one layer in the wok. Cook undisturbed for 1 minute, letting the chicken begin to sear. Stir-fry 30 seconds or until the chicken is almost completely opaque. Add the ginger, garlic, and the paprika mixture, and stir-fry 1 minute or until the aromatics are fragrant and the chicken is well coated in the spices.
- Add the red and green bell peppers, reduce the heat to medium, and stir-fry 2 minutes or until the peppers begin to soften. (Do not be alarmed if the spices stick a little to the bottom of the wok.) Add the fish sauce, chilies, zucchini, and the remaining ¼ teaspoon salt, and stir-fry 1 minute or until almost all the liquid has evaporated. Restir the cornstarch mixture, swirl it into the wok, increase the heat to high, and stir-fry 1 minute or until the chicken is just done and the vegetables are crisp-tender. Remove the wok from the heat and stir in the chili powder.
Serves: 3 as a main dish with rice or 4 as part of multicourse meal.