It was close to 14 years ago when I walked into this funky little place in the Mission district of San Francisco called Slanted Door. It was that meal that took me into the joy of Asian food or more specifically Vietnamese food. I had just never tasted those flavors before. It blew my mind in such a glorious creative way. There was a balance of flavors in each dish. This wasn’t your sweet and sour pork Chinese takeout. The first bite from my lamb chop is still one of my strongest taste memories. The sauce was so special. I could not identify find one ingredient by taste, so I had to ask. I did find out that it had tamarind paste and citrus in it.
This started the quest to understand the flavors of Asia. I had no idea what I was getting into, how complex and intricate it was, how I would work with ingredients I have never even heard of before that moment. I have chased the flavors since. Man, oh man, have I made some mistakes in cooking with some of these ingredients. You only have to over pour sesame oil once to understand you should use it more sparingly next time. I still have a lot of learn. I was thrilled when I saw that Charles Phan, co-owner of the Slanted Door, had a cook book out. It is a joyful book to me. I read it often trying to understand the flavors. It is a great tutorial. This is my take on the recipe from book, Lacquered Quail with Sichuan Cucumber Pickles. I used chicken legs instead of quail. I think chicken thighs would work as well. You just want to have the skin on, so that it crisps up nicely.
I made these chicken legs for my niece’s, Jenna, birthday dinner. She brought a friend to share our meal and we got to chatting and enjoying each other’s company so much that I forgot to take pictures of my food that night. I remember thinking, while we were entrenched in the pleasure of enjoying a fabulous meal, this is why I cook. I want to recreate a taste of food that has a powerful food memory. I also was able to share this time in my life with a new group of people, while creating a new food memory for them and myself as well.
The chicken legs and pickles didn’t miss a flavor step the follow day and even photographed well. This would be such great picnic food. The Sichuan Cucumber Pickles are worth making. Loved, loved, loved the flavor.
One of the things that Charles Phan suggests is serving salt, pepper, and lime juice on the side to dip your chicken in. This was great. I decided to also serve papaya with it and, boy, did it taste great dipped in the lime juice mixture. I would do that again in a minute.
Lacquered Chicken Legs
- 1/2 cup honey
- 1/2 cup distilled white vinegar
- 2 T. sherry vinegar
- 1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
- 1 t. kosher salt
- 1 (3-inch) piece fresh ginger, crushed
- 12-14 chicken legs
- enough oil for frying
1. In a large saucepan, combine the honey, white vinegar, sherry vinegar, brown sugar, salt, ginger and 3 1/2 quarts water and bring to a boil over high heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar.
2. Lower the heat so that the liquid is a simmer and simmer for 30 minutes.
3. Set up a wire rack on the rimmed baking sheet. One at a time, submerge each leg in the simmering liquid for 30 seconds, then, using a slotted spoon, transfer to the wire rack. Let the chicken legs stand until cool enough to handle.
4. While the legs are cooling, in a small bowl mix:
- 2 t. kosher salt
- 1/4 t. five-spice powder
- 1/4 t. ground black pepper
5. Season each leg with the spice mixture. Place the legs on a rimmed baking sheet and refrigerate, uncovered, for at least 6 hours or overnight.
6. Remove the chicken from refrigerator and bring to room temperature.
7. Fill a high sided pan with oil to a 2 inch depth. Heat oil to 350F. Place legs in oil. Do not over crowd the pan. I cooked the legs in two batches. I cooked the legs for about 8 minutes total, turning after 4 minutes. Place cooked chicken legs on a paper-towel lined baking sheet to drain briefly.
8. Serve with dipping sauce and Sichuan Cucumber Pickles.
- 2 T. coarse sea salt
- 1 t. coarse cracked black pepper
- Juice of two limes
Sichuan Cucumber Pickles
- 1 English cucumbers, halved lengthwise and cut on the diagonal into 1/8-inch-thick slices
- 2 T. plus 1 t. kosher salt
- 1-inch piece fresh ginger, grated
- 1 or 2 fresh Thai chiles, stemmed, seeded, and julienned
- 4 cups rice vinegar
- 1 1/4 cups sugar
- 1 1/2 t. sambal chile paste a.k.a sambal oelek
- 1/2 cup toasted sesame oil
- 1 T. Sichuan peppercorns
- 1/4 cup whole dried chiles, such as arbol
1. In a bowl, toss together the cucumber slices and 1 t. of salt. Transfer the cucumbers to a colander and let drain in the sink for two hours.
2. Rinse the cucumbers briefly under cold water and drain well. Transfer to a bowl. Add the ginger, fresh Thai chiles and toss all together.
3. In a separate bowl, stir together vinegar, sugar, sambal, and the remaining 2 T. salt until the sugar and salt have dissolved. Set aside.
4. In a small fry pan, heat the sesame oil over medium heat, add the Sichuan peppercorns and toast for 10 seconds. Add the dried chiles and toast 10 seconds longer, until the chiles are darken slightly.
5. Pour the contents of the frying pan over the cucumbers, then add the vinegar solution and toss well. Let cool to room temperature, then cover and refrigerate. The pickles are ready to eat in 2 hours. They will keep, refrigerated, for up to 1 week.
My youngest son told me that he wanted some more of those “Asian burnt looking chicken legs”. I will definitely make these tasty morsels again. Letting the skin dry out with the “lacquer” on it in the fridge was the key, I believe. No matter what you do, make extra, because the leftovers are even better.
Pull up a chair, Elizabeth