This recipe is inspired by the wonderful eggplant dish from Fuchsia Dunlop's amazing book about Sichuan cooking, The Food of Sichuan. It's a classic Chinese vegetable dish, to which I like to add a form of protein: grilled, pan-fried or even crumbed. While there's no actual fish in this dish, the sauce name hails from the combination of flavours used, which also feature in fish cooking.
4 x 160g chicken breasts, skin on
extra virgin olive oil
½ cup coriander, to garnish
1 tsp Sichuan salt and pepper* (see tip)
For the fish-fragrant sauce
400g Japanese eggplant
cooking oil, for deep-frying
2 tbsp Sichuanese chilli bean paste
1 tbsp finely chopped ginger
1 tbsp finely chopped garlic
150ml chicken stock
2 tsp caster sugar
2 tsp chinkiang vinegar
1 tsp potato flour mixed with 1 tbsp cold water for a slurry
4 tbsp finely sliced spring onions
1. Remove the chicken from the fridge about 1 hour before cooking and season liberally with sea salt.
2. Using a sharp knife, remove the eggplant's stalk and cut the flesh into 3cm-thick circles.
3. In a wok, heat 2 tablespoons of cooking oil to a high heat. Add the eggplant in batches and deep-fry for 3-4 minutes until slightly golden on the outside and soft on the inside. Remove and place on kitchen paper to drain.
4. In the same wok, add another 2 tablespoons of cooking oil and, when hot, fry the bean paste until fragrant, then add the ginger and garlic and cook for another minute. Add the stock, sugar and vinegar. When it boils, add the slurry to thicken the sauce, then add the eggplant and fold through to incorporate. Sprinkle with shallot and remove from the heat.
5. Warm the oven to 70C (fan-forced or conventional).
6. Place a heavy frying pan large enough to fit 4 chicken breasts over a medium-high heat until hot. Brush the chicken with extra virgin olive oil and put in the pan, skin side down. Cook for 5 minutes until the skin is crisp, then turn over and cook for a further 4 minutes. Put on a plate and rest in the warm oven for 5 minutes.
7. Place a scoop of eggplant sauce on the centre of each plate, top with chicken, drizzle with olive oil, coriander, a squeeze of lemon juice and a good sprinkle of Sichuan salt and pepper.
*Tip: To make Sichuan salt and pepper, toast Sichuan peppercorns and salt in a dry pan; when fragrant, remove and grind into a powder. It's very tasty sprinkled on roasted or pan-fried meats and seafood.
Find more of Neil Perry's recipes in the Good Food New Classics cookbook.