People 1 minute 30 April 2018

Ask The Expert: Sichuan Cooking Tips From Shisen Hanten’s Chef Chen Kentaro

The affable chef from the two-Michelin-starred restaurant dishes out advice on whipping up Sichuan food.

cookbook Singapore chefs dining

Always had a burning question but not sure who to ask? In our regular Ask The Experts section, we do all the noseying so you don't have to. In this edition, we get Chen Kentaro of two-Michelin-starred Sichuan restaurant Shisen Hanten to share his tips for cooking up a fiery storm.

Two-Michelin-starred restaurant Shisen Hanten in Mandarin Orchard Singapore is renowned for its exquisite Sichuan dishes such as mapo tofu, crispy chilli chicken, and sweet and sour pork with black vinegar. Diners who are keen to try their hand at cooking these dishes and other Sichuan delights can turn to a new cookbook by its executive chef Chen Kentaro that was launched last month.

Titled A Dash Of Szechwan, the 150-page cookbook comprises about 50 recipes for dishes from the south-western Chinese province. Some of these are on the restaurant’s menu and some are Chen’s take on recipes from his family, which boasts three generations of chefs. His grandfather, Chen Kenmin, is renowned as the “Father of Sichuan cuisine” in Japan, while his father, Chen Kenichi, was the Chinese chef on the long-running Iron Chef cooking show.

Dear Chef Chen, I'm thinking of throwing a Sichuan-themed dinner party for my spice-loving family, do you have any tried-and-tested cooking tips to share?
Shisen Hanten_Crispy Chilli Chicken.jpg

What makes a good crispy chilli chicken (laziji)?

“The secret is to marinate the chicken well in advance.

This ensures that the flavours of the sauce seep into the meat well. Another important thing to note is to refrain from using too much flour to coat the chicken.”

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What makes a good hot & sour soup?

“A good hot and sour soup has a delicate balance of flavour and consistency. The contrast between the spicy and sour flavours should be immediately apparent, while the consistency of the soup should be smooth. To achieve the right consistency, make sure the fire is turned off before adding the starch. Only turn on the fire after the soup has been stirred and the starch is dissolved.”

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What makes a good mapo tofu?

“The most important step is to boil the tofu lightly before cooking it in the mapo sauce.

This step ensures that the moisture is sealed within the tofu to create the rich velvety texture for the dish.”

How to choose good peppercorns?

“It is important to choose freshly harvested ones and you can usually tell by their fragrance and colour. Fresh ones are brighter in colour and stronger in aroma. As you place the peppercorns closer to your nose, the smell becomes more pungent. The seeds should also be whole, rather than broken and when used in dishes, it should not take more than a few whole seeds to get that mala flavour.”

A Dash of Szechwan cookbook (S$50) is available at Shisen Hanten (Level 35, Orchard Wing, Mandarin Orchard Singapore). 

All photos are courtesy of Shisen Hanten By Chen Kentaro 

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