For many of us, Chinese food conjures up images of Peking duck and beef with broccoli. For Danny Bowien, it's sizzling cumin lamb, salt-and-pepper crab with mapo tofu, and kung pao pastrami. As the 33-year-old founder of San Francisco-based cult restaurant Mission Chinese Food, known for serving up innovative takes on traditional Sichuan cuisine, the James Beard Award–winning chef has garnered copious critical praise for his boundary-pushing cross-cultural recipes. And perhaps most notably, for elevating the eatery from its humble beginnings as a food trunk in the Mission District to its current status as one of most in-demand culinary destinations on the east and west coast.
Now, Bowien is cementing his legacy with his first-ever food manifesto, The Mission Chinese Cookbook ($24; amazon.com). Co-authored by Lucky Peach Editor-in-Chief Chris Ying, it includes candid stories, artful photography, and detailed how-tos for the dishes that put him on the map. Here, we've exclusively procured one of Mission's signature recipes, Fried Hainan Chicken Rice, which Bowien dubs "the best way to eat chicken." Made of steamed meat and served over rice soaked in stock, it's so deliciously flavor-packed that you'll hardly miss the requisite side of egg rolls. But be warned: The chicken stock simmers for 5 hours, so we recommend saving this one for a rainy Sunday, when those heavenly smells can waft from your kitchen as you read the paper.
Fried Hainan Chicken Rice
Chef's note: This recipe calls for deboning the chicken. Take your time with this and don't freak out if you don't do a perfect job. If you get confused, feel free to refer to the many videos available online. Basically you're just trying to create two chicken halves with as few bones as possible. If you mess up and cut the bird into more than two pieces, it's no big deal.
1 (3- to 4-pound) chicken
2 scallions, trimmed
2 garlic cloves
1 (4-inch) piece fresh ginger, peeled and cut into ¼-inch-thick coins
½ cup shio koji ($9; bonanza.com)
1 bay leaf
1 tbsp whole black peppercorns
8 to 10 cups vegetable or peanut oil, for deep-frying
½ English cucumber, or 1 lemon cucumber, peeled and thinly sliced
3 cups steamed jasmine rice (about 1½ cups raw rice)
½ cup Fermented Green Chili–Lemon Kosho Condiment (recipe follows)
1. Debone the chicken: Starting with the breast side down, make a long incision along the entire spine of the bird. Next, working one side at a time, use a boning knife to carefully peel the flesh away from the rib cage, making small incisions as close to the bone as you can. Slice through the cartilage that connects the thigh to the body, and proceed all the way to the top of the breast bone. Slice through the skin to separate half of the chicken—one breast, leg, thigh, and wing—from the carcass. Debone the thigh. Finally, slice off any big pockets of fat you find and reserve them with the bones.
2. Thinly slice the scallions. In a mortar and pestle or a food processor, grind or process the scallions with the garlic, half the ginger, and a healthy pinch of salt until you have a bright green paste. Combine the paste with the shio koji in a small bowl and mix well.
3. Season the chicken with salt, then pour the scallion paste over the chicken and use your hands to rub it thoroughly into the meat—really get it in there. Put the chicken on a wire rack set over a baking sheet and refrigerate, uncovered, for 3 days.
4. Meanwhile, combine the reserved chicken bones, including the carcass, the remaining ginger, the bay leaf, and peppercorns in a large stockpot and add water to cover by 2 inches. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, skimming off any gray scum that rises to the top early in the simmer, then allow it to gently bubble over low heat for 5 hours.
5. Strain the stock and discard the solids. Transfer the stock to a medium saucepan, bring to a boil over high heat, and let it bubble away until it has reduced down to about a cup of ultra-flavorful concentrated stock. Let cool to room temperature and then refrigerate until ready to serve.
6. The day you’re cooking the chicken, place the cucumber in a bowl and sprinkle generously with salt. Set aside for 30 minutes.
7. At long last, you’re ready to fry some chicken: Retrieve the chicken from the fridge and allow it to rest at room temperature. Meanwhile, heat 4 inches of oil to 325°F in a deep pot or a wok, or use a deep fryer. Fry the chicken in batches until crispy, brown, and just cooked through, about 8 minutes. Pull the chicken from the hot oil and let it rest on a rack set over a baking sheet for a few minutes.
8. While the chicken rests, reheat about ¼ cup of the concentrated chicken stock.
9. To serve, slice the chicken into about 8 pieces, combine the warmed stock and the rice in a large bowl and mix well, then scoop the rice onto a serving platter and top it with the fried chicken. Serve with the salted cucumbers and chili-lemon condiment on the side.
Fermented Green Chili–Lemon Kosho Condiment
Makes: About 1 cup
Chef's note: This sauce takes 3 weeks to 1 month if you preserve your own lemons. It only takes 1 week if you buy preserved lemons rather than making them.
2 store-bought preserved lemons (or 2 lemons, plus the juice of 2 lemons, and ¼ cup kosher salt)
3 or 4 Anaheim chiles
1 to 2 tbsp ume vinegar
About 2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1. If you have a month to spare to preserve your own lemons, stand each whole lemon on end and bisect it down the center, leaving it attached at the bottom. Turn the lemon 90 degrees and repeat, creating an almost-quartered lemon. Spread the lemons open and salt generously, using about 1 tbsp salt per lemon.
2. Pack the lemons tightly into a clean jar and cover with the fresh lemon juice. Seal tightly and leave the jar in a cool place to ferment for 3 to 4 weeks, giving it a good shake every day.
3. Meanwhile, stem the chiles and halve them lengthwise. Salt very generously, using about 2 tbsp salt. Pack the chiles into a jar or container with a tight-fitting lid—a glass pint jar works perfectly—and set in a cool place. Let the chiles ferment for 4 or 5 days, giving the container a good shake once a day. You want the chiles to break down a bit and just begin to go limp, but you don’t want them to develop any mold—the salt should help prevent this. Once they’ve gone a bit flaccid, pulse them in a food processor into a puree, transfer them to another container, and store them in the refrigerator.
4. When the lemons have softened considerably and the skins have become slightly translucent, pull them out and finish quartering them. Use a knife or spoon to separate the flesh from the rind and transfer the flesh to a food processor. Lay each piece of lemon rind flat against a cutting board and use a knife to fillet off as much of the white pith as you can from the zest; discard the pith. Add the zest to the lemon flesh and pulse to a puree. Voilà, lemon kosho.
5. Put all the chiles and half the lemon kosho in a bowl and mix well. Adjust to taste, adding as much of the remaining lemon kosho as you desire. Season with the ume vinegar, then finish with a good glug of extra-virgin olive oil and stir well.