When was the last time you had a really good, sizzling plate of Sze Chuan chicken in a Chinese restaurant? If your experience was anything like mine, you probably enjoyed the first few mouthfuls, relishing the crisp exterior of the chicken and the yielding, tender flesh inside, all bathed in a rich, dark, unctuous gravy heavily inflected with garlic... and oozing with oil.

I'll bet though, that once the dish (and your ardour) cooled down and the gravy began to congeal, what was left on the plate looked more like a badly executed Jackson Pollock piece, with blobs of fast setting, starchy gloop insterspersed with rivulets of glistening oil, rather than one of your favourite Chinese restaurant staples. You may have then begun to wonder how much damage all that grease was going to do and if you were going to need a shoe horn to get into the pair of jeans you'd just managed to zip up comfortably after weeks of careful, light grazing.

As someone who has been struggling to co-exist peacefully with my hips the last few years, I could not agree more with this newly discovered nugget of wisdom, stumbled upon while trawling a foodie site : "Nothing tastes as good as being slim feels", or something very much like it. I'm no Nonchalant Nigella, who clearly does not give a damn, nor will I ever be content munching on carrot or celery sticks, with a squeeze of lemon and three flakes of sea salt. I'm actually shuddering as I type. No, I'll never again be one of those infuriatingly tissue thin slips no matter what I do or don't eat, but I still want my cake and Sze Chuan Chicken and damn, if I don't want to actually eat it!

There is a place between gratuituous greed and manic calorie minding or diet disection, analysis and demonization; it's called moderation, I've been there, and I like it. It's old fashioned, quaint even, placed alongside current and the next new fangled diet that's almost certainly on the horizon as I write this, but it works, and it endures, like most things old fashioned tend to.

Many restaurants that serve this will deep fry the chicken chunks before cooking it briefly a second time, in the wok with other ingredients, in yet another slug of oil. Of course it will taste good, fat is flavour magic! But here's the thing; a little works very nearly as well as a whole lot, without the guilt and the "ick" aftermath. I roast the chicken pieces briefly in a little oil then combine everything in the wok with just a little more oil. All the wonderful, unparalled smoky flavour and the aroma of the wok that the Cantonese call "wok hei" (pardon my Cantonese) at a fraction of the fat. Try it, won't you? It could be the start of a beautiful and enduring relationship.

Prep 20 mins     Cook 20 mins     Serves 4 generously


1 medium sized chicken, cut into generous bite sized chunks (remove skin if you prefer)
1 Tbsp light vegetable oil
1 generous Tbsp garlic and black bean paste
1 generous Tbsp thick mushroom or oyster sauce (I like the deep, woodsy flavour of mushroom sauce)
1/2 tsp ground white pepper
Pinch sugar (optional)
3 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
150 g (generous handful) green asparagus, trimmed, peeled if preferred and cut into lengths
200 g mushrooms (1 punnet), sliced (I used buttons but shiitake or oyster mushrooms are good too)
2 tsp hot chilli or red pepper flakes


Preheat oven at 230 C (450 F).

Combine chicken, oil, black bean paste, mushroom or oyster sauce, pepper and sugar if using, in a large bowl and mix thoroughly. Pour chicken and marinade into a non stick baking tray and roast in oven for 20 minutes or until no longer bloody at the bone.

When chicken is nearly done in the oven, heat another scant tablespoon light vegetable oil in a large wok until very hot. Add the garlic, asparagus and mushrooms together and stir and toss very quickly. When the asparagus has gone a bright green, add the roasted chicken pieces and all the meat juices to the wok.

Sprinkle the chilli flakes over the chicken and give everything a good stir to combine. Keep the heat high and furious but do not overcook. Taste and adjust seasoning, though I doubt you will need any salt, if your bean paste is as salty as the one I use.

Dish out and serve with hot, steamed white rice. Serve green tea with this meal if you really want to cut the fat. It's believed not only to be able to raise your metabolism but also apparently, dissolves fat and flushes it out of your body.