Fuchsia Dunlap, author of Revolutionary Chinese Cooking, states that Dong'an Chicken is one of Hunan's most famous dishes and may date back as far as the 8th century, during the Tang Dynasty. According to legend, it was invented by three old ladies who ran a restaurant.
One evening, so the story goes, some merchants called and demanded dinner at a time when the women had sold out of almost everything, so they had to slaughter a couple of chickens and rustle up a new dish on the spot. The resulting recipe was so extraordinarily delicious that the merchants spread the word far and wide, and the dish entered the canon of classic Hunan delicacies.
Unfortunately, this did not turn out as well as many of the other recipes I have tried from Revolutionary Chinese Cooking. But that is my own fault. The recipe clearly lists a free-range or corn-fed chicken. I couldn't find one so I just bought a regular chicken. To me it tasted like plain boiled chicken, which is kind of boring. I wanted there to be a bunch more sauce. I was surprised since all the other recipes in this book have been so amazing, but then I realized that if I would have used a free-range chicken it would have made all the difference. This dish uses such simple seasonings that the taste of the chicken itself is really the highlight. I can't wait to try it again, this time with a fresh chicken!
Bring the water or stock to boil in a large saucepan over a high flame. Add the chicken and return the liquid to a boil, skimming the surface as necessary. Crush half the ginger and one scallion with the flat side of a cleaver or heavy object, then add to the pan with the chicken. Reduce the heat and poach the chicken for 10 minutes. Remove the chicken from the cooking liquid and allow it to cool; reserve the cooking liquid. The chicken should be about three-quarters cooked.
When the chicken is cool enough to handle, remove the flesh from the carcass and cut as far as possible into bite-size strips, along the grain of the meat.
Cut the fresh chili in half lengthwise and discard the seeds and pithy part, then cut into very fin slivers about 1 1/2 inches long. Peel the remaining ginger and cut it into slices and then slivers similar to the chili. Cut the green parts off the remaining 2 scallions into slivers of a similar length; set aside.
Heat the wok over a high flame until smoke rises, then add the lard or peanut oil and swirl around. When the oil is warming up but before it is smoking hot, add the fresh chilies and ginger, along with the dried chilies and Sichuan pepper, if using, and stir-fry until fragrant, taking care that the seasonings do not take color or burn.
Add the chicken and continue to stir-fry. Splash the Shaoxing wine around the edges of the chicken. Add the vinegar, Sichuan pepper oil, if using, and salt to taste. Add up to 1/2 cup of the chicken poaching liquid (if the chicken is very juicy no additional liquid will be necessary), bring to a boil and then turn the heat down a little and simmer briefly to allow the flavors to penetrate the chicken, spooning the liquid over.
Add the potato flour mixture to the liquid and stir as the sauce thickens. Throw in the scallion greens and stir a few times. Remove from heat and stir in the sesame oil. Serve.