I had a hunch about why my arbol chiles, which I knew to be impressively spicy, weren’t imparting much fire to my gōngbǎo. To test it, I touched an intact chile to my tongue. Nothing. Then I opened up a chile and tasted the interior. Ouch. There was plenty of heat on the inside since most capsaicin resides in the ribs of chiles, but there wasn’t enough time or moisture in my recipe to coax that flavor through the tough skin.
So for my next batch, I halved the chiles lengthwise to expose as much of their spicy interiors as possible. (But to ensure that I didn’t overwhelm my tasters with heat, I jostled the chiles until all the seeds fell out.) And to aid the distribution of the grated ginger and minced garlic, I put them in a small bowl and stirred in 1 tablespoon of oil.
I also tweaked the order of operations a bit. Because I wanted the peanuts to be as toasty and crunchy as possible, I cooked them first in a teaspoon of oil and then transferred them to a plate, where they would continue to crisp as they cooled. Then I stir-fried the halved chiles and the ground peppercorns and added the ginger and garlic, which dispersed with minimal persuasion, thanks to their coating of oil. Then the chicken went in. I covered the skillet, and when the chicken was mostly cooked, I added the celery. The sauce went in, and only when it was fully reduced did I add the peanuts, along with the scallions, so both would maintain their texture.
With its lightly glazed components and hallmark sensations of spice, tingle, crunch, crispness, and juiciness in every bite, this version of gōngbǎo chicken was as sensational as it gets.