Tuesday, October 4, 2011

How to satisfy a craving for Chinese food without calling for take-out

(Now with pictures!!)

As the daughter of two parents born and raised in the Midwest, ethnic cuisine at our house usually translated to exotic dishes like bratwurst, German potato salad, spaghetti and any dish involving noodles. (As a disclaimer, I love my mom's cooking. She is-and always has been a fabulous cook and an incredibly gracious entertainer, even as she's still working on dinner when the guests show up).

Nowadays when I visit my parents in Georgia, my mom always asks me what meals I'd like while I'm home. And invariably, I always request her stir fry. I'm not sure where she got the initially got the recipe for this dish but I do know that it's been a comfort food for me since elementary school. (Yes, I ate lots of veggies in elementary school. That sweet mother o' mine pioneered the chef salad as a lunch long before salads, chef or otherwise were en vogue. You can probably imagine how confused my classmates were in 1988 when I pulled out Tupperware containers of salad and dressing. Embarrassing for sure, but at least it was less embarrassing than a stinky but delicious egg salad sandwich wrapped in wax paper).

What follows here is my take on my mom's stir fry recipe, a healthy chicken and veggie version of a dish ubiquitous to many a neighborhood Chinese restaurant. I've made this recipe for friends and family since college and it's evolved a bit over the years from the original recipe (which isn't so much an actual recipe as it is an experiment in adding ingredients, seasoning and tasting until it's just right). Keep in mind that I'm not making any claims of authenticity (by any means), but you can easily modify this recipe to fit your take-out cravings.

Mr Turvy, for instance, loves his stir fry with pineapple. If you're a fan of this sweet/savory combo too, try adding 3/4 c chopped pineapple (fresh or canned and drained). When I made this stir fry last week, I used what I had on hand in our fridge and pantry. When I plan ahead a little better, I love to include 1.5c bean sprouts, baby corn (1 can, drained) and sliced water chestnuts (1 small can, drained). Obviously this is a lot of ingredients to cram into one pot, wok, etc, so you'll probably want to pick and choose your favorite ingredients.

First things first, you'll need to round up your ingredients. When I make this, the bulk of my time is spent chopping vegetables-so if you're short on time after work, do your chopping a day ahead while you're watching the Kardashians or something.  Don't lie- everyone watches the Kardashians. It's hard to avoid them, really, since E! runs re-runs about six times a day.

Something tasty to look forward to!

Chicken and vegetable stir fry
Serves 4-6

2 boneless chicken breasts, chopped and seasoned with salt and pepper
1/2 of a medium yellow onion, diced
1/2 of a green or red pepper, diced
2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 head (or crown) of broccoli, chopped (I use crowns because I'm not crazy about broccoli stems and yes I know it's weird and I need to get over it- maybe someday)
1/4 lb (two handfuls-regular sized handfuls, not super sized, Caroline-esque handfuls) of sugar snap peas, trimmed at ends
2T soy sauce
1/2t red pepper flakes (in lieu of red pepper you can use Sriracha or a spice mixture called sambal oelek to add heat-or if you don't want heat, leave it out entirely)
1T sweet chili sauce (I found mine at Trader Joes but if you don't have any on hand you can substitute it for teriyaki sauce or a hoisin sauce for a taste that's sweeter and smokier)
2T olive oil
2T sesame (or peanut) oil
1/4c chicken broth
3 chopped scallions, for garnish (optional)
Rice (brown or white) or rice noodles, cooked according to directions on the package

1/2c chicken broth

1T cornstarch
2T water

Chop the peppers, onions, and garlic and set aside. Trim the ends of the sugar snap peas and set aside. (As the chicken cooks, you'll have time to chop the vegetables but I like to get the chopping out of the way en avance just in case I get distracted while I'm cooking- not entirely uncommon, unfortunately!) Chop the chicken and season it with salt and pepper (I usually aim for 1", bite sized pieces since I don't think you should have to use a knife when you eat stir fry).

In a saucepan or wok, heat 2T oil (I use a mixture of 1T olive oil and 1T sesame oil) until it shimmers.
I tried to take a picture of the shimmering pan, but alas, no dice.

Add the seasoned chicken and cook for 4-5 minutes per side (until browned)on med-high heat. Be careful of the oil spattering as you put the chicken into the hot pan. Boneless chicken tends to give off water as it cooks, so don't be alarmed-you aren't doing anything wrong.
Watery chicken? Hakuna matata

Push the browned chicken to the outside edges of the pan, add 1T olive oil and add the chopped yellow onion, pepper and garlic.  Just scootch everything over a bit...
Yup, just like that
 Stir occasionally until onions are translucent (shiny and clear-ish)- about 4 or 5 minutes. If you're serving this dish over rice and your rice takes 20 minutes to cook, start it now so that the stir fry and rice will be ready to serve at the same time.

Move the peppers and onions to the sides of the pan to make room for the broccoli and sugar snap peas. Turn heat down to medium and add peas and broccoli.
As an aside, this pot is way too crowded.  Using a wok will really help you cut down on cooking time since everything has more room to spread out

Cook for 2-3 mins until both are bright green. Add the soy sauce, red pepper flakes and 1/4c chicken broth and scrape the pan. Make sure that you're using a wooden or heavy plastic spoon to scrape the pan as metal and stainless steel will damage the finish. 

Add the sweet chili sauce and stir.
Thank you, Trader Joes, for providing me with inexpensive goodies to use in my cooking
Add 1/2c chicken broth to the stir fry and reduce heat to medium low. In a small cup or bowl, stir together 2T water and 1T cornstarch until the cornstarch is dissolved (this helps to thicken your sauce). Add the mixture to the stir fry and simmer for 5-6 minutes until sauce thickens. Season sauce with salt and pepper, to taste. Serve over cooked rice or rice noodles and garnish with chopped scallions. Then pat yourself on the back because you've just fixed yourself a delicious Chinese feast and you won't feel gross afterwards.

I typically make enough of this for leftovers. Y'all have probably noticed that when you reheat cooked chicken in the microwave, it gets sort of creepily rubbery and hard at the same time.  Gross, right? You can avoid this fate by reheating it in an oven-safe bowl or baker at 350 for about 10 minutes.

If you attempt this, let me know how it turns out. What do you like in your stir fry?


Unknown said...

FINALLY! I've wanted this recipe ever since we all ate over at your place and I met Tom the first time. SO yummy and such a fun night!

Tiffany Macey said...

i'm definitely gonna try this... i'll let u know how it turns out!


I made this last night and it was amazing!!! Of course I added extra hot peppers (some I picked up at the farmer's market) because I aim to sweat a little with each meal - but it was fantastic! Loved the little corn starch addition - 100% improved what I was making already :-)

Caroline said...

Ktoomster- how did I know you'd make it extra hot? :) So glad this worked for you. It's hard trying to figure out quantities when you aren't used to measuring anything!