Beware: I am taking a Chinese classic and messing with it. This turned out absolutely delicious, and so quick to put together like it’s the case for stir-fries. Gather all your stuff, turn the heat on, and be ready for dinner in 5 minutes. It did involve about 25 minutes prep ahead, mostly waiting time, which was perfect to cook some rice as a side dish. Efficiency. One of my favorite words. Particularly welcome on a weeknight in which my experiment was a big failure and last thing I needed was to face a complicated dinner preparation.
(adapted from Easy Chinese Recipes – Bee Yinn Low)
for the chicken:
3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 1 + 3/4 pound)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cornstarch
2 tablespoons Chinese rice wine
2 tablespoons peanut oil, divided
1 inch piece of fresh ginger, grated
a bunch of snow peas, sliced or cut in half
about 1/3 cup cashews, lightly toasted
salt to taste
for the sauce:
1 tbsp soy sauce
2 tsp hoisin sauce
1 tsp Chinese rice wine
1 tsp cornstarch
1/2 tsp sugar
1/4 teaspoon sesame oil
Cut the chicken breasts into 1 inch pieces. Place in a bowl and add the baking soda, mixing to coat all pieces. Leave 15 minutes at room temperature. Rinse the baking soda out using a colander, then place the pieces of meat on kitchen paper to dry.
Marinate the chicken pieces in rice wine and cornstarch for a few minutes. As the meat marinates, mix all ingredients for the sauce and set aside.
Heat one tablespoon of oil in a wok until almost smoking. Add the chicken pieces and stir-fry until almost cooked through. Remove and reserve.
Heat one more tablespoon of oil, add the grated ginger and the snow peas, stir fry for a few minutes. Add he chicken back to the wok, pour in the sauce and cook until the meat is fully cooked and coated with the sauce. Sprinkle toasted cashews, mix and warm up for a minute or so. Serve right away over steamed rice.
to print the recipe, click here
Comments: What I love about this recipe is the simplified method of “velveting” the meat. Usually the process, very common in Oriental stir-fries, is a lot more involved. The pieces of meat are marinated in a mixture of egg white and cornstarch, then dropped in either simmering water or oil for a brief pre-cooking time. You can find a detailed explanation here. It results in amazing texture, but it is a bit involved, you are left not only with the wok to clean but the large pot used for the pre-cooking time. In this recipe, the meat is simply coated with baking soda, which increases the pH (or in other words, reduces acidity) and affects the way the molecules of protein at the surface of the meat interact with each other. Instead of trying to stick together and resulting in that harsh texture so common in quick stir-fry dishes, they behave with a lot more composure, and interact with the sauce components more efficiently instead. The texture changes so much that it does give the impression of velvet. Try it, and you will be hooked, I guarantee. You can use the exact same approach with other types of protein, seafood, beef, pork. Just add the baking soda, allow it to sit for 15 minutes, rinse it out, dry the meat and proceed with your recipe.
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