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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My wok is 18 years old, it was one of the first gifts I received when I moved from France to the US, back in 1995.  Thank you, dear friend, you know who you are…  😉  I used it a lot in Oklahoma, even though our stove was not powerful enough to bring the best in stir-frying.  The wok patiently waited for me inside a box when we traveled for two sabbaticals, and into the box it went again when we moved to the Little Apple and co-existed with an electric stove that even Benjamin Franklin would consider sub-par.  Once Supernova was installed, I went to the basement to retrieve my old friend, apologized for the neglect inflicted upon him, and said his loyalty would be compensated: he would meet a superstar and they would live happily ever after…   Happy to report that it was love at first flame!


(inspired by Fine Cooking magazine & Barbara Tropp)

2 Tbs peanut oil
1 medium shallot,  sliced
2 Piquillo peppers, sliced
1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 3/4-inch chunks and velveted
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
6 oz. snow peas, trimmed
Crushed red chile flakes
2 tsp. minced fresh ginger
1/3 cup hoisin sauce diluted with 2 Tbs water
1/3 cup roasted cashews

The day before or a few hours before your meal, velvet the chicken using this method. Heat 1 Tbs. of the oil in a wok over medium-high heat. Add the shallot slices and cook for 2 to 3 min. Add the Piquillo peppers  (I buy them jarred) and cook until both the pepper and onion are browned around the edges. Remove the vegetables from the skillet; set aside. Pour the remaining 1 Tbs. oil in the skillet. Sprinkle the chicken with salt and pepper, add it to the oil, and cook, stirring frequently, so that all sides brown, 2 to 3 min. Stir in the snow peas and sprinkle in some red chile flakes. Add the ginger. Reduce the heat to medium low and stir in the thinned hoisin sauce. Simmer for 1 min. to wilt the snow peas and finish cooking the chicken.  Sprinkle with the cashews and serve over rice.


to print the recipe, click here

served2Comments:  Velveting the chicken makes this type of stir-fry so much better that it’s worth investing the small amount of work to do it.  Since the chicken can stay in the egg white mixture for up to 24 hours, you could conceivably do it the evening before you intend to make it for dinner.  I prefer to do this preparation either when I wake up, or if time allows, at lunch time. Piquillo peppers are from Spain, so their use in this dish qualifies as “fusion-cooking”.  In reality, I had an open jar in my fridge and wanted to use it up.  So there. 😉

What I love the most about this recipe is the simplicity of the finishing sauce, a mixture of hoisin and water, no cornstarch to deal with.  The snow peas barely got in touch with any heat, so they stayed bright green and with a little crunch that was perfect to add that extra something to the dish.  A real keeper for a weeknight, there were only three little pieces of chicken left, which made for a super light lunch next day. But, at least I did not have to share…

Hoisin Chicken with Cashews

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