This afternoon, I received a call from my husband. He's going to Hawaii for work. In the morning. Tomorrow morning. He's bailing on at least five of my dinners this month while he runs off to work 20 hours of every day on a telescope that has some sort of issue.
I decided that meant that tonight should be something good for his sendoff. So, I pulled out my regular cookbook and let it fall open where the binding naturally breaks. Well, I say "naturally", but it really opens there because of all the various bits of oil and garlic and rice kernels that seem to be a permanent fixture to the page. My husband told me in our earliest dating days that "I like Chinese food! General Tso's Chicken is my favorite!" Bless his little white, un-Asian-acclimated heart, I could hardly tell him that General Tso's is an American invention, and not really very authentic. I tried out the recipe in question, because I hoped it was close enough to what he thought of as Chinese food to be able to introduce him to actual Chinese food. Well, this didn't turn out anything like his old favorite, but it turned him into an instant convert to the ways of hoisin sauce and dim sum and the kind of craziness I prefer to eat and cook. And now, it's one of our favorite recipes. The comment at dinner? "Really? We haven't already had this this month? Cool!"
Szechuan Fried Chicken
Adapted over many attempts from The Complete Asian Cookbook by Charmaine Solomon
Take a pound of chicken (either breasts or thighs -- each work, but it needs to be all white meat or all dark meat), and cut it up into small bite-size pieces. Mix together 1/4 cup cornstarch, 1 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp five spice powder, and add the pieces of chicken and mix it all up evenly. In a bowl or measuring cup combine 1 cup chicken stock, 4 tsp sugar, 2 tbsp soy sauce, 1 tsp sesame oil, 2 tsp vinegar, 4 tsp dry sherry, 1/2 tsp five spice powder and 1/2 tsp black pepper. In another small bowl, mix 4 tsp cornstarch into 2 tbsp cold water and stir until smooth. Start cooking the white rice, so it will be ready when the chicken is ready. Then, heat about 2 tbsp peanut oil (it's the best oil for frying because the smoke point is higher than other oils) in a wok over very high heat. Fry the chicken in three batches until the pieces stop sticking to each other and start to turn golden brown (about 7-10 minutes per batch), removing to a paper-toweled plate to drain. While this is cooking, slice 4 dried red chillies lengthwise and remove the seeds (do not touch your face for 24 hours after this step -- I promise!), mince 3 cloves of garlic, grate 2 tsp of ginger, and cut 4 spring onions into 1-inch pieces. Once all the chicken is done, turn the heat down to medium, put 2 tbsp oil in the wok and fry the chillies, garlic and ginger for about a minute, until the garlic is starting to brown, and the chillies get dark. Toss in the onions and fry for a few seconds. Then add the stock mixture and bring it to a boil (you may have to turn the heat back up for this). Stir the cornstarch/water mixture to a smooth liquid again, and drizzle it into the boiling mixture while stirring to thicken it. Add the chicken, mix it all together, and serve with your rice.
Total kitchen time: 2 hours
I also made pork and shrimp wontons tonight, and somewhere during the prep realized that my kitchen was a disaster. This could have been when I found the fourth item that I had to wash before I could use it or when I realized I was making wontons in whatever available clean-ish corner I could find, or when I saw that I had no place to set my during-dinner-making drink. Regardless, here is my kitchen in action. Or it's a kitchen slowed to inaction. I'm not sure. On this table, you can see the pot from the green beans from Day 8, the crockpot insert used to make stew on Day 11, the sauce containers from the bulgogi on Day 12, my bowl from reheating the pasta from Day 13 for lunch today. I admit it -- it's a mess. Should I even admit that this is just one of three cooking/counter surfaces in the kitchen and they all look like this? But somehow I have to cook in that again tomorrow. Anyone out there really like doing dishes and want to come do mine?
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