Thursday, March 12, 2009

Stir Fry Success

Dear Sweet Readers,

I am very glad to report that my next cooking date with my brother Dan was a fantastic success. Dan had always wanted to do a stir-fry and we found a great recipe in one of our favorite cook books. I had gotten this cook book, Cooking School Secrets for Real World Cooks by Linda Carucci, from the library and I just loved reading it so I decided to buy it. (A REALLY great way to decide when to invest in a cook book - "The library is your friend," says the English Teacher's wife.) Linda Carucci gives fantastic, practicle advice for people who actually cook in a kitchen, not a restaurant or who have indispensable time to write recipes and experiment. I really recommend this book.

However, I will say that this recipe was the most high-maintenance that I have tried. She wanted us to use a wok and mentioned all these specific ingredients - but what's also great about Chef Carucci is that she gives a lot of substitutes, too. What she does recommend for sure is that you "velvet" the chicken. It takes a little more time and a couple more pots but gosh was it good - it is so called because the process gives the chicken a soft texture when cooked - I would call it more silky than velvet, but whatever. However, I think the trick was in the really fantastic and easy sauce so if you don't feel like doing that step, I would skip it and just make sure the chicken is pretty cooked through before you start. Also, we just used a big frying pan - no woks necessary. How would I even store a wok in my apartment? I don't need any more junk in there...

I apologize if the ingredients look overwhelming - these are things (broth, cornstarch) that are sure to be a good pantry item for you. I only cook rice with low-sodium broth, I wouldn't have it any other way. Also, you can't usually buy just three scallions, but you can use them in salads or sandwiches and they are really delicious.

Stir-Fried Velvet Chicken with Cashews


1 tablespoon cornstarch

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 tablespoon Shaoxing wine, white vermouth, or dry white wine (we used cooking vermouth which you can get in grocery store, which I don't usually do - I like to use the proper alcohol because any "cooking" alcohol is of a lower quality, but I must admit that it worked fine)

1 egg white

1 pound bonless, skinless chicken breasts (3 or 4 breast halves), cute into 1-inch pieces


1/2 teaspoon cornstarch

1/4 cup low sodium chicken stock or broth (I used to scoff at the low-sodium part, but it really makes a difference)

2 teaspoons soy sauce

1-1/2 tablespoons Shoaxing wine, white vermoth, or dry white wine

1 teaspoon Asian toasted sesame oil (DO NOT OMIT - this stuff is so good)

1 teaspoon sugar


2 tablespoons peanut oil (I probably would have used canola or even olive if I had been buying the ingredients)

1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes

1 red bell pepper, seeded, deribbed, and cut into 1/2-inch strips

1/2 pound pencil-thin asparagus, rough ends removed (by the snap method, please) and cut on the diagonal into 1-inch pieces (asparagus is in season right now, so go get yourself some - it's perfect at this time of year)

3 green onions (scallions), green and white parts, cut into thin slices

1 teaspoon finely grated ginger (we used ground ginger, it worked fine)

3 gloves garlic, cut into thin slices

1/3 cup unsalted roasted cashews*

* a word about the cashews - we didn't get roasted ones, we toasted them in a dry frying pan. When you do this, you have to give the cashews, or any nut, your utmost attention because the oil in the nuts can go from roasted perfection to burnt in a second.

1 cup basmati rice (any short grain white rice)

2 cups low-sodium chicken stock (or vegetable)

1. Get your rice started first. Pour the rice and stock into a pan, bring to a boil, then turn the heat down to low to simmer, and put on a lid and let it cook for 20 minutes.

2. Marinate the chicken: Combine the cornstarch and salt. Add the wine and egg white and whisk vigorously until the lumps disappear. Pour into a gallon plastic bag with the chicken chunks, seal, pushing all the air out, and then toss chicken around in the marinade to make sure it's coated. Set aside to marinate for at least 10 minutes, or cover and refrigerate for up to 24 hours. (If refrigerating, let the chicken sit for half an hour to take the chill off.)

We marinate everything in a plastic bag - it's so much easier because then you can just throw it away and there are no worries about raw poultry. Because of this marinade, I would whisk it all up in a cereal bowl, then pour it into the bag with the chicken - that way you can just throw it in the dishwasher.

3. Cut up your vegetables. (If you're still feeling apprehensive about your knife skills, do this first. Rushed cutting never turns out well.)

4. Fill a pot with water and heat up - wait until the water is JUST forming bubbles on the bottom of the pot and steaming slightly. Then add the chicken for 60 seconds, or until the outside of the chicken turns white.

Remove the chicken to a collander and let sit.

5. Add the oil to the frying pan and get it warmed up, then add the vegetables in the following order and for the following periods of time

-red pepper flake - 15 seconds (WARNING, this stuff is strong when heated and may cause you to cough)

-red pepper and asparagus - 2 minutes

-scallions - 30 seconds

-garlic and ginger - 30 seconds

Push the veggies out of the way to the sides of the pan and then pour the sauce into the pan. Wait until it starts to bubble (ours did IMMEDIATELY) and then add the chicken. Turn the heat down to low or medium low and stir until the chicken becomes cooked through. Stir in your cashews so that they are covered with the sauce.

Serve with your rice.

Look how pretty. Easy (with the proper mise en place, OF COURSE), healthy, and delicious. I hope you enjoy.

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