Saturday, January 16, 2010

General Pao's Chicken

General Pao's Chicken - made 1.16.10, from The Most Decadent Diet Ever by Devin Alexander

Let's call this the dish where I set a kitchen towel on fire. Naturally I didn't mean to and I've been using a gas stove without incident for years. Usually to fry scrambled eggs or melt chocolate in a double boiler. This time around I was using my wok and was holding the steel handle with a kitchen towel so I wouldn't burn my hand. And, you guessed it, wasn't that careful about where the ends of the towel were so next thing I know, a small flame was licking at the raggedy ends. Oops. Fortunately I caught it quickly and shook it out, no harm done. Heck, the smoke alarm didn't even go off so, really, I've had worse incidents.

This is another recipe where the mise en place is important. I had the chicken breasts cut up and had to put the sauce ingredients together. Then cut the onions and bell pepper last. Slicing onions is a PITA. I'm sure there are all sorts of tricks to prevent your eyes from tearing up and weeping like a soap opera queen but I've never bothered to learn any of them. Other than cutting as fast as I can so I can stop crying. After the onion, the bell pepper was a piece of cake.

Things didn't go that great with this recipe and for that I'm going to blame my wok. I have a Calphalon one bought from who knows when (also from one of my previous attempts to learn how to cook). It's not nonstick and the recipe didn't call for that much oil so I didn't use much. It wasn't so bad when I was just stir frying the onion and bell pepper but when I took those out, added a little more sesame oil to the wok and tried to fry the cornstarch-coated chicken pieces, it was near-disastrous. The chicken stuck to the wok, no matter how much I kept trying to stir it around and whatever coating was supposed to be on the chicken ended up on the bottom of the wok. Undeterred, I kept on with the recipe anyway, added the onion and bell pepper back in and poured the sauce over it. It obligingly thickened up like it was supposed to and except for the bottom of the wok that I just knew I had to scrub later, this seemed to turn out all right. Or it would have if I actually liked or ate onion and bell pepper. Why make it with them if I don't eat them? Well, that's what the recipe called for and I wanted to see what it tasted like as written. It turned out fine but didn't have much sauce (probably ended up stuck to the bottom of the wok like everything else). Next time I'm going to make it without the onion and bell pepper and just make it a nice chicken stir-fry. As soon as I get a better wok.

1 ¼ pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts, visible fat removed
3 tablespoons cornstarch, divided
1/3 cup 98% fat-free or fat-free, lower-sodium chicken broth
3 tablespoons lower-sodium soy sauce
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 ½ tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon sherry
1 ½ teaspoons hoisin sauce
1 ½ teaspoons minced peeled fresh ginger
1 ½ teaspoons minced fresh garlic
1 teaspoons finely chopped dried red chilies, or to taste
2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil, divided
1 medium red bell pepper, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 cup 1-inch onion squares
1/3 cup chopped whole green onions

1. Place the chicken breasts between two sheets of plastic wrap or wax paper on a flat work surface. Use the flat side of a meat mallet to pound them to an even 1/3-inch thickness. Cut the breasts into ¾-inch strips. Transfer to a medium bowl and add 2 tablespoons cornstarch. Toss to coat well. Let stand for 5 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, whisk the remaining cornstarch and the broth, soy sauce, vinegar, sugar, sherry, hoisin sauce, ginger, garlic, and chiles in a medium bowl until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture is well combined.
3. Place a large nonstick wok or stir-fry pan over high heat. When the wok is hot, put in 1 teaspoon sesame oil. Add the bell pepper and white onions. Cook, stirring frequently, until the veggies are crisp-tender, but not yet browned, 3 to 5 minutes. Remove them from the wok and set aside.
4. Put in the remaining teaspoon of sesame oil and the chicken in a single layer. When the chicken is lightly browned on one side, after about 2 minutes, flip it and let the other side brown lightly. Then continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until no longer pink inside. Return the bell pepper and onions to the pan and then add the sauce. Use a wooden spoon to stir the mixture constantly until the sauce thickens just enough to stick to the chicken and a little bit remains in the wok. Transfer the chicken and vegetables to a serving platter and top with the green onions. Serve immediately.

Serves 5

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