Thursday, August 25, 2005

Almond chicken

In contrast to last summer, when much of my cooking came from it, this year I've been cooking much less from Ken Hom's Easy Family Recipes from a Chinese-American Childhood. That's a shame, because it's a terrific cookbook. It did a lot to demystify Chinese cooking for me. Recipes are accompanied by reminiscences of growing up in Chicago's small Chinatown.

The other night I decided to renew my acquaintance with Easy Family Recipes. I picked one of the easiest, "Almond Chicken" (it can be done with cashews, too). Once the chicken is velveted, all you do is heat some oil, add light soy sauce, Shao Xing rice wine and the chicken to the wok or pan, then stir-fry for two minutes. Add chopped scallions and roasted whole almonds, heat through, and serve.

Velveting is a method of preparing chicken. Traditionally one uses oil, but I use water instead, in a variation from Hom. First you "marinate" the chicken pieces in an egg white, a teaspoon of salt and two teaspoons of cornstarch for about 20 minutes. Then you boil some water, remove the pan from the heat and add the chicken pieces. Cook, stirring, until the chicken turns white, about two minutes. Then drain in a colander.

Actually, I should've reread the velveting section before attempting the dish. I boiled the chicken too long, and didn't stir, so I ended up with some lightly charred chicken pieces (which were not too bad, surprisingly). The chicken was dried out from its velveting session, too, rather than having the moisture kept in by the egg coating. As almost always, I was too lazy to separate the egg yolk from the white, but even with the same kind of neglect in the past, I've gotten better results from velveting in the past. It's obviously time for a refresher course in Chinese cooking.

The stir-fry portion of the evening was eventful too, as I used too much oil and subsequently had much splattering when the cold soy sauce and rice wine hit the skillet. Whew. Finally, I grabbed the wrong bottle of soy sauce in my haste, and wound up using mushroom soy instead of light soy in the sauce. That didn't turn out too badly though.

Parenthetical note: I like to use slivered almonds in this dish instead of whole ones.

When time came to salvage the leftovers for lunch today, I wound up turning it into a salad. I mixed the chicken and almond pieces with some shredded iceberg lettuce and sprinkled some light soy sauce on top by way of a "dressing." It wasn't too bad, considering the haphazard nature of the exercise, but I should've bulked it up with more ingredients, since it left me hungry this afternoon. I'm sure that I could come up with a better dressing with a little more forethought and care. Oh, well, when your cooking disasters still turn out reasonably edible, I guess you can't complain too much.

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