Saturday, December 17, 2005

Sesame-ginger stir-fry

This recipe comes from one of my more recently-acquired cookbooks (Ken Hom's Hot Wok), but it reminds me of a Frugal Gourmet recipe that I've been cooking (and fiddling with) for years. That Frugal Gourmet recipe is "My Cousin David's Hot Szechwan Chicken." Oddly enough, Hom's recipe is also named after another person; it's called "Peter Ng's Sesame-Ginger Chicken." Hom’s recipe claims no Sichuan influence; instead he tells us that Peter Ng was born in Malaysia of Chinese descent.

The techniques of the two dishes are similar; first you marinate the chicken meat, then you stir-fry. In the present case, the marinade consists of two teaspoons light soy sauce, one teaspoon mushroom soy sauce, one tablespoon Shao Xing rice wine, a half teaspoon each salt and black pepper (I omitted the salt), one teaspoon sesame oil and two teaspoons cornstarch. This marinade is a bit more involved than The Frug's, which just calls for light soy sauce, sherry and cornstarch. Hom directs that the meat be marinated for 30 minutes, The Frug gives no time limit.

This stir-fry is a bit different in that it calls for a blended oil in which to stir-fry, instead of straight peanut oil or vegetable oil. The blend is one tablespoon peanut oil and two teaspoons sesame oil. This technique of blending sesame oil with regular cooking oil is used in Japanese cooking for tempura, but I haven't previously encountered it in Chinese or Chinese-influenced dishes. It doubtless is used here to help produce the sesame flavor of the dish.

Stir-fry three tablespoons of ginger (Hom calls for shredded, I just chopped mine) in the blended oil for a minute, then add the chicken and stir-fry until the chicken starts browning. Then add the following ingredients: two tablespoons mushroom soy, two teaspoons sugar, one teaspoon salt, half a teaspoon black pepper and 150 milliliters stock.*

* Digression: My copy of this cookbook is the British edition, so it includes metric fluid measurements. Two-thirds of a cup is roughly equivalent to 150 milliliters, but I just measured it out in a cup with metric amounts on one side.

After stir-frying for a minute, cover the pan and simmer for eight minutes. When the simmering is done, uncover and raise the heat to reduce the sauce. Once the sauce has reduced to several tablespoons, add two tablespoons of Shao Xing rice wine and stir-fry for about two more minutes. Garnish with scallions and serve.

The Frug’s recipe is a straight stir-fry without sauce reduction and simmering. His sauce ingredients are sherry, mushroom soy, brown sugar, sesame oil, Worcestershire sauce, water and cornstarch. Both recipes result in a flavorful thick sauce with a certain tang to it, sort of an example of culinary convergent evolution. Hom’s sauce is almost syrupy by the time it’s done, with a dark brownish-red color that brings to mind Chinese red-cooked stews. The dark color comes from the mushroom soy, of course, but sesame and ginger, as the recipe’s title indicates, are the dominant flavors. The strongly-flavored chicken from both recipes goes well with either rice or noodles as a setting.

This meal was like meeting an old friend in a new guise. I’ll definitely be making it again.

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