The biggest lesson I learned when stepping up from someone who occasionally cooked for herself to someone who cooks for a living is that the quality of ingredients is at the apex of importance. Actually, I think tasting the difference between food cooked with cheap or old elements, and fresh, high quality ingredients is a skill everyone develops whether they cook or not. This past summer I was walking home from the gym and passed a Mr. Softee truck. I was feeling depleted and entitled from my workout and stopped for a van/choc swirl cone- a prized acquisition in my childhood. And you know something? It was disgusting. It tasted exactly like cold, wet plastic. And I was shocked- because I had decided that it was the most delicious and incredibly naughty reward I could give myself. I finished it of course but I had this sneaking suspicion that I would have felt happier had I rewarded myself with something that was good for me like one of the peaches from a local fruit stand. There are things that we all loved as a child that our adult palates won’t tolerate.
And that brings me to Chinese food. As I have mentioned before, I grew up in New York City, on a hearty diet of Chinese take-out at least once or twice a week. It’s what you did. And it was fantastic, I swear. But these days… I cannot figure out why I can’t recapture the blissful Chinese delivery food orgy of my childhood. It all tastes like crap to me, like used fry oil and old ingredients and people skimming every last cent of quality into their bank accounts. Now, I can honestly admit that after cooking all day, the last thing I want to do is cook for myself, but when I’m having a craving for really good Chinese food enjoyed in my jammies on my couch, making it myself is the only way. Plus, I can control the amount of oil I fry in and add additional veggies or secret ingredients.
This is a version of Kung Pao Chicken without peanuts, as I am deathly allergic to them. My father contends that it is not, therefore Kung Pao, but I think he’s just being difficult as every other traditional Kung Pao ingredient but the peanut is used. He loves peanuts almost as much as he loves nudging me, so there you go. I call this recipe K-Hole (look it up) Kung Pao because when I make it I eat every last bit of it and then cannot pull myself up off the couch for hours. It’s just that goddamn good. And you know what? It takes very little time and is incredibly cheap once you’ve dropped some cash on the Chinese sauces that will last for a long time. It’s almost easier to make than to order. And a lot more satisfying.
- 2 Chicken Breasts, skinned and boned
- 1 egg white
- 2 Teaspoons cornstarch
- Salt to taste
- 2 Tablespoons Bean Sauce
- 1 Tablespoon Hoisin Sauce
- 1 Tablespoon Plum Sauce
- 1 Tablespoon Chili Paste with Garlic (I love love love Sambal Oelek)
- 1 ½ Teaspoons Sugar
- 1 Tablespoon Dry Sherry
- 1 Tablespoon Red Wine Vinegar
- 5 Garlic Cloves, chopped
- 2 Tablespoons of Vegetable NOT Olive Oil
- ½ Bunch of Broccoli, cut into pieces
- ½ pound of Snow Peas, stringed
- Cut the chicken into ½ inch cubes. Combine with the egg white, cornstarch and salt. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.
- Mix the Bean Sauce, Hoisin Sauce, Plum Sauce, Chili Paste, Sugar, Sherry and Vinegar in a bowl and set aside.
- Bring 3 cups of salted water to a boil and blanch the Broccoli for 2 minutes and then add the Snow Peas for 1 minute and drain both vegetables.
- Get a wok or large sauté pan very hot. Add the 2 Tablespoons of Oil (I use as little oil as I can get away with to keep the meat perfectly cooked and the calories on the low side). Get the oil very hot (shimmering but not smoking) and then add the chicken mixture. Cook the chicken for a minute or two until you can see no more pink on the outside of each piece.
- Add the chopped garlic and mix in the pan for 30 seconds.
- Stir in the sauce mixture and cook with heat on high for another 2 minutes (if sauce doesn’t seem saucy enough I sometimes add a bit of water, which bonds with the cornstarch on the bottom of the pan and thickens quickly.)
- Stir in the Broccoli and Snow Peas, and serve with rice (I like Green Tea Brown Basmati Rice- which is just Brown Basmati simmered for 50 minutes with a Green Tea bag or two- makes it very delicious and good for you too).
- Sit on couch and eat until you simply cannot eat any more.