Like many that love to cook, I have a vast array of cook books. It’s an incomplete collection, constantly growing and evolving. Some of my favorites have been bestowed upon me by my mom, who also has a vast collection of cookbooks and recipes.
A couple of birthdays ago Mom gave me a couple of great cookbooks that she found at a local home collective, one of those being The Thousand Recipe Chinese Cookbook. I flicked through it a few times and dog eared some pages for future reference, but didn’t do a whole lot other than make some killer fried rice. Well, a few weeks ago I was paging through it while exploring the idea of an internet-search-free month of cooking (which I think I’m going to do, should be fun!). I un-dog eared a few pages and turned down a few different ones for things that are our ‘restaurant favorites’, now that we don’t have a Chinese resto within 15 miles of home (what the what? how’s a girl supposed to get a fix?!). We have a good one two towns south of here, but unless I’m already there I probably won’t make a special trip too often.
With the sadness of my dearly departed greasy Chinese joints (I used to live across the street from one of them and have fond memories of takeout and Sapporos and Sex and the City with a pal of mine), I decided to deploy some of the stuff I found in this book. The techniques that I learned in it made for superb fried rice, so what the hell, said I, let’s try some more.
One thing I love at most Chinese joints is really good Sweet and Sour Chicken. The bad stuff is bad to say the least, all that Red No. 5 and MSG and the 5 lbs of sugar and all. But when it’s done well, and is actually sweet AND sour it’s so, so good.
Granted, there’s still sugar in the sauce recipe but you can sub for honey if you have some, or brown sugar which is really tasty too. And spread out between 4 servings, it’s not that much sugar per capita. The ingredients couldn’t be simpler and for me are things I always have on hand, so a batch of the sauce + whatever vegetables are in the crisper + a boneless skinless chicken breast + a pot of rice = dinner for 4 in less than no time. Less than the time it takes to order and pick up/have delivered your takeaway of choice. And I know there are a lot of recipes that claim this status, but this one means it.
Sweet and Sour Chicken
Serves 4 as a single main, 6 if you throw in some frozen egg rolls or pot stickers, and makes great leftovers.
First, start a pot of rice, make a cup and a half (dry), using your favorite method. I like white rice with my Chinese food, and make mine on the stove top in a 2:1 water to rice ratio for 20 minutes, and this whole recipe comes together for me in about that time. But use your rice cooker, or boil and rinse method, whatever method you prefer. Start it early unless you’re using parboiled rice.
Sweet and Sour Sauce, adapted from the Thousand Recipe Chinese Cookbook
3/4 c. water
1/2 c. sugar, honey, or brown sugar
1/2 c. rice wine vinegar (or regular distilled white or apple cider, whatever you have)
1 T. soy sauce
2 T. cornstarch
3 T. water
Bring water to a boil in a small saucepan. Add in vinegar and sweetener of choice, and stir until sugar is dissolved. Stir together soy, cornstarch and remaining 3 T. water and add to vinegar mixture, stir until thickened. Set aside.
Chicken and Veggies
1 boneless skinless chicken breast, sliced into thin strips
1 red bell pepper, seeded and cut into 1″ pieces, AND/OR
1 yellow or green bell pepper, cut into 1″ pieces,
1/2 yellow onion, cut down the poles (top to root end), cut into thin half moon slices
1 1/2 c. pineapple chunks, preferably fresh but drained, canned chunks will work too
4 green onions, sliced into 1″ pieces
Canola oil, for frying (don’t use olive oil here, it doesn’t have a high enough smoke point and tastes icky when it gets this hot)
Cut up all vegetables and chicken and set aside. Heat a stainless steel or cast iron pan over high heat until SMOKING HOT. Add in 1 1/2 teaspoons of oil, swirl around the pan, and add in the chicken. Stir fry for 2-3 minutes, letting the outside of the chicken brown a bit and get crispy, and remove from pan. Add another teaspoon of oil, add in onions and stir fry for a minutes. Add in bell pepper of choice and pineapple, and stir fry for two minutes or until all vegetables/fruits are starting to char. Throw the chicken back in the pan, pour sauce over, add green onions and cover, reduce heat to medium low, and simmer for 2-3 minutes. Serve over hot rice.