Thursday, April 14, 2011

April 14, 2011: Sweet and Sour Chicken Recipe

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Many years ago, when my dad needed to something to do (i.e. a hobby), he enrolled in a Chinese cooking course. He came away from that class with a small cookbook authored by the instructor and a passion for making Chinese food each and every day, using the methods he’d learned. I can definitely say that he has mastered the art!

Dad passed that cookbook along to me and I’ve used it ever since. Although it only contains eight menus of a few recipes each, it’s invaluable. The dishes are all ones that I’d eat (as opposed to some of the more exotic Chinese recipes I’ve come across) and the instructions are clear.

This recipe for Sweet and Sour Chicken (actually it’s for pork but I used chicken instead to go along with this month’s theme) comes from that cookbook, entitled Be a Chinese Cook Tonight by Sue Nelson. Ms. Nelson recommends using dry sherry in the sauces but that’s not an ingredient I normally have around the house so I’ve included here my own substitution.
Sweet and Sour Chicken served with Jasmine Fried Rice and sauteed snow peas with water chestnuts

Sweet and Sour Chicken

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into ½ inch cubes
1 T. + 1 t. cornstarch
1 T. rice wine vinegar
1 t. honey
½ t. salt
1 t. sesame oil
2 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
½ bell pepper (orange or red is a nice change from green), cut into ½ inch cubes
½ onion, coarsely chopped into ½ long pieces
1 ½ cups fresh pineapple, cut into ½ inch chunks
Coconut or peanut oil, for frying

Combine the cornstarch, vinegar, honey, salt, and sesame oil in a large, nonreactive bowl. Add the cubes of chicken and let sit at room temperature about half an hour.

Meanwhile, prepare the vegetables and the sauce.
Sweet and Sour Chicken in the wok

Sweet and Sour Sauce:
Juice from pineapple
3 T. soy sauce
2 T. ketchup
2 T. chicken broth
2 T. rice wine vinegar
2 T. sugar
1 T. cornstarch

Mix all ingredients together in a small bowl and set aside.

Heat up your wok (or a large, deep saucepan) to 375 degrees. Add enough oil to cover one third of the chicken cubes. Fry the chicken in batches for about 5 minutes each batch, until done. Transfer to a bowl lined with paper towels and keep warm.

Drain off excess oil until you have about one tablespoon left. Heat to 325 degrees. Add a teaspoon of sesame oil. Quickly stir fry the garlic and onion, then add the bell peppers. Cook just until tender-crisp. Add the pineapple and stir fry for another minute. Pour in the sweet and sour sauce and reduce heat to low, stirring constantly until sauce thickens. Add in the reserved, cooked chicken and toss together until heated through.

Tips: To make cutting the chicken easier and the resting time safer, don’t thaw it all the way.
You can also use an 8-ounce can of pineapple in place of the fresh fruit.

To make the menu as shown above, start by frying the chicken cubes; reserve any leftover oil. Next, quickly stir fry the vegetables and remove; keep warm in the oven along with the chicken. Prepare the fried rice (recipe for fried rice here) and place in an oven-safe dish to keep warm alongside the vegetables and chicken. Finally, prepare the vegetables and sweet and sour sauce for the main dish and keep warm in the wok until dinner is served.

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