Thursday, October 21, 2010

Deliciously Overcomplicated.

Tonight I’m writing to share with you one of my favorite recipes ever.  My good friend Emily gave it to me ages ago, when I was living in an apartment that really should have been the attic to a beautiful Victorian home.  As you can imagine, because it was built into an attic, my kitchen left a lot to be desired – it was definitely the worst room in an otherwise kind of amazing apartment.  Preparing this dish, a multi-step prep-work-intensive stir fry, in that kitchen was definitely an adventure.  I had zero counter space, terrible lighting and a flakey gas range/oven that would frequently take it upon itself to try to burn the house down.

Nostalgia aside, mentioning the attic kitchen is my way of letting you know that even though this recipe probably seems fussy and like too much work, if I did it in that crazy attic kitchen you can do it too (in your hopefully non-attic kitchen).  Whenever I make it I think of that kitchen and its weird drafty haunted pantry, flame-throwing broiler and iffy plumbing…sigh.

Anyway, the stir-fry – picture sesame-coated thinly sliced chicken tossed with fresh green beans and shiitakes, in a garlicky, gingery perfectly spicy sauce flecked with more sesame seeds, scented with toasted sesame oil.  Yes, the recipe involves making a marinade, a coating for the chicken, a stir-fry sauce and a garlic ginger paste, but it is sooo worth all the complication.  The flavor layering is delightful.  This recipe originally came from Cooks Illustrated, and it honestly has no room to be improved upon that I can find.  I’m sure they made it every which way before publishing, and they are certainly dead on here.

Spicy Stir-Fried Sesame Chicken with Green Beans and Shiitake Mushrooms
from Cooks Illustrated, via Emily Davis, and tweaked a bit by each of us along the way

Chicken Marinade and Coating:

1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup dry sherry
1 cup water
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast, trimmed of excess fat and prepared as described 
2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon white sesame seeds


1/2 cup low sodium chicken broth
3 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons dry sherry
1 tablespoon asian chili sauce (or a bit more if you like it really spicy)
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon white sesame seeds, toasted in a small dry skillet until golden, about 4 mins
2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
3 medium cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger
Vegetable oil
1 pound fresh green beans, cut on bias into 1-inch pieces
8 ounces fresh shiitake mushrooms, stems removed, caps sliced 1/8 inch thick

Slice chicken breast.  As  you’re doing so, cut with the grain as you normally would.  You’re aiming for ¼ inch slices.  As you make the cut, flatten the slice of chicken so that it smashes against the cutting board with the back of your knife, as you pull the knife toward you.  (This tenderizes each strip, helping them to cook faster and have a much more enjoyable texture!)

Combine soy sauce, sherry and water in a medium bowl.  Add chicken and break up clumps.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for  20 minutes to 1 hour.

Mix sesame oil, cornstarch, flour and sesame seeds in medium bowl until smooth.  Drain chicken in a strainer, pressing out excess liquid.  Toss in cornstarch/flour mixture until evenly coated.

Whisk chicken broth, soy, sherry, chili sauce, sugar, cornstarch, 2 teaspoons sesame seeds, 1 teaspoon sesame oil, and 1 teaspoon garlic in small bowl to combine.  Set aside.  Combine remaining two teaspoons garlic, ginger and 1 teaspoon vegetable oil in a small bowl.  Set aside.

Heat two teaspoons vegetable oil in a large nonstick skillet or wok over high heat until smoking.  Add half the chicken in an even layer and cook until golden brown.  Flip and cook until lightly browned on the second side, less than two minutes total in the pan.  Transfer to clean bowl and repeat with more oil and the rest of the chicken.

Add 1 teaspoon vegetable oil to the now-empty skillet and heat until just smoking.  Add green beans and cook stirring occasionally, 1 minute.  Add mushrooms and stir-fry until mushrooms are lightly browned, about 3 minutes.  Push veggies to the sides of skillet or wok to clear center.  Add garlic ginger mixture to the clearing and cook, mashing with a spoon, until fragrant, about 30-45 seconds.  Stir mixture into beans and mushrooms.  Continue to stir-fry until beans are tender-crisp, about 30 seconds longer.  

Return chicken to skillet.  Whisk the set-aside sauce to recombine then add to skillet.  Reduce heat to medium and cook stirring constantly, until the sauce is thickened and the chicken is cooked through, about 30 seconds.  Transfer to serving platter, drizzle with remaining teaspoon sesame oil and sprinkle with remaining teaspoon sesame seeds.  Serve immediately, with jasmine rice if you like.

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