Thursday, October 13, 2011

Chicken with Zucchini, Cashews and Thai Basil

I pulled out the wok over the weekend for the first time in over a year. Last week another co-worker gave me bunches of herbs - sage, rosemary, oregano, and Thai basil. I seem to have developed something of a reputation around the building as a foodie. I can't imagine how anyone would have gotten that idea. I mean, it's not like I come into work every Wednesday morning with a bag or two bulging with Green Market produce. Oh wait - I do.

I made a big batch of Faki , replacing the dried oregano with the fresh, for workday lunches. The rosemary and sage are still waiting, but not for long. The Thai basil made me think of stir-fry, so I pondered that for a while before deciding maybe it was time to get busy with the wok.

My wok repertoire is limited, and lately I have been using it mainly to make my Tofu stir-fry. I have not had much luck with it beyond that, but I have been watching Ching-He Huang cook up the most amazing dishes on Chinese Food Made Easy on the Cooking Channel. I must admit, she does indeed make it look easy; easy enough for me to believe that I might have been able to come up with a decent Thai-inspired chicken stir-fry.

And I have to say, I was successful beyond my wildest dreams. I think the main thing I learned from watching Ching-He Huang do her thing is that you actually can relax and enjoy the process. It is true that you have to move quickly, and you definitely want your ingredients prepped and ready to go, but it's not the frantic "GET EVERYTHING IN THE WOK AND STIR IT AROUND FRANTICALLY OR IT WILL BURN AND YOU'D BETTER NOT TAKE YOUR EYES OFF OF IT OR DINNER WILL BE RUINED BEYOND RECOGNITION AND YOUR KITCHEN WILL CATCH FIRE AND THE FIREMEN WILL BREAK YOUR DOOR DOWN AND YOU WILL NEVER, EVER, BE ABLE TO LOOK AT A WOK AGAIN!!!!" I have always found it to be. One thing I have discovered about myself in recent years is how literally I take everything, and how much I overcomplicate things because of it. Everything I have read about stir-fry says you have to work quickly and not let the food sit for a second, so I believed it.

Here are the two main tips I have learned that made this stir-fry so successful. First, if you are using meat, let it sit for a few seconds after you have put it into the hot oil, and then just make sure you are moving everything around briskly, not frantically. Second, once you added your vegetables, you should add water in small amounts at a time to create steam, which helps the vegetables cook more quickly on the inside so you aren't burning the outside before they are done.

Both of those tips made all the difference here. I can't believe I am saying it, but this was restaurant-quality stir fry. The sauce was perfect, with a good blend of sweet, sour, and salty (bitter, not so much). It is sure to impress. I can't wait to see what I can do next!
Home Cookin Chapter: My Recipes

Makes 2 servings

1/2 lb boneless, skinless chicken thighs (or breasts), cut into 1-inch pieces
Corn, grapeseed, or canola oil
2 Tbsp cornstarch, divided
2 Tbsp rice vinegar
2Tbsp soy sauce
2 Tbsp sherry (I used Marsala)
1 Tbsp fish sauce
1/4 tsp garlic chili sauce
1 Tbsp brown sugar
1 zucchini, quarted and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
4 scallions, divided, white parts cut into 1/2-inch pieces, the greens thinly sliced
2 Tbsp garlic/ginger mix (or 1 Tbsp each, chopped)
1/2 cup toasted cashews or other nuts
2 Tbsp fresh thai basil leaves
Toasted sesame oil
Sesame seeds for garnish

Coat chicken with 1 tablespoon of the cornstarch and set aside. In a small bowl, mix the vinegar, soy sauce, sherry, fish sauce, garlic chili sauce and brown sugar, and set aside.

Mix the other tablespoon of corn starch with a tablespoon of cold water and set aside.

Heat wok over high heat. When it starts smoking, add about 2 tablespoons of oil and let it heat up. Add the chicken to the wok, letting it sit for a few seconds, then let it cook until just cooked through, moving it constantly. Remove the chicken from the wok.

If necessary, add more oil to the wok. Add the garlic and ginger and let it sit for a second, then add the zucchini and the white part of the scallions. Cook until the zucchini is just tender, adding water as needed to create steam.

Add the chicken back to the wok and cook for a couple of minutes more, until it is thorougly cooked. Add the sauce and about a teaspoon of the sesame oil and cook for a few seconds, then add the cornstarch slurry and cook until the sauce has thickened.

Remove the wok from the heat and add the basil, the cashews and most of the green onions immediately, reserving a few for garnish.


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