Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Try the thigh

I'm a big fan of Szechuan (or is it Sichuan?) chicken. To me it's essential comfort food, like meatloaf or macaroni and cheese, and as such I always prefer to make it myself than eat it elsewhere, since comfort food is best when it's consumed in your own kitchen... and in mass quantities.

Stir-fry is one of the first things I taught myself how to make while living alone up in Boston, but for some reason whenever I made chicken recipes I would always use chicken breasts and invariably be disappointed with the taste and consistency of the meal. Then about a year ago I picked up Ming Tsai's Simply Ming: Easy Techniques for East-Meets-West Meals, and noted that in his stir-fry recipes he called for chicken thighs instead. What a difference it makes! Now I only cook chicken breasts on the grill or in the broiler.

Here's my home-brewed version of Szechuan chicken, with a hat tip to Ming Tsai for curing me of my (chicken) breast fixation:

"Szechuan" Chicken

2.5 lbs of skinless, boneless chicken thighs
2 Tb soy sauce
1 tsp corn starch
Ground black pepper or white pepper to taste

Cut chicken thighs into 1" pieces, place in bowl with soy sauce, corn starch, and pepper, tossing to coat.

While that sits, start chopping into 1/2" pieces:

4 ribs celery
4 regular-sized carrots, or 15-20 baby carrots
1 white onion

And mince:

1 head of garlic
1 knob of ginger, peeled
4 serrano chiles

Fire up the wok. When hot, add 3 Tb peanut oil and swirl to coat the whole cooking surface. Add the chicken pieces in small batches and stir-fry until the chicken just loses its pink on the outside. Remove chicken in wok and place in a (clean) bowl.

Add another Tb of peanut oil to wok, then add the garlic, ginger, and chiles. Fry for approximately 30 seconds, stirring constantly to avoid the aromatics sticking and burning to the wok. Add the celery, carrot, and onion pieces and continue to stir-fry for another three to five minutes until the vegetables begin to become tender. Return chicken to the wok, as well as:

3/4 cup chicken or beef stock
1/4 cup rice wine, or a dry white cooking wine if you've got it
4 Tb Hoisin sauce
Sriracha hot sauce to taste

Cook and stir until chicken is completely cooked through -- approximately another 5-8 minutes depending on how lazy you got cutting up the chicken thighs (there's a reason stir-fry recipes call for uniform pieces, dummy!). If desired, add a drizzle of corn starch and water solution to thicken the sauce. Garnish with a cup of roasted, lightly salted peanuts, or more if you're feeling kind of nutty. Serve with rice, or all by itself like a stew. Makes 6 servings.

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