Friday 7 March 2008

Chinese, or not?

On every Chinese restaurant menu in the US, you're almost guaranteed to find Chicken with Broccoli. I have to confess that growing up, this was not a dish that was served in my family. Its one of those dishes that doesn't really exist in China but has become ubiquitous in the Western world - much like fortune cookies which you'll never see in  China.

Regardless of its authenticity or lack there-of, it is a dish that I do enjoy so I have no problems serving it up in my kitchen. Its relatively light and healthy, and broccoli is, by far, one of my favourite veggies - I have no idea why it gets such a bad rep. Serve this dish with a generous portion of steamed rice. 

Sliced Chicken with Broccoli
Adapted from Shun Lee Cookbook

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 large egg white
2 tbsp cornstarch
3/4 tsp salt
4 cups plus 1/3 cup chicken stock
10 ounces broccoli florets
1 tsp sugar
 2 tbsp rice wine
Vegetable oil
2 scallions, white part only, trimmed and minced
3 garlic cloves, peeled and minced

Slice chicken breasts in half horizontally. Flatten the chicken breasts by pounding them on both sides with the flat side of a cleaver or a flat meat mallet until 1/8 inch thick. Slice the meat on a shallow diagonal to make 1-inch wide strips. Cut the strips into 1 1/2-inch pieces.

Mix the chicken, egg white, 1 tbsp of the cornstarch, and 1/4 tsp of the salt in a medium bowl. Set it aside.

Bring the 4 cups chicken stock to a boil in a medium saucepan over high heat. Add the broccoli, and cook it is crisp-tender, about 1 1/2 minutes. Transfer the vegetables to a strainer to drain, and discard the broth.

Mix the remaining 1/3 cup chicken stock with the remaining 1/2 tsp salt, the sugar and the rice wine in a small bowl. Dissolve the remaining 1 tbsp corn starch in 3 tbsp cold water in a small bowl. Set the bowls aside.

Heat a large wok over high heat. Add enough oil to come about 1 inch up the sides of the wok, add heat it to 300F. Add the chicken pieces, a few at a time, and stir gently, so the pieces don't stick to each other, until the chicken turns white, about 1 minute. Using a wide wire-mesh strainer, transfer the chicken to a colander to drain. Discard all but 2 tbsp of the oil from the wok.

Return the wok with the oil to high heat. Add the scallions and garlic, and stir fry until the garlic is fragrant, about 10 seconds. Add the stock mixture and the cornstarch-mixture, and bring to a boil. Return the chicken and broccoli to the wok, and stir-fry until the sauce has thickened, about 30 seconds. Serve immediately.

Makes 4 servings

What's cooking?

For the longest time, nothing! I've mentioned before my dislike of cooking for one and since M has been away in Paris on a project, there have been virtually no home-cooked dinners in this household for a long time. Tonight, I decided to break out of this rut and stopped by Whole Foods, which I absolutely adore, to pick up some fresh, albeit over-priced, groceries. 

In the spirit of carbo-loading in advance of our long run tomorrow, I decided to go with Chicken, asparagus and shiitake mushroom risotto. Now, risotto, in my mind, gets a bad rep for being time-consuming to make. While it is true that you do have to constantly stir the pot, you really only need to do so for half an hour or so. This may be 30 minutes more than one can spare on a weekday, but for a Friday night, its easy as pie. And when the rewards are as sumptuous and creamy  as this is, that's 30 minutes well spent.

Chicken, asparagus and shiitake mushroom risotto
Adapted from Gourmet

5 cups chicken broth
1 cup water
1 lb thin to medium asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1/4 inch thick slices
1 tbsp olive oil
1/2 stick unsalted butter
3/4 lb fresh shiitake mushrooms, stems discarded and caps cut into 1/4-inch thick slices
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 1/2 cups arborio rice
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 oz finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Bring broth and water to a boil in a 4-quart pot. Add asparagus and cook, uncovered, until crisp-tender, 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer asparagus with a slotted spoon to a large bowl of ice and cold water to stop cooking, then drain and pat dry. Keep broth at a bare simmer, covered.

Poach chicken breasts in broth until done, about 7-8 minutes. Remove chicken from the broth and set aside to rest for 10 minutes before cutting into 1/4 inch slices.

Heat oil with 1 tsp butter in a 4-quart heavy saucepan over moderately high heat until foam subsides, then saute mushrooms, stirring occasionally, until browned, about 4 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, then transfer to a bowl.

Cook onion in 2 tbsp butter in saucepan over moderate heat, stirring, until softened, about 3 minutes. Add rice and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Add wine and cook, stirring, until absorbed, about 1 minute.

Ladle in 1 cup simmering broth and cook at a strong simmer, stirring, until absorbed, about 2 minutes. Continue simmering and adding broth, about 1/2 cup at a time, stirring frequently and letting each addition be absorbed before adding next, until rice is just tender and looks creamy, 18 to 20 minutes. Save any leftover broth for thinning.

Remove from heat and stir in 1/2 cup cheese, remaining tbsp butter, and salt and pepper to taste. Gently stir in asparagus and mushrooms, then cover pan and let stand 1 minute. If desired, thin risotto with some of remaining broth. Serve immediately with remaining cheese on the side.

Makes 4 main-course servings