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Monday, July 25, 2011

Chicken Stir-Fry

Most of us home cooks don't have the mega BTU output stovetops needed for truly authentic wok cooking.  But with a little thoughtful ingredient prep we can create a pretty darn good replica.  Currently I'm using a big cast-iron skillet on an electric stove, so this is totally a do-what-you-can-with-what-you-have kind of recipe.

When prepping ingredients, remember to cut them to a size that's convenient for eating with chopsticks (the only proper way to eat stir-fry) and prep them so that they cook in only a couple of minutes.

In this recipe I use velveted chicken, which is perfect for cooking quickly over medium-high heat.  I salt the squash, then rinse and pat dry.  This gives the squash some flavor, and more importantly removes a lot of moisture so that the squash can cook quickly into lovely individual golden bites and not turn into a mushy, gloppy, tasteless mess.  I blanch the broccoli in salted water, and drain.  That preserves the beautiful green color and perfectly prepares the broccoli for quick stir-frying.

Have fun experimenting with stir-fry ingredients.  Prep veggies according to their textures.  When you're prepping soft, high-moisture veggies (squash, zucchini squash, tomatoes), salt for at least 30 minutes, rinse, and pat them dry.  When you're prepping firmer, tougher veggies (broccoli, green beans, asparagus), blanch in boiling salted water and drain.  Quick-cooking ingredients like mushrooms, sprouts, green onions, and herbs don't need any special prep treatment; just add them to the skillet or wok toward the end of the cooking process.  The objective is for every ingredient to be flavorful, cook quickly, and not leave a puddle of water in the skillet or wok.

Chicken Stir-Fry Recipe

1 1/2 pounds of velveted chicken pieces
1/4 cup peanut oil
1 yellow summer squash, cut in bite-size chunks
1 broccoli crown, cut in small florets
kosher salt
4 green onions, thinly sliced
1 cup bean sprouts
1/4 cup soy sauce
chopped basil and cilantro to taste

Prepare The Squash:
Place in a colander over a bowl and sprinkle all over with kosher salt. Let sit at least 30 minutes to allow the salt to draw the moisture out of the squash. Then rinse well, drain, and pat dry on paper towels.

Prepare The Broccoli:
Boil salted water in a medium-size saucepan. Drop the broccoli in, bring water back to a boil, and cook for 1 minute. Drain the broccoli from the water and cool in an ice bath or under cool running water to stop the cooking process.

Heat the peanut oil in a cast-iron skillet or wok over medium-high heat.  Don't be afraid of heat here.  You want everything to brown a little to develop the flavor and you're using enough oil and stirring constantly so nothing sticks.  Add chicken and stir-fry for 2 to 3 minutes, until it starts to brown.  Add squash and stir-fry for 2 to 3 minutes, until it starts to brown.  Add broccoli and stir-fry 1 minute.  Add green onion, bean sprouts, and soy sauce and stir-fry 1 minute.  Turn off heat, add basil and cilantro, stir well, and serve. 

Don't forget the chopsticks!

Velveting Chicken

I recently discovered the technique of velveting chicken.  It's sort of a parcooking method for chicken so that you can then stir-fry it in your favorite recipe without it overcooking and becoming dry.  The results are surprisingly good and the technique is pretty simple, always a combination I like. 

Whenever you prepare chicken, I recommend brining the chicken first to make it juicy, tender, and tasty.  That holds true for chicken for stir-fry.  It's not essential to brine, but the results are worth the small investment of effort and time.  If you brine and velvet chicken for your next stir-fry, it'll be the difference between, "This chicken is good," and "Wow, how did you make this?!"

Velveting Chicken

1 1/2 pounds of boneless skinless chicken breast, fat and any other "icky" stuff trimmed away, cut into small bites or small strips for stir-frying (brined if desired), rinsed and patted dry
2 egg whites
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 cups peanut oil

In a bowl large enough to easily hold the chicken, mix the egg white and cornstarch together.  Add the chicken to the egg white/cornstarch mixture and coat well.   The easiest way to coat well is to use the tools God gave you (your hands).  Cover the bowl and place in the fridge for 30 minutes.  Remove from the fridge, empty the chicken into a colander, and allow the excess egg/cornstarch mixture to drain off very well. 

Heat the oil in a wok or Dutch oven to 275 degrees.  Use a candy/frying thermometer to monitor the temperature, and heat the oil slowly as the oil gets to 275 pretty quickly and it's much more time consuming to wait for the oil to cool back down than it is to slowly bring it to temp in the first place.

When oil reaches 275 degrees, drop the chicken pieces in and stir gently to keep them separate and prevent them from sticking to the bottom of the pan.  They just need to cook around 30 seconds until they turn very white.  The color change will be really obvious and they'll also float up a bit.  Remove with a spider and drain in a colander or on paper towels to remove the excess oil.

**You're now ready to cook the chicken in your favorite stir-fry recipe.  Please note that after velveting the chicken will not be fully cooked and will not yet be at a safe temperature for consumption.**

One last note:  Using 2 cups of peanut oil for a 30-second cooking process might seem wasteful; however, the oil will still be absolutely pristine after velveting the chicken, so after it cools it can be poured into a jar to save for another use. 

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Eye of Round Roast

1 1/2 pound eye of round roast
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 head of garlic
1/4 cup capers
6 Thai bird chilis
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 Tablespoons olive oil
3 slices of bacon, cut in half
1/2 cup beef broth
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup armagnac or cognac

I went to one of our favorite Asian markets yesterday, Carrollton Plaza Supermarket, intending to purchase a beef tenderloin.  Normally they have entire beef tenderloins at ridiculously low prices. They didn't have any beef loin; however, they had some eye of round roasts.  I didn't really know anything about preparing eye of round.  It looks pretty, but unfortunately that's probably because it's very lean and has no marbling.  I just bought a small portion, about a pound and a half, so that we could experiment without too much investment.

After doing a fair amount of Google research I found recommendations that ran the gamut from fast high temp cooking with no liquid to slow low temp braising.  Here's the technique I decided on.  I butterflied the loin, then used a multi-blade meat tenderizer ( to perforate the meat all over.  I sprinkled the meat on both sides with the salt and let it rest at room temp for at least an hour.

Preheat your oven to 250 degrees.

While the meat was resting with the salt, I coated a cast iron skillet with the olive oil and cooked the bacon slices over low heat to render their fat.

Also while the meat was resting I peeled and diced the garlic, roughly chopped the capers, removed the stems from the peppers, cut them in half, removed the seeds, and very thinly sliced them, ground the black pepper and mixed all that together.

Now rinse the salt off the roast and pat dry.  Put the prepared mixture down the middle.  Either roll up or fold each side in, whichever works better with the cut, shape, and thickness of your eye of round roast.  Then use butcher's twine to truss up your pretty little roast package nice and neat.  Remove the bacon slices from the skillet and reserve them.

Increase the heat to medium high.  Brown the roast all over.  Add the beef broth, soy sauce, and armagnac to the skillet, bring to a low boil, and cook for 2-3 minutes.

Lay the bacon slices over the roast, put the skillet in the oven, and cook at 250 degrees for one hour.  Turn the oven off and leave the roast for one hour without opening the oven.  Remove roast from oven, cut away the trussing, slice, and serve.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Homemade Refried Beans, Ridiculously Easy Method

1 lb. dry pinto beans
1/2 lb. bacon or bacon scraps
cloves of one head of garlic, peeled
1/4 cup reserved bacon grease

Rinse and sort beans.  Soak for about 12 hours.  Put soaked beans, bacon, and garlic in a slow cooker, cover with water by 1 inch, and cook on high power overnight.

Remove the bacon or bacon scraps.  Use a spider or sieve to remove cooked beans from cooking liquid and place into a food processor.  Process until smooth, adding some of the leftover bean cooking liquid as necessary.

Heat the bacon grease in a cast iron skillet over medium heat.  Spoon the beans from the food processor into the skillet and cook and stir until the beans are very hot and all the bacon grease is incorporated into the beans. 

Season with salt and pepper if needed.

Grownup Chicken Nuggets

1.5 to 2 lbs. boneless skinless chicken breast
1/2 cup kosher salt
1/4 cup brown sugar
water and ice
1 bunch green onions, sliced and then chopped very fine
2 to 3 inch piece of ginger, grated
1 head of garlic, peeled and pressed through a garlic press
1 bunch culantro (preferred) or cilantro, finely chopped
2 teaspoons sesame oil
1/2 cup (approximate) panko crumbs
3 cups peanut oil

First brine the chicken breast.  In a small amount of water over medium heat, dissolve the kosher salt and sugar.  Let the salt/sugar brine cool.  Meanwhile, rinse the chicken breast and place it in a ziplock bag inside of a large measuring cup or bowl.  When the brine has cooled a bit, add several handfuls of ice cubes to it.  Pour the brine and remaining ice cubes into the ziplock bag with the chicken.  Seal the bag and refrigerate for a few hours.

After 3 to 6 hours remove the chicken from the fridge, drain off the brine, and rinse the chicken.  Trim away any fat and other undesirable stuff from the chicken.  Cut the chicken into large squares and place in the freezer to firm for 1-2 hours. 

Meanwhile, prepare the green onion, garlic, ginger, and culantro or cilantro. 

Remove the now firm chicken from the freezer and drop into a food processor.  Pulse a couple of times to roughly grind the chicken.

Scrape the ground chicken from the food processor into a large mixing bowl and add the green onion, garlic, ginger, culantro or cilantro, and sesame oil.  Mix well with your hands.

Put the panko crumbs on a tray or large plate.  Use a tablespoon disher (recommended) or tablespoon to measure the chicken mixture into balls.  Working with about 5 chicken balls at a time, place them on the panko crumbs, roll around to coat well, and place the finished balls on a platter.  Continue until all the chicken mixture has been prepared into panko-coated balls.

Heat the peanut oil in a Dutch oven to approximately 300 degrees, measuring the temperature with a fat/candy thermometer.  (Try to keep the oil temperature above 280 degrees and below 350 degrees.)  Drop the chicken balls 10-15 at a time into the hot oil and fry approximately 4 minutes or until golden-brown.

Remove with a spider to a cooling rack. Continue until all chicken balls are fried.  Serve with Homemade Teriyaki Sauce for dipping.