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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!

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