After an extended streak of failures and disappointments in the kitchen, I figured maybe I was overextending myself and perhaps it was time to dial things back. A good place to start was one of the first recipes I learned how to make: kung pao chicken. Now I have no idea how authentic this recipe is, but it seemed that a bit of tasty nostalgia could break me out of my culinary funk. To mix things up a little (a little), I'd try my hand out at cooking gai lan (aka Chinese broccoli aka regular broccoli's sweet and leafy cousin). Gai Lan in oyster sauce has long been a favoured Chinese restaurant side dish of mine that I'd never attempted at home.
The chicken was satisfying, just like I remembered, but nothing special. The real star in this meal was the gai lan. My first taste of it had me wondering aloud, "Why haven't I cooked this before?!" Sweet, salty and crunchy, it made regular appearances on our dinner plates frequently over the next few weeks.
And lo, the streak of failures was over. Thanks broccoli.
Chinese Broccoli with Oyster Sauce (adapted from Williams-Sonoma Essentials of Asian Cooking)
2 lb Chinese broccoli
1 tbsp sugar, plus 1/4 tsp
1 tbsp oyster sauce
1 tbsp light soy sauce
1 tbsp Chinese rice wine
1 tbsp sesame oil
1/2 tsp cornstarch
1/8 tsp ground white pepper
2 tbsp canola oil
3 slices (1/4") fresh ginger, peeled and smashed
4 cloves garlic
Trim the tough ends off of the broccoli and discard any flowers. Cut the leaves off and set aside. Cut the stalks in 3" pieces and set aside separately.
In 2L boiling water, with 1 tbsp salt and 1 tbsp of the sugar, add the stems and cook for 2 min. Add the leaves and cook for another min. Plunge into ice water and pat dry.
In a small bowl, whisk together the oyster sauce, soy sauce, rice wine, sesame oil cornstarch white pepper,1/4 tsp sugar and 2 tbsp water.
In a large work or frying pan over high heat, warm the canola oil. Once hot, add the ginger and garlic and cook for about 20 sec. Add the broccoli and stir-fry until heated through, about 2 min. Add the sauce and stir-fry until the sauce thickens. Serve immediately.
Kung Pao Chicken (cribbed from a Sunset Magazine cookbook my parents used to have)
1 tbsp sherry
1 tbsp cornstarch
1/8 tbsp ground white pepper
1 1/2 lb chicken, cut into 1" pieces
4 tbsp oil
1/2 cup peanuts
1 tsp garlic
1 tsp ginger
2 green onions, sliced on the bias
Mix the sherry, cornstarch and pepper in a medium bowl. Add the chicken and stir to coat (I use my hands). Add a tbsp of the oil then let marinate for 15 minutes. Make the cooking sauce (recipe follows)
Heat a wok or large frying pan over medium high heat. Add a little of the oil and cook the peanuts until they get a bit of colour on them. Remove from pan and set aside.
Add the remaining oil to the pan, and fry the garlic and ginger for a minute. Working in two batches, add the chicken and fry until cooked through (about 6 min). Return remaining chicken and peanuts to the pan.
Add sauce and stir until thickened. Garnish with green onions and serve with rice.
3 tbsp chicken broth
2 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp sambal oelek
1 tbsp white wine vinegar
1 tbsp sherry
2 tsp sugar
2 tsp cornstarch
Mix all ingredients in a small bowl. I find it's helpful to mix the sherry and cornstarch first.