Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Chop-chop chicken

I'd decided to make chicken stir-fry with cashews (p139) for dinner on Monday night. I made my shopping list at work, sitting at my desk with my Edmonds book. I was pretty sure I had a couple of chicken breasts in my freezer at home, so I didn't bother putting that on the list.

When I got home, I found I didn't have any chicken breast after all. Luckily I had a few thighs that I could substitute. I prefer thighs anyway - they might not be as easy to chop up into neat pieces, but they are usually tenderer than breast meat.

I was quite late getting started on my stir fry - it was just before 8pm when I started chopping up the chicken. I wasn't worried, thinking a stir fry wouldn't take very long to make. Actually, it took longer than I thought..

Having chopped up my chicken, I plonked the pieces in a bowl with some cornflour. I'd expected it to coat the chicken nicely (a bit like coating stewing beef with flour) but instead it turned into a gooey paste. Thinking there wasn't enough cornflour for the amount of chicken, I added more - and that only made it thicker and more gooey.

The next step was to briefly dip the chicken pieces in beaten egg white then fry them in oil until crispy. The first batch I did was absolutely dripping with egg white and came up fairly crispy; the second batch had considerably less egg white and actually seemed crispier. By the time I got to the final - and biggest - batch, there was almost no egg white left, and the pieces were not even remotely crispy.

While the chicken was cooking, I was trying to get the veges chopped up. This is something I really should have done before I started, because I was a bit frantic trying to do everything at once. I managed it though, so once I'd finished with the chicken, I was immediately able to make a start on stir-frying the celery, spring onions and mushrooms. With the addition of some grated ginger, chicken stock, sherry, and a little more cornflour, a sauce began to take shape around the vegetables.

The sauce thickened up almost immediately, so I returned the chicken to the pan with a generous helping of cashew nuts. After a couple more minutes on the heat, my dinner was finally ready. And it was only 9pm...

Chicken with cashew nuts is such a common dish at Chinese takeaways that you have a certain expectation of what it should taste like. While my version was nice enough, I could easily get a better one at the local takeaway for considerably less effort and not much more expense.

Actually, come to think of it, neither of my local Chinese takeaways were left standing after The Quake. Still, I can't imagine it would be difficult to find another one if I had a particular hankering for chicken with cashew nuts. And who knows? My local takeaway shops may be back yet - some of the other businesses in the area are already rebuilding.

Getting back to my Edmonds version: like I said, it was nice enough. I enjoyed the vegetables, and I love the crunch of the cashews. I would have liked double the amount of veges - the chicken made up about two-thirds of the dish. This was partially my own fault, as I think I ended up using slightly less than I was supposed to have for each of the vegetables.

It was quite heavy on the ginger (admittedly I didn't measure it, so may have put in too much) and otherwise lacking in flavour. What little crispiness I had managed to achieve on my chicken pieces was lost in the sauce, and had gone quite soggy when I heated up the leftovers for lunch.

I have no doubt that with a little practice and experimentation, this recipe could be very tasty. I think the trick is not to do it in a rush, and have all the ingredients (in correct quantities!) chopped and ready. Also a bit of tasting and seasoning would do wonders for the flavour. I may give it another go sometime.

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