I feel I should begin this post with “well that didn’t go so well…” You know that moment in the kitchen when you realise you have taken on too many dishes simultaneously. You’ve got yourself addled trying to follow 3 recipes at the one time – one in draft on your lap top plugged in and charging at the other end of the room. There are too many pots jostling on the hob. You’ve lost track of which ingredients are for which dish and those dried chillies you bought today aren’t the mild chilli pieces you have at home that you can pile on certain dishes but fiery monsters from Mexico that have you leaping around the kitchen yelping for water. And to top it all you throw your carefully hoarded supply of Sichuan pepper, which Shan brought from China, into the bin, confusing it with the much milder variety you bought in Dublin which has nothing like the same punch. Note to self – time to learn the mandarin for Sichuan pepper.
It’s days like this that sap your confidence in the kitchen and make you wonder who are you kidding that you can become a competent cook of Chinese food, never mind tell other people about it. The net result of yesterday’s efforts is that my attempt at replicating the fantastic Chongqing Chicken I had in China Sichuan was edible but nothing like the real thing. Back to the drawing board one on that one.
On the other hand the Lemon Chicken dish largely based on the recipe in “The Food of China – a Journey for Food Lovers” was delicious.
The book was recommended to me by Joanne Cronin (Stitch and Bear; @dudara) who has owned it since first came out in 2001. It arrived to me in a package from Amazon on Friday and it’s one of those gorgeous publications that you want to read from cover to cover – a great starter guide to food journeys in China.
Lemon chicken is a staple Cantonese dish but this version is light and delicious and not a bit like the gloopy sauce you might get in a Chinese takeaway. I must “‘fess up”. My variation on the recipe is because I got so hassled last night that I left out one complete step in the cooking process but somehow it worked so I’m describing it exactly as I made it.
This dish goes particularly well with Shan’s Earth Three Fresh (Di San Xian). Neither dish is spicy and the pale lemony chicken complements perfectly the bright colours and flavours of the peppers, golden potato wedges and aubergine. The balance of nutrients felt good too.
- 2 chicken breasts
- 1 tbs light soy sauce
- 1 tbs Shaoxing rice wine
- 1 spring onion finely sliced
- A piece of ginger, about 3 cms, peeled and finely chopped
- 1 clove garlic finely chopped
- Sunflower oil for shallow frying
- 2 tbs lemon juice
- 2 tsps sugar
- A large pinch of salt
- A good dash of roasted sesame oil
- 3 tbs chicken stock
- 1/2 tsp of cornflour
- Slice the chicken.
- Add to a bowl with the marinade ingredients – soy sauce, rice wine, spring onion, chilli and garlic.
- Use your hand to mix well and leave for an hour at room temperature.
- Heat the oil in a wok.
- Add the chicken and stir to keep moving so that the pieces stay separate and cook until crisp and golden, about 5 minutes. When cooked use a slotted strainer to remove and put into a bowl lined with kitchen roll to absorb any excess oil.
- Mix the lemon juice, sugar, salt and sesame oil. Mix well and pour a little in into a separate cup and use to dissolve the cornflour before combining the two.
- Heat a separate wok (or the same wok with the oil poured off and wiped out with kitchen roll) over medium heat until hot. Add the sauce and stir constantly until thickened.
- Add back the chicken and toss lightly in the sauce until heated through.
- Serve with Earth Three Fresh vegetable dish or plain boiled rice.
The “correct” version of the recipe involves deep-frying the chicken at the first stage. For this version you heat a larger quantity of oil in a wok until a piece of bread goes golden in 10 seconds. Then add a beaten egg to the chicken mixture, draining any excess and coating lightly in about 90 g (3/4 cup) of cornflour before adding to the hot oil a piece at a time and frying off in 2 batches, being careful to keep each piece separate, before making the sauce. This would give a crispier finish.
Next time I might try a variation of this where the chicken is drained off and dipped in egg white and a little cornflour before frying.
You could also leave the chicken to marinade in the fridge for several hours or even overnight.
Tips and Combinations:
If cooking this dish at the same time as Earth Three Fresh, it make sense to have two woks on the go, one with sufficient oil for deep frying. You can use the heated oil first to deep fry the potato wedges and then set them to one side to drain on kitchen paper while frying off the chicken which is more likely to leave a residue in the oil.
I kept the skins on the potato wedges as I was using local Hook Head British Queens but later in the year I would peel them. I also used an unusual two-tone aubergine, its skin streaked with purple and white which I found in Wallaces SuperValu in Wellington Bridge, Wexford.
I finished off the chicken dish while the potatoes were “resting” and placed it on a serving dish in a low oven for the few minutes it took to stir fry the aubergines with the peppers and potatoes. Culinary mishaps apart, the preparation and cooking of the two dishes took no more than 20 minutes plus the hour to marinade the chicken.
It didn’t seem right somehow to be serving Di San Xian on a pasta dish but it was all I had down here in Duncannon. So I was thrilled to wander into the car boot sale in Duncannon Fort today and stumble upon a Willow Pattern platter from Woods Ware England whose family trace themselves back to Ralph Wood who was making pottery in the late 1700s. Synchronicity is everything.The Willow Pattern is the abiding image I had of China as a child even though it was invented in Europe. Ah well, it still means something to me