I haven’t been creating many new Chinese recipes recently. That’s partly a reaction to all the cooking I did over the Twelve Days of Shananigans Christmas. But I have also been pining a little for my family returned to China and Australia and I have been busy with work.
Things are getting back to normal now in our three Shananigans households. Shan, Dermot and her Mama will return from Urumqi to Beijing tomorrow night to be reunited with Shane. He has used the time they stayed on with her family in Xinjiang Province to catch up on work and watch lots of films but he has had enough of the semi-batchelor life for now and is looking forward to their hugs and company.
Meanwhile in Sydney, Claire and Mike have become home owners for the first time. Australian citizens, now owning a house there – I guess their Australian adventure is set to last.
There is something about your first-born child buying a house that makes you acutely aware that she is all grown up – a responsible adult with a mortgage, many impressive spreadsheets compiled by Mike to cover all the budgetary implications and a life of her own on the other side of the world. I am so delighted for the two of them as they set out on this next stage of their lives together. Two young emigrants from Ireland and Wales who made good.
I fell in love with their Federation house in Randwick in the suburbs of Sydney as soon as I set eyes on the photos. It is a happy place that must store its share of good memories deep in its walls. In my imagination I can already glimpse the memories still waiting to be made there like shadows dancing around the still empty rooms, rooms waiting for their photos, their souvenirs, their infectious energy. All going well this is where we will celebrate Christmas 2014 with Shane, Shan and Dermot.
I love the natural light in the house which flows past bedrooms and a living/ dining room to a large kitchen and a patio out the back. And I am green with envy of the six burner gas hob in her kitchen. Claire tells me that I can get lots of practice on it in December. That was enough to set me thinking about what I would cook for them all.
The recipe that gets most hits on the blog is Shananigans Crispy Chilli Beef. I know that lots of readers substitute chicken for beef in this dish and several have wondered if it would be possible to make a version of it without chillies. Well here is a variation based on a traditional Beijing recipe for sweet and sour pork. This is not the cloying sauce you might associate with chinese takeaways. Instead black vinegar, sugar and light soy sauce provide the delicate, tangy balance. No chillies need apply.
As for Claire and Mike, much as I miss them, how can I be anything but happy for the life they have built on the other side of the world. Claire sent me this Sunday morning photo earlier today as they celebrated their house purchase with an early swim at Icebergs near Bondi Beach. She captioned it simply “gratitude”.
Shananigans Crispy Sweet and Sour Chicken
- 300g chicken breasts or chicken thighs, off the bone
- 1 egg white, beaten
- Good pinch of salt
- About 3 tbs potato flour or cornflour
- A pinch of baking powder
- Oil for deep frying – use good quality sunflower or groundnut oil
- 2 carrots cut into thin matchsticks and blanched for 1 minute
- 2 heads little gem lettuce, root removed and leaves torn into shreds (optional)
- 2 tsp garlic, finely chopped
- 2 tsp leek or the white part of spring onions, finely chopped
For the sauce:
- 65 g caster sugar
- 120 ml of Chinese black vinegar or Chinkiang vinegar
- 2 tsp light soy sauce
- 80 ml water
- 2 tsp cornflour mixed with a little water
- Roasted black and white sesame seeds and the green part of spring onions, sliced to garnish (optional)
- Cut the chicken into slices against the grain and then into thin shreds.
- Dip in the egg white and mix with your hand, leaving it to rest for a few minutes.
- Mix the potato flour with salt and baking powder.
- Drain off any excess egg white and dip the chicken strips in the flour mix, shaking off any excess.
- Mix the sugar, vinegar, soy sauce and water in a small jug and stir to combine and dissolve the sugar.
- Fill a wok quarter full with oil and heat to 140 degrees.
- Add the chicken, using your fingers to separate the pieces as they go down in the wok. Let them sit for about 30 seconds until the batter hardens, then use a ladle or chopsticks to separate the strands. Cook the chicken for 3 – 4 minutes, stirring to keep the strands separate, until the chicken is crispy and golden.
- Remove with a mesh strainer or slotted spoon and drain on kitchen paper. Drain off most of the oil from the wok
- Reheat the remaining oil over medium/ high heat and cook the carrot for 1½ minutes before removing and draining on kitchen paper. Add the little gem lettuce and stir-fry for a few minutes until wilted and set aside with the carrots.
- Add another small amount of oil to the wok if necessary and re-heat over a medium heat. Add the leek or spring onion and garlic. Stir-fry for about 5 seconds to release the aromas.
- Increase the heat to high, add the sauce mix and stir for 20 seconds or until the sauce bubbles. Add the cornflour and water mix and stir thoroughly.
- Add back the chicken, carrots and lettuce and toss to coat and heat through. Add a dash of sesame oil for shine, garnish with sesame seeds and the green part of spring onions sliced at an angle. Serve with steamed rice.
- You can substitute pak choi, green beans or sugar snap peas for the lettuce. If using the beans or peas blanch them first. You can also substitute beef or pork for the chicken.
- Check the seasoning when you add the sauce and balance to your taste with a little more soy sauce, sugar or vinegar if necessary.
- You will find Chinkiang vinegar in the Asia Market, any Asian supermarket and some good greengrocers. At a pinch you could substitute balsamic vinegar but the flavour will be different. Check out my post on Chinese Kitchen Essentials for a handy check list of Chinese ingredients.