With the onset of COVID-19, I haven’t been as creative in the kitchen, invariably because of the need to go to the supermarket for daily meal prep. I’m simply not going to risk my family’s health by running out for a few odd items I forgot on my shopping list. As a more “efficient” strategy, I’ll make a large list and stock up on items that can be flipped into multiple dishes throughout the week. (And my wry observation regarding that strategy is that you are still exposing yourself to more time in the supermarket during that outing.) Alright, enough with that crap. In these uncertain times, cooking and reading are two of my outlets, both intellectually and creatively, and I’ve found if I can create one or two really great meals in any given week, it’s a great way to keep my sanity, while cooking in the Culinary Compost bunker.
The recipe shown here is one of my hands-down favorites at any Chinese restaurant. The spices are simple — fresh ground black pepper and Sichuan peppercorns. That’s it. You can also make this with beef and change out the vegetables per your preference. The first time i made this, the taste was a bit flat. Rice vinegar will correct that issue. Finally, through trial and experimentation, I’ve learned to limit my umami/salty ingredients to THREE tablespoons total in any combination. All Asian sauce ingredients shown here are very salty and they can quickly ruin your meal if not used in moderation. Enjoy—
For the Chicken Marinade~
1 large boneless, skinless chicken breast, sliced into 1/2 x 1-inch pieces
1/4 cup corn starch
1 tbs. Shaoxing cooking wine
1 tbs. Tamari soy sauce
For the Aromatics~
1-inch chunk of ginger, peeled and minced
4 large cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1/2 large shallot, peeled and finely sliced
For the Sauce~
2 tbs. oyster sauce
1 tbs. black soy sauce
1 tbs. fresh-ground coarse black pepper
1/2 tsp. fresh-ground Sichuan pepper (optional)
1 tbs. rice wine vinegar
1 cup chicken stock
1 tsp. corn starch with 1 tbs. cold water mixed in separate dish
For the Vegetables~
1 red bell pepper, cored and cut into 1.5-inch trapezoids
1/2 red onion, coarsely sliced into 1.5-inch chunks
2 large carrots, peeled and cut into 3/8-inch planks at a bias
2 large scallion, trimmed and cut into 1-inch chunks at a bias (include both white and green parts)
Serve with your choice of jasmine white rice or asian noodles
Cut, prep and measure all of your ingredients and keep them at hand so you are ready. Wok cooking is very fast and only takes a few minutes.
1 hour prior to cooking, cut up the chicken pieces and place in a mixing bowl with the corn starch, Shaoxing wine and Tamari soy sauce. Mix well and set aside.
For the sauce ingredients, measure the first 5 ingredients and set aside in a small mixing bowl. Measure and set aside the chicken stock. In a separate small bowl, whisk together the corn starch and cold water.
Cut and prep the vegetables, leaving the scallion in a separate bowl. (You will add it last so it doesn’t wilt.)
Choose either rice or noodles and cook according to package directions. While this is cooking, preheat the wok until it starts to smoke. It is ready when a drop of cold water sizzles on contact. Swirl in 4 tbs. canola or peanut oil. Allow to shimmer. When hot, using a tongs or chopsticks, quickly shake off and place the chicken pieces evenly in the wok. Let sear 2 minutes, then flip using a wok shovel. Continue to sear for another 2 minutes. Cook until slightly crispy and golden. Remove and transfer to a clean plate.
Next, add 1 tbs. oil to the wok and add the aromatics, including the ginger, garlic and shallot. Quickly stir fry for 30 seconds until fragrant. Add the vegetables except for the scallion. Stir-fry for an additional 3-4 minutes until slightly charred.
Add the reserved sauce ingredients containing the oyster sauce, black soy sauce, ground black and Sichuan pepper and rice vinegar. Allow it to come to a boil and quickly continue to stir fry, about 30 seconds.
Add the chicken stock and the corn starch mixture. Stir and allow it to come to a rolling boil – reduce about one minute.
Quickly add the reserved chicken back to the wok, stir and add the chopped scallion. Remove from heat and serve immediately to retain the crispness of the vegetables.
NOTES: I use a 14-pound cast-iron wok from Lodge. I’ve had great success with this wok due to its even heating and ability to resist extremely high temperatures. With that said, from my experience it’s best used on an outdoor charcoal grill with a large mound of charcoal directly under the wok, set on the grilling grate. If cooking indoors, unless you have a high-output BTU ventilated gas range, you will not be able to achieve the same charred effect, known in Chinese as Wok-Hei, or Breath of the Wok. Intense, high heat is needed for authentic stir fry recipes. Anything else will stew the vegetables and meat instead of flash frying them, leaving you with an undesirable texture. The one exception to this rule concerns Thai curry dishes. I’ve had great success preparing them indoors using this wok, because a reasonably high boiling point is all that is needed.
Lastly, please use the best Asian ingredients you can find. If you skimp on quality, you will taste the difference.