Greasy Chinese (or any Asian cuisine) takeout is one of my all-time favorite treats. I love all of the dishes in the same order that they’re bad for me, the worst ones, of course, being my favorite. General Tso’s chicken, sesame beef and broccoli, curries, Peking ravioli, hot and sour soup, crab rangoon (though I’ve only maybe once eaten one of these with actual crab in it), any kind of crispy (read: ‘fried’) spring roll or dumpling…YUM! Other than the oil, salt, and sugar many dishes are laden with, the spice factor is one of my favorite parts — it adds the perfect extra dimension to the heaviness of these favorites. Mexican cuisine is my favorite go-to, something I’m always in the mood for. My relationship with Asian cuisine is slightly different, in that I’m not constantly craving it, but when I do, watch out — I’ve GOT to have it.
Most members of my family are passionate about food and cooking, and my Aunt Susie is no exception — this is a very slight twist on her incredible stir-fry recipe. The first time I tried it, I was instantly hooked. It’s seriously perfect — you get that same satisfaction of take out — all of the hot, sweet, sour, savory flavors, but you can control everything that goes in and therefore tailor it to your exact taste. The sauce is the key to this recipe and really, every ingredient in it can be increased or decreased, or eliminated all together (or add more components!). I’ve posted the measurements that I use, but go nuts…it’s simple and everything in the dish can be interchanged.
My favorite combo of meat and veggie for this stir-fry is broccoli and chicken. Auntie’s is asparagus and chicken. Kyle suggested I throw in carrots and snow peas along with the broccoli, and it was excellent. Go in any direction here — onions, peppers, bamboo shoots — you really can get creative.
Begin with some boneless, skinless chicken breasts. One large breast is plenty to feed two hungry people. Cut the chicken into bite-sized pieces. Throw the pieces in a bowl and sprinkle liberally with soy sauce and sesame oil. Mix around so all pieces are coated and let this sit while you prep the other ingredients.
Now, cut up your veggies of choice. Again, bite-sized pieces are ideal. Along with the veggies you’ll also want to finely chop a big clove of garlic and a good chunk of fresh ginger (in size equal to the clove of garlic or bigger). For garnish later, slice a few scallions, and if you’re into spice, a Serrano pepper or two.
For the sauce, I add all of the ingredients to a Mason jar and just shake it up. So easy! Throw in the garlic and ginger you just chopped, chicken stock, soy sauce, black bean/garlic sauce (easy to find in any grocery store in the international foods aisle), sesame oil, brown sugar, a splash of water, and cornstarch (this is the magic ingredient that will turn the cloudy, runny mixture into a thick, shiny, glaze-like sauce — reminiscent of, but better than, what you’ll find in takeout Chinese dishes). There’s one final ingredient, but it’s not as accessible as the others. In fact, Aunt Susie sends this to me all the way from San Francisco, along with a few other sauces I became addicted to while living there. One of many great Chinese food restaurants in SF, called Henry’s Hunan, bottles their own chili flakes and fermented black beans in a spicy oil. It’s absolutely to die for. I have to ration mine at home because it’s such a commodity. I’ll bet you could find something similar — if not, fine to skip it, or just add some red chili flakes (the same kind you’d put on your pizza). Screw the top on and shake away. Done!
I’m told the key to stir-frying properly is to cook everything quickly over a very high heat. Kyle and I have been looking for a good wok but haven’t found one yet (at least not in our price range). This is the ideal way to cook a stir-fry, as all of the heat is concentrated to the bottom of the pan. Until I own a wok, I’ll use a cast iron skillet for its excellent even-heating properties. It also gives the ingredients a nice color.
Get your pan super-hot and add some vegetable oil. Once this has heated up, throw in your chicken pieces. You want to make sure the chicken browns slightly, and there are a few tricks to this. First, the pan should be very, very hot. Second, make sure your chicken is in a single layer in the pan. If you have more than that, cook it in two batches, otherwise, it could steam before it sautés. My Dad is so good about this rule that he actually cooks each serving of stir-fry separately. I have the best memories of waiting for it to be my turn when Dad would cook this during my childhood years. His is a Schezuan-style stir-fry and absolutely amazing — I’ll have to share that recipe sometime, too.
Once you get the chicken in the pan, let it go a few minutes to really get some golden-brown color. Then, using a wooden spoon, stir it around to expose the raw sides of each piece to the pan. I’d say in total you’ll want to cook it for about 4 – 6 minutes, depending on the size of your chicken pieces. Once it’s done, dump it into a bowl and add a little more vegetable oil to your pan.
Throw your veggies in and repeat the process — give them a minute or two to get some color and then stir. After 2 minutes or so, throw the chicken back into the pan and stir everything together. Now comes the fun part.
Push all of the chicken and veggies to one side of the pan (leaving a good amount of open pan surface), or, if using a wok, take the veggies out and leave them aside with the chicken, so that you’re left with an empty wok. Grab your Mason jar and be sure to shake again, vigorously — the cornstarch likes to stick to the bottom. Once you’re confident everything is thoroughly mixed, pour your sauce mixture into the pan (still on high heat).
Right before your eyes, the liquid will begin to bubble and become dark and glossy. Mix as it bubbles with a wooden spoon to keep it moving and to avoid super hot patches that could burn the sugar. Once all of the sauce has pulled together (about a minute) push the veggies and chicken into it and stir to coat everything (if using wok, dump all ingredients back in and stir to combine). Let everything reheat through and combine for a good minute or so.
Serve immediately over rice or noodles. Although I prefer noodles over rice in general, rice is ideal here for soaking up all of the delicious sauce. Either way works though.
Garnish with the scallions and Serranos, and, the perfect final touch…roasted peanuts or cashews! I promise you won’t miss the restaurant version…this has it ALL. The first time I made it, I knew I’d have to spend a bit more money than usual on groceries, since I didn’t already have a few of the ingredients. But trust me, it is a worth-while investment…this is a great weeknight go-to and an excellent base recipe to experiment with different meats and veggies. Someday I’d like to try deep-frying dark meat chicken before coating it in sauce (à la General Tso)…but for now I’ll stick to this; a truly mouth-watering, healthier, and more flavorful alternative to the deliciousness that is Chinese takeout. All that’s missing is the white cardboard box…and a few empty calories. 😉
Ingredients list (for 2 hungry-sized servings):
- 1/3 cup chicken stock
- 3 tbsp. soy sauce
- 1 1/2 tbsp. of black bean/garlic sauce
- 1 1/2 tbsp. of Henry’s Hunan crushed chili sauce (or 1 tsp. dried red chili flake)
- 1 1/2 tsp. sesame oil
- 2 tbsp. brown sugar
- 2 tsp. cornstarch
- Splash of water
- 1 large clove of garlic, minced finely
- 1 sq.-inch piece of ginger, minced finely
- 1 large boneless, skinless chicken breast
- Sprinkle of soy sauce
- Sprinkle of sesame oil
- 2 cups broccoli (if frozen, let it thaw)
- 1 large carrot, sliced into coins, or julienned
- 1 handful snow peas
- 2 scallions, chopped
- 1 Serrano pepper, sliced thinly
- Handful of roasted peanuts or cashews
- Vegetable oil for cooking
I’d love to hear more winning meat/veggie combos, so please do share! Hope you guys love this, and thank you a million times to my talented Auntie for this recipe and for bringing a little bit of San Francisco into my kitchen via sauce and stir-fry! I love her.