Chicken has been a favorite food of mine for over half a century. Naturally it’s economical , but too, for me, that’s a side benefit; what I crave is its flavor when eaten in many guises and forms. Chicken rocks my palate, especially when mingled with other foods. Raised in a rather secluded and sheltered household, I never knew of all its great culinary benefits. In childhood I ate iconic fried chicken; I also distinctly recall peering over mom’s shoulder as she picked at the bones of simple boiled chicken for lunch, while she worked the New York Times crossword puzzle on Sundays. Mom didn’t eat much fried foods because of the calories it added to her svelte form. Coming from a poor family, I bet Mom ate chicken a lot in her childhood because it was inexpensive. She acquired a taste for it then, which got handed down to me and my three siblings. All of us love chicken. But still, growing up, I remember enjoying another form of chicken– chicken a-la-king. I bet it was a popular family dinner in the 1940s, 50s and 60s. I recall the cream sauce packed with veggies; maybe it was the times, but our chicken a-la-king always included pimentos. Mom was lucky to have afforded a maid who cooked for all of us, she’s the one who really turned me on to chicken back in the 1950s and 60s.
Back in the early 1970s when I first married, a cousin of mine gave me an old-fashioned, reliable chicken recipe that she had used with her family. I followed her recipe for decades. Cream of Mushroom soup was exceedingly popular back then. I mixed the can of soup with water, but that is just the start. Basically I used 2 1/4 cups of liquid, usually water, along with some or all of the cream of mushroom soup, plus one cup of long grain rice, always Uncle Ben’s. Whatever combination I used, to let the rice and liquid cook correctly, I stuck with the good balance of 2 1/4 cup liquid and one cup of rice. I mixed these together, put them in a 9 x 13 inch casserole dish, topped it with eight pieces of chicken, covered it tightly with aluminum foil and cooked it at 350 degrees for one hour. That was it. But in the last few decades I wanted to pump up the flavor of this chicken casserole, to make a more savory and satisfying meal. I grew bored with the same old same old. I discovered that adding small amounts of barbecue sauce, Italian dressing, soy sauce, and or Worcestershire sauce, plus a few spices, created something different. and delicious. My best recent discovery was cutting up several long chunks of carrots, celery and sometimes onion and slipping them into the rice and liquid mixture after the casserole had cooked for one half hour. I recovered the dish and cooked it for about another one half hour or until the carrots and veggies were nearly as soft as I like them. The fresh vegetables added a great new taste to my cousins chicken and rice dish.
From childhood, and the above chicken recipe from my cousin, were my introductions to cooking with chicken. Since then I’ve really gone hog wild cooking with chicken. I braise, sear, stir-fry, broil, roast, marinade and bake it and also use chicken in soups. My new cookbook has several recipes with chicken.
Here is a new recipe using a Wok. This mouthwatering dish tastes better than Chinese take-out! Serves 4-6
3 tablespoons soy sauce
4 teaspoons cornstarch
2 teaspoons honey
1 teaspoon sesame oil–toasted kind or not
1 1/2 pounds of skinless, boneless chicken breasts or thighs, cut in 1/2 to 1 inch pieces
4-5 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
3 Tablespoons Chinese Fermented Black Bean (comes in a jar) or, 2 tablespoons black beans, rinsed, drained, and chopped
5 garlic, minced
8 scallions, use white and green parts, cut in 2-inch pieces
2/3 cup chicken stock
2 Tablespoons dry sherry or Chinese rice wine
5 medium size shallots, each cut in thirds
1 red bell pepper, cut in 1/2 inch – 1 inch squares
1 green bell pepper, cut in 1/2 inch -1 inch squares
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 can water chestnuts, drained and sliced
1 Mix the marinade in a medium bowl until the cornstarch is dissolved. Add the chicken, toss gently. Sprinkle the salt over the chicken. Let stand for 20-30 minutes at room temperature.
2 Heat a wok over high heat until hot. Add 4 tablespoons of the oil and swirl it around to coat the sides of the wok. Add the chicken. Press the pieces gently on the bottom and sides. Let the chicken almost stick to the pan for about 2 minutes, maybe a tad more, until they turn slightly golden and sizzle some. Cover the pan during this time. Turn and or mix up the chicken, let the pieces stick to the pan again for about 1-2 minute, covered, adding more oil if needed. Uncover the pan and stir occasionally for 3-4 minutes as the chicken nearly cooks through on medium high heat. Add the garlic and black bean sauce or black beans, turn the heat down slightly. Cook, stirring occasionally for 2 minutes. Add the scallions and peppers, cook, stirring for 2-3 minutes as the vegetables brown slightly. Add the chicken stock and dry sherry. Stirring occasionally cook all ingredients for 3-5 minutes on medium heat as the vegetables become tender. Add the water chestnuts.
3 For a saucier dish, add another quarter cup of chicken broth. Reheat for a few more minutes. Check vegetables for tenderness. Turn the heat off and let the dish rest, covered for 3-5 minutes. Adjust seasonings and pass extra soy sauce around. Serve over long grain or jasmine white rice. Try noodles.