October 07, 2010

Blast From the Past

Tonight, for the first time in several years, I prepared what might be the very first original recipe I ever came up with.  Or, the first successful one, anyway.  I vaguely recall some earlier attempts at curries that went badly enough to put me off trying again for years, not to mention a couple of barbecue disasters. 

Anyhow, I used to make this recipe all the time,  tinkering with it a bit over the years, but I eventually got a bit tired of it, and as I started cooking less often, it didn't maintain its place among my staple recipes.   A few weeks ago, while going through a binder full of old recipes - both original ones and ones I'd collected from various sources over the years - I ran across it.  I'd been looking for something else entirely, and quickly returned to my search, but since then this recipe has been on my mind a fair bit. 

One thing unusual about this dish - for me anyhow - is that it is cooked entirely in the microwave.  Generally, I use the microwave for melting or warming things up more than I do for cooking, but this recipe is an exception.  I designed it specifically to be fast, and it is.   If you start the rice right after mixing the chicken with the other ingredients, preparing this dish takes less than an hour, from start to finish.

Having made it tonight, I remember now why this recipe has withstood the test of time, and why I used to make it all the time.  The chicken is moist and juicy, the thick sauce is both sweet and spicy and contains delightful bits of garlic and the occasional bit of intense heat provided by a bit of the chili peppers, and the peas provide variety to the texture and flavor of the dish, as well as a needed dash of color. 

I'm going to be careful to not make this too frequently, in order to not get tired of it again, but I suspect I'll be making another batch sooner rather than later.

Spicy Szechuan-Style Chicken with Cashews

yield  = 4 servings

1/4  cup soy sauce
1     tablespoon cornstarch
1     tablespoon sugar
2     teaspoons minced garlic
1     teaspoon grated ginger
1     teaspoon Asian sesame oil
1     pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite-size pieces
3-5 dried red chili peppers (preferably Szechuan, though other Asian peppers will do), broken in half
1     tablespoon peanut oil
1 1/2 cup frozen (or thawed) green peas
1/2  cup unsalted cashews (whole or halves)

In a large, microwave-safe bowl, dissolve the cornstarch in the soy sauce.  Add sugar, minced ginger, grated garlic, and sesame oil and stir.  Add the cut-up chicken breasts and the dried chili peppers (3 to 5, depending on how hot you want the dish to be; I usually use 4).  Stir thoroughly, then cover and let sit 30 minutes.

Add 1 tablespoon peanut bowl to a glass or ceramic casserole dish with lid.  Swish it around in the casserole to lightly coat the bottom and an inch or so up the sides, then add the chicken mixture, cover and microwave on High 3 minutes.  Add the peas, stir and cook another 4 minutes.  Stir again and cook for 2-3 more minutes or until the chicken is cooked through.

Remove from microwave.  Let sit, covered, 5 minutes, then sprinkle with cashews and serve with rice. 

Options:  Substitute the peas for broccoli florets, spinach or green beans, adjusting cooking time accordingly, or top with peanuts instead of cashews. 

Note:   Most people don't eat the large chunks of dried red chili peppers, and much as I like spicy food, I really can't recommend you eat them, either.  The occasional chunk or seed that ends up in the sauce provides more than enough heat.

It's also noting that while this recipe is inspired by Szechuan cuisine, I make no claim to it being an authentic Szechuan recipe.  While it would be more accurate to call it Spicy Szechuan-Inspired Chicken with Cashews, that sounds awkward.  This dish may not be traditionally Chinese, but then neither are Chow Mein, or any version of Kung Pao Chicken familiar to most Americans, or any number of other dishes common to Chinese restaurants in North America. 

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