October 17, 2010

A Chinese Feast, Featuring General Tso's Chicken

Hot and Sour Soup, General Tso's Chicken, Quick Broccoli Stir-Fry, Rice
Yesterday's lunch consisted of three Chinese dishes.  The centerpiece of the meal was the Chinese standard, General Tso's Chicken.   I also made Hot and Sour Soup, and for purposes of having a more nutritionally-rounded meal, I also made up a quick broccoli stir fry of my own creation.   All in all, we were pretty happy with the meal, and we both thought the chicken was just plain outstanding (5 stars, definitely). 

The recipe I used for General Tso's chicken was yet another I took from the America's Test Kitchen Special Collector's Collector's Edition Best-Ever Recipes, though it had originally appeared in an issue of Cook's Country.  Simply put, it worked perfectly.  Moist, perfectly-cooked bits of chicken were blanketed in a crunchy, flavorful coating and covered with a flavorful, tangy sauce.  It was everything one could want from this dish, and was honestly the best version of General Tso's Chicken I've ever eaten.  We'll definitely be making this one again soon.

General Tso's Chicken
Before we ate the Chicken, though, we had a bowl of Hot and Sour Soup.   Done right, this is probably my favorite Chinese soup, but I've had it done badly - watery, lumpy, vinegary, you name it - a lot more often than I've had it done well.  The recipe we used was taken from The Best Recipe Soups and Stews, a book by the Cook's Illustrated editors (it has been replaced by Soups, Stews & Chilis).  I deviated a bit from the recipe, in that I used both shitake and wood ear mushrooms, but otherwise made it as written.  The overall result was quite good, though not as knock-your-socks-off wonderful as the chicken.  This was a heartier version of the soup than you will usually find in a restaurant, with lots of thin slices of mushrooms and pork, and it featured a nice balance of all the flavors.  The only thing we didn't like about it was that one ingredient - Worcestershire sauce - stood out too strongly.  That bothered me less than it did Juli, and it didn't prevent either of us from enjoying the soup, but if I make this one again, I plan to cut down the amount of Worcestershire.
Hot and Sour Soup
We also had a quick stir-fry I'd tossed into the mix just because I wanted more in the way of vegetables.  It really wasn't meant to stand on its own, and some might find it a bit bland, but it is a very basic recipe, able to serve its purpose as a side dish but also amenable to a lot of customization.  I offer the recipe below; feel free to do with it as you will, and if someone comes up with a great variation of this one, please share.

Quick Broccoli Stir-Fry

2        teaspoons corn starch
2        teaspoons water
1 1/2  tablespoons peanut oil
1        teaspoon Asian sesame oil
1 1/2  teaspoons minced garlic
1        teaspoon grated ginger
4        green onions (white parts only), thinly sliced
3        cups fresh broccoli florets
1/2     teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/2     cup chicken broth
1        tablespoon soy sauce

Using a spoon, mix corn starch and water in a small bowl until the corn starch dissolves.  Set aside, leaving the spoon in the bowl with the corn starch mixture.

Heat the oils in a wok or large skillet on medium.  When the oil is shimmering, add the ginger and garlic and stir-fry for about 30 seconds.  Add the sliced green onions and fry one minute, then add the broccoli, red pepper flakes, chicken broth and soy sauce.   Stir-fry until the broccoli is nearly at the desired level of firmness, adding some additional chicken broth or water as needed to maintain at least 1/4 cup of liquid. 

Stir the cornstarch mixture again and add to the wok.  Stir-fry until the sauce thickens and serve.

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