So, when I was a kid we would, from time to time, make a trip to a local Chinese food place. This was before the days of P. F. Chang, and gluten and basically everything. Once I was old enough to drive, it wouldn’t be unheard of for me to go to the same place and get the same thing. OK, there were several places I might go, but I almost always ended up with the same dish until I was in my 20’s. Sweet and Sour Chicken or pork depending on my mood… After that, I might go wild and have General Tso’s Chicken, but the Sweet and Sour was always there as a possibility. This pattern continued in college once I found the appropriate Chinese restaurant in town. My favorite had a fountain in the dining room… and many interesting evenings were spent there with friends.
Now, since going gluten-free my options for Chinese food are a lot more limited. That makes me sad, because I always loved it. Realistically, I know that this kind of thing is something I am easily capable of doing, but I never really tried it until today. Next time I might make a few adjustments, but it was good, and pretty close to what I expected. I’m pretty sure it is not particularly a traditional Chinese dish, but it is how I was exposed to Chinese food, and I would imagine I am not the only one.
I found this recipe in a book called Chinese Cooking The Food and the Lifestyleand, then adjusted it slightly to make it safe and also to use what I had or could buy.
2 Tablespoons of soy sauce (I used San-J gluten-free tamari.)
1 Tablespoon of sake (I know, sake is Japanese. Chinese rice wines are harder to find!)
1 Tablespoon vegetable oil or sesame oil
Just put the chicken in a bowl and toss with this mixture and allow to sit for 30 minutes or so. The chicken won’t get breaded like we all always had before, but it is fine. You could make a tempura batter with rice flour and deep fry it if you just have to have that element. Trust me though, this is good, and probably healthier! If you do make the tempura you’ll need to drain the chicken and then try to get it as dry as possible. Otherwise the batter won’t stick.
1/2 cup rice vinegar
1/4 cup sugar
6 Tablespoons ketchup
2 Tablespoons soy sauce (Again, San-J GF tamari)
Heat the vinegar and sugar in a small pot until the sugar is dissolved. Add the ketchup and soy sauce, and mix well.
Next we’ll deal with the veggies.
1 small onion cut in large dice 3/4″ across or so
1 or 2 carrots thinly sliced on the bias
1 bell pepper cut the same size as the onion
In a second bowl
3 green onions finely sliced
1 clove garlic minced
So, now we can put the whole thing together! Heat vegetable oil in a large skillet or if you have a wok use it! Saute the chicken in the large skillet until it is nearly cooked through, and remove from the pan. Wipe it clean and add a little more oil. Then saute the ginger, scallions and garlic until fragrant. This might take a minute. Add the rest of the veggies and saute them until they start getting tender. Return the chicken to the pan, and cook until the chicken is cooked through. Then add the sauce to the pan. Serve over rice and enjoy your trip down memory lane! I know I wish I had some chopsticks!
As far as my food preferences go I tend to like spicy food, although not all the time. One of my favorite things before going gluten-free was to go get Chinese at one of several local carry-out places. One of my go to dishes was General T’so’s chicken, spicy, and sweet is one of the flavor combinations that I really dig. As we know, Chinese food is generally off limits due to soy sauce. Needless to say, I was bummed. PF Chang’s and its sister Pei Wei have made our lives a little easier as far as Chinese carry-out. After trying the Spicy chicken at Pei Wei I decided I had found a suitable replacement for General T’so! Not quite the same, but it will do. After a few trips I recently realized that not only did I like it, but I was pretty sure I could come up with my own version for a lot less money, and cut out the trip.
This is going to be a bit of a multi-step thing, but they are easy. First thing you need to do is make your sauce. For most cuisines there are sort of base flavors that are commonly used. If you look at a lot of recipes of French dishes you will spot mirepoix which is simply 2 parts onion diced, and then one part each of celery and carrots. This becomes the trinity in cajun cooking be replacing the carrots with green peppers. Lemongrass and galangal are common in Thai dishes, and in Chinese garlic and ginger. I took the garlic and ginger as a base flavor, and built my sauce from there. Here’s what I came up with:
1 1/4 cup orange juice + lime juice to bring the total to 1 1/3 cup
1 TBSP sambal
1 TBSP honey
1 clove ginger crushed
1 quarter inch thick slice of ginger root
Place everything in a pot, and bring it up to a boil. Then take 1 TBSP of corn starch, and combine with enough orange juice to make a slurry. With the pot still boiling add the slurry while whisking. You don’t want clumps so, be sure you are mixing it while you pour. Remove it from the heat, and cool. Keep this in the fridge till you are ready to finish the dish. Really, that was it!
The next thing I did was get all of the other ingredients prepped. I had four chicken breasts, because I wanted leftovers for lunch for the next few days at work. I also had some broccoli, carrot, and yellow bell pepper. The chicken was cut into bite sized cubes, the broccoli I cut into florets, and the yellow pepper and carrot I sliced thinly.
From here this dish came together pretty much like my last stir-fry chicken post. Start with the chicken, and sauté until cooked nearly through. Then add the veggies, and cook until they are tender. Add the sauce to the pan, and stir to combine, and coat everything. Serve over rice, and enjoy! If you are looking for a vegetarian dish, substitute tofu for the chicken, but remember to get the firmest you can otherwise it will break up while you try to sauté it.
A little bit of analysis: Dinner was very tasty, but… not quite right. It was fairly mild, and not quite sweet enough. It was also not quite thick enough. I still have about half the sauce left, and I think my next step will be to add a bit more honey, sambal, and thicken the sauce a little bit more. It was fun to take a shot at reverse engineering a recipe from only tasting eating it. I’m on the right path, so I’ll keep going a little further. This was a little bit of a challenge just due to the fact that there is a fair amount going on in the sauce.
I hope that my experiment inspires you to see what you can do in the kitchen. All it takes is paying attention to what you are eating, and taking a shot at replicating what you taste. Remember that there is more to what you eat than just the taste. There is flavor, scent, and texture. See how close you can get!
If there is anything you would like me to take a shot at reply here, and I’ll see what I can do. I’d love to hear from you guys!