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21st November
2008
written by Steph
I was recently in Chicago for a conference (I'm kind of composing a post on the topic (of Chicago, not the conference, which can really be summed up with the following descriptor: "Grade 4 Science Fair"), but who knows if I'll actually decide to post it), and one of the highlights of the trip was trekking out to China Town (this time 100% gunshot free!) to grab some authentic Chinese food. Chinese food is fairly difficult to come by here in Nashville - well, let me qualify that by saying that *good* Chinese food is hard to find here. Japanese? Sure (in fact the best sushi I've ever had has been here in town)! Thai? Middling, but serviceable. Korean? Yup. But Chinese? No dice. So when I'm in a city that does have it (and better yet, has dim sum!)? I'm all over it. Anyway, I had super cheap, but super delicious beef with black bean sauce over rice noodles, and the first bite was gustatory heaven. It sounds like a terrible comparison, but it rocketed me back to the summer between my 2nd and 3rd years of undergrad, when I was technically a full-time student because of all the courses I was taking, meaning I was on campus 4 nights a week, over the dinner hour. Every so often, I would get dinner from the Chinese food truck that parked outside of Sid Smith, and get that very dish. So smoky, a hint of grease (but not oily), and beef so succulent and tender, I assumed it could only be achieved by a much more skilled chef than I. Which brings me to tonight, when I decided to whip together a cashew chicken stirfry for dinner. I think I make a decent stirfry, but I always feel like it tastes homemade rather than authentic. Tonight, all of this changed, when I discovered two important secrets:
  1. Have your wok (or pan... but a wok is better) fiery hot - hot enough so that the oil is smoking; to give you a reference, when I dumped in my onions and red peppers, the skin on the peppers began to scorch in about 10 seconds, and this is with my constantly moving things about... the smell was that smoky bouquet that categorizes good Chinese food
  2. And this is the most important: marinate your chicken (or whatever protein you're using) in BAKING SODA for about 15 minutes before you start cooking (of course, rinse the meat thoroughly before cooking). I did this, and then marinated it in some cornstarch mixed with mirin for an additional 15 minutes before tossing it in the pan, and it made all the difference! Right after rinsing off the baking soda, I could tell by touch that the texture of the chicken was different... when I finally bit into it, I couldn't believe how ridiculously tender it was! Try it and be amazed! If you've ever wondered why Chinese dishes always have ridiculously silky meat, wonder no more! You too can achieve this in your own kitchen and feel like the MacGuyver of cooking while doing so!
All in all, the rice is what took the longest to cook. Not including the marinating time, I pulled together the stirfry in about 10 minutes, tops. After ensuring my wok was hot, I tossed my cubed chicken into the pan, and cooked it partway through. Then I removed it, and tossed in my diced veggies, and once they seemed partially cooked (about 2 minutes) tossed in the cashews and the chicken once more. I then added a simple blend of soy sauce, oyster sauce, water, pepper, sugar, & salt, and stirred constantly while waiting for the chicken to cook through all the way*. It smelled exactly right, and tasted like it had come out of the back of a Toronto food truck. 😉 I urge you to try this the next time you do a stirfry. I'm sorry I didn't take a picture, but we dug in immediately, but I eagerly anticipate making my next one, so perhaps there is a chance for a do-over on the horizon. For a more in depth look at the actual recipe I used, check out this page on Rasa Malaysia, which is my new go-to when it comes to easy and authentic Asian cooking!

No Comments

  1. Simona
    11/22/2008

    I’m going to be completely full of myself for a moment here and assume that my comment from a couple days ago actually worked!

    Excellent suggestions… I’m going to have to try making this myself. So baking soda is the secret, you say? Interesting. I never would have thought of that, and frankly, even now that I know that it still doesn’t make sense to me.

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