As part of my ongoing attempt to widen my children’s food horizons, I make dishes from their own heritage including something which my son calls “Chinese Chicken”. No, it’s not made with scary emaciated chicken or the “black” chicken that you buy at the back of a Chinese grocery store … it’s simply a garlicky chicken stir-fry flavoured with Chinese seasonings and served on rice. Keagan loves this dish … minus the broccoli … heaven forbid there’s even a speck of green on his plate! When I told him what I was making the other night, he said “Yay!”. Now that’s music to my ears because even minus the broccoli, I find this to be a slightly healthier alternative to pan-fried chicken strips (even though they’re homemade) and a lot less work! Plus, I want my children to love and eat authentic Chinese food … no “moo goo gai pan” or “sweet and sour chicken balls” for these kids (at least not for another few years)! The only concession I do make to their father’s “gwai lo” heritage is that they can put soy sauce (or “see yow”) on their rice … but never butter … NEVER!!! (as my daughter, Caite, has recently started to say with the conviction and passion that only a 4-year old has!).
Caite has started eating this as well … a huge breakthrough since prior to this it was all about ground meat or paper-thin sliced deli meat. I make sure her chicken is heavily sauced when I serve it and the garlicky flavour is also a great help! Still, she won’t eat the rice which is a disappointment for me … a real “fahn toong” (Cantonese for “rice vat” or someone who loves to eat rice). Despite what some may believe, not all Chinese people like rice … my own mom is a case in point. It seems like the further south you live, the more you like rice. The further north you live, the more you like noodles (especially served in broth). So, when my northern-ish mom married my Cantonese father, my father’s wishes (as with all “good” Chinese patriarchal families) won out. We had soup, rice, meat and veg every single night – sometimes 2 or 3 dishes each night … and all cooked by my working mom between 5:15 and 6PM! I have no idea how she did it. So, I grew up on rice and loved it to the point that when I started dating my husband, Jim, I went through rice withdrawal because he couldn’t eat rice more than once a week – ack! By the same token, I couldn’t eat potatoes (boiled/baked/mashed) more than once a week either (gack!), so we compromised by eating A LOT of pasta!
This dish is typical of what my mom would have made for dinner when I was growing up and I don’t really have a recipe for this … it’s just one of those things you learn to make through memory (look and smell) and experimentation. However, if I were to write it down, it might look something like this but all measurements are highly approximate! As my husband will tell you, I am spatially challenged, so to follow these measurements to the letter would be at your own “risk”! Best to smell the seasoned meat (before cooking) to see if any one “note” is coming out (which it shouldn’t, especially not the sesame oil which is quite overpowering) and then taste throughout the cooking process. Or come over to my place and I’ll cook and you can measure!
About 1 lb Chicken Breast
3/4 tsp Sugar
1/2 to 3/4 tsp Black Pepper (you could also substitute with some sriracha sauce, sambal oelek, or other chili sauce)
1-1/2 to 2 tbsp Soy sauce
3/4 to 1 tsp Sesame Oil
2 tsp Cooking Wine
1 tbsp Corn Starch
Broccoli (as much or as little as you want!)
1 tbsp Cooking Oil (not olive oil)
3 to 4 cloves garlic, smashed
2 to 3 tbsp Oyster sauce
Extra corn starch (to thicken sauce)
Thinly slice the chicken breast (I usually partially freeze or partially defrost the chicken which makes it easier to slice). Add the sugar, pepper, sesame oil, cooking wine and soy sauce and stir to mix well with the chicken. Add the corn starch and mix well again. The corn starch tenderizes the meat and also creates a thickener for the sauce. Let sit for a minimum of 10 minutes but no longer than 1 hour.
In the meantime, cut the broccoli into little bite-size florets (I use the stalks, too!) and blanch them in a little boiling salted water for about 2 minutes or until they turn a brilliant green. Cool immediately in an ice water bath, drain, squeeze out the excess water and then set aside. Sometimes, I “pan dry” the broccoli by simply tossing them in a dry, hot pan until they almost stop sizzling.
Heat the oil in a pan over moderately high heat and add the garlic until it starts to sizzle and the oil becomes fragrant with the garlic. Add the chicken to the pan and stir-fry until all the chicken is cooked. Add the oyster sauce and make sure it’s blended in well with the chicken. Add water until you have as much liquid/sauce as you want. If the flavour is a little thin, add more oyster sauce. If the flavour is too heavy or too salty, add more water. Create a corn starch slurry (corn starch mixed with a little bit of water), bring the liquid to a boil and mix the slurry into the boiling liquid a little at a time (making sure that the liquid comes back to the boil each time) until you reach your desired thickness of sauce. Taste for flavouring again. Turn off the heat and then stir in the broccoli being sure to coat it in the sauce (note that this will “soak up” some of your sauce, so don’t worry if you have more sauce than you think you’ll need). Serve over jasmine rice and be sure NOT to serve the garlic … they look a lot like pieces of chicken … I know this from experience!
* PS. In case you’re wondering about the title … I’m a huge Barenaked Ladies fan and that’s part of a verse from their hit song, One Week: “Chickity China, the Chinese chicken, You have a drumstick and your brain starts tickin’. Watching X-Files with no lights on, We’re dans la maison, I hope the Smoking Man’s in this one”. I hope I’m not in copyright infringement! If a Lady is reading this … I love you guys and come to my place for dinner … I’ll cook my way out of the infringement!