Kung Pao Chicken

My Facebook status last night read, “Is in the ‘recipe development’ zone.”  And indeed I was.  Unfortunately, neither of the recipes I’m developing have been actually, well, cooked.  Not to worry, they’re on the menu tonight, and you’ll get one of them tomorrow.  In the meantime, I was kind of bonking around in recipes I have actually cooked and found this one – and a very good one it is.

I don’t remember where I found the original recipe, which (as far as I can tell) was a fairly authentic version of Kung Pao Chicken.  The original recipe made use of cornstarch, soy sauce and vegetable oil and served over rice, so basically I tweaked it to eliminate those things I no longer eat, or eat very rarely – more or less a paleo version.  It’s also been quite awhile since I’ve made it, and looking over the recipe and photo I’m really wondering why because it’s delicious and fairly easy to make, despite the intimidating list of ingredients.

It’s interesting to note that for nearly 40 years, it was illegal to import Szechuan peppercorns to the U.S. because they were thought to carry citrus canker, a tree disease that can potentially harm citrus crops.  However, the ban was lifted in 2005 when new processing methods helped eliminate the threat and they are now available in this country.  Having said that, I’ve never seen them in any store, not even our tiny local Asian market, so while they are included in this recipe, their use it optional.  If you insist on authenticity, you can purchase Szechuan peppercorns online; of course, if you insist on authenticity it’s unlikely you’ll be making this version any time soon. 😛

Kung Pao Chicken

Kung Pao Chicken

serves 4

3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, 4 to 6 ounces each

Marinade:
2 teaspoons tamari or wheat-free soy sauce
2 teaspoons Chinese rice wine or dry sherry
1 teaspoon sesame oil
2 teaspoons arrowroot powder

Sauce:
2 tablespoons tamari or wheat-free soy sauce
1 tablespoon Chinese rice wine or dry sherry
1 teaspoon raw honey

Other:
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes, or to taste
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
2 green onions, whites and tops, chopped
2 carrots, peeled and thinly sliced on the bias
1 green bell pepper, seeded and cut into 1″ pieces
2 stalks celery, sliced
3 tablespoons coconut oil
1 teaspoon Szechuan peppercorns, optional
1/2 cup cashews
a few drops sesame oil, optional

Cut the chicken into 1-inch cubes. Combine with the marinade ingredients, adding the arrowroot last. Marinate the chicken for 25 minutes.

While the chicken is marinating, prepare the vegetables and sauce: In a small bowl, combine the dark soy sauce, rice wine, and honey. Set aside.

Heat the wok over medium-high to high heat. Add 2 tablespoons oil. When the oil is hot, add the chicken. Stir-fry until it turns white but still slightly pink in the center. Remove from the wok.

Add 2 tablespoons oil. When the oil is hot, add the garlic and stir-fry until aromatic (about 30 seconds). Add the vegetables, red pepper flakes and the Szechuan peppercorns if using. Stir-fry briskly until the vegetables are tender-crisp, about 2 minutes.

Add the sauce to the wok. Bring to a boil. Add the chicken back into the pan. Stir in the cashews and the green onion, and continue stir-frying until the chicken is completely cooked through, another 30 seconds or so. Remove from the heat and stir in the sesame oil. Serve hot.

Nutrition (per serving): 459 calories, 24.2g total fat, 113.3mg cholesterol, 927.5mg sodium, 1069.6mg potassium, 17g carbohydrates, 3.1g fiber, 5.9g sugar, 42.6g protein.

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Posted in participation of Kelly the Kitchen Kop’s Real Food Wednesday

Beef and Green Bean Stir Fry

I don’t get to read as much as I’d like these days – blogs being the exception, of course.  However, I’m slowly but surely making my way through Good Calories, Bad Calories by Gary Taubes (there’s a picture of a piece of toast topped with a pat of butter on the cover; I love it) and have read the introductions to The Revolution Will Not Be Microwaved and Everything I Want To Do Is Illegal.  So while I’m appalled at the history behind how we’ve been convinced following a government-sanctioned diet is the right thing to do and alternately delighted by the thought that “eating well has become an act of civil disobedience” I am struggling with what to write about for my next Fight Back Friday post.  Do I continue with the ills of vegetable oils and segue into healthy animal fats, or do I jump into the fray that is the debate over raw milk?

I’m open to suggestions.

In the meantime, I give you this recipe for Beef and Green Bean Stir Fry.  Normally, my stir fries are of the “grab a bunch of stuff, hurl it in a pan and pray” variety; not so this one.  This one, in fact, is a huge pain in the tookus to prepare, but it is oh, so very good that it’s worth it (even if I only make it two or three times a year).  Based on a recipe by Barbara Fisher at her now-abandoned blog Tigers & Strawberries, it employs a method called “dry frying” which confuses me, because there’s nothing “dry” about it.  Dry frying involves frying thin strips of beef in “a moderate amount of oil” (or in my case, rendered beef tallow) for an extended period, cooking most of the moisture out of it – perhaps that’s why it’s referred to as dry?

Beats me – all I know is that the method of cooking gives a marvelous chewy texture and absolutely wonderful, well, beefy flavor.  Add to that some fresh green beans that are cooked in the beef-flavored fat for an extended period, leaving them with a wonderfully soft texture in contrast to the chewy beef, the addition of fresh ginger and other vegetables cut into matchstick-size pieces thrown in at the last minute and a spicy, savory “sauce” and you have what I consider to be the best darn stir-fry I’ve ever tasted.

The original recipe (Barbara is a professional chef, btw) calls for Sichuan chili bean paste, which I don’t normally keep on hand so I used red curry paste, which I always have on hand; she also uses Sichuan peppercorns and fresh chili peppers, something else I didn’t have when I made this last night, so I used dried pepper flakes and regular black peppercorns.  I throw in different vegetables, depending on what I have in the kitchen, although carrots and fresh ginger are a must as far as I’m concerned; last night I seeded and cut a lone yellow summer squash into little matchstick-sized pieces and slivered a good-size shallot because that’s what I had on hand.

You can, of course, serve this over steamed rice – I’ve tossed in cooked rice noodles before – but it is just fine on it’s own.

Note:  Shao Hsing wine is a Chinese cooking wine; you can find it in most Asian markets.  Barbara also warns to be cautious of flare-ups from drops of oil igniting or that the wine may catch fire while adding it to the wok but I’ve never had that happen.  Which is kind of disappointing.  It could be that I’m just not doing it right.

Beef and Green Been Stir Fry

Serves 4 to 6

1 lb. top round or flank steak cut into slices, then into thin strips

1/3 cup melted tallow, lard or vegetable oil

2/3 pound green beans, trimmed and cut into 2″ pieces

1/4 cup Shao Hsing wine or dry sherry

2 tablespoons red curry paste

pinch of salt

1 large shallot, peeled and slivered

1 two-inch piece of ginger, peeled and slivered

4 cloves of garlic, minced

1/4 teaspoon dried pepper flakes (optional)

2 carrots, peeled and cut into matchstick-size pieces

1 yellow summer squash, seeded and cut into matchstick-size pieces

1 tablespoon black peppercorns, crushed

1 tablespoon tamari or wheat-free soy sauce

Heat your wok or large, heavy skillet over high heat until it until it begins to smoke. Add your fat or oil and heat for about a minute; add the beef.  Cook, stirring continuously, for about ten minutes; the fat/oil will become cloudy with the moisture from the beef.  Keep cooking until the moisture evaporates and the fat/oil becomes clear again and the meat sizzles and browns.

Remove the beef with a slotted spoon and set aside on a plate.

Add the green beans and cook, stirring continuously, until they are wrinkled and browned and becoming soft.  Add the beef back to the wok or skillet, and stir to combine.  Drizzle wine carefully around outer edge of wok or skillet, and stir. (It’s at this point that Barbara warns that the wine may catch fire; she says this is fine, just be prepared for it and stay out of the way of the flames – they should die down fairly quickly as the alcohol burns off.)

Add the curry paste and stir it into the beef/green bean mixture until it becomes nice and fragrant.  Add the salt, shallot, ginger, garlic and pepper flakes; stir fry, tossing it all about vigorously inside the wok or skillet. Add the carrots and squash and stir fry about another minute longer. Add soy sauce and peppercorns and stir fry for another minute.  Turn out onto a platter and serve (with steamed rice, if desired) immediately.

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Beef and Green Bean Stir Fry on Foodista