Wednesday, February 16, 2011

CSA week ten - Jirou chao qincai

That's chicken and celery stir fry in English.

This recipe comes from Beijing chef Deng Haiyan via the Saveur website (and an article in the paper magazine at some point I presume). It's a pretty basic and straightforward Chinese recipe adjusted to accommodate the American kitchen and further mangled by my own contributions.

2 chicken thighs (or breasts), deskinned, deboned and sliced thin (freezing briefly helps a lot here)
1 egg white
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1/2-inch piece of ginger, finely chopped
1 leek, halved, cleaned and julienned
5 ribs celery, cut into 1/4-inch slices
1 1/2 Tablespoon soy sauce
a little more seasoning of your choice. I used 1 Tablespoon chui chow chili oil
3 Tablespoons canola or other high smokepoint oil

1. Mix the chicken, egg white and cornstarch. Let sit 10 minutes. [Doesn't that look tasty?]

2. Meanwhile, while chopping the celery, wince at the fibrous toughness of the stalks, remember why everyone hates celery, say "screw this" and harvest a whole bunch of celery leaves instead.

3. Heat a flat-bottomed wok over high heat until smoking. Heat a while longer. Add 2 Tablespoons oil. Swirl it about then add the chicken along with the egg white mixture. Stir fry until the chicken becomes opaque, approximately 2 minutes. Remove to a plate. [It doesn't look any better cooked, does it?]

4. Add the remaining 1 Tablespoon oil to the wok. Swirl it about then add the ginger and leek. Cook briefly until you can smell the leek as well as the ginger, approximately 30 seconds. Add the celery. Cook until it wilts down and you think, maybe, you can smell celery too, approximately 2 minutes.

5. Return the chicken and add the soy sauce and, as the reviews of this recipe all agreed that it was a little bland, some extra seasoning. If not chili oil, oyster sauce might be nice. Stir fry until the chicken is cooked through, approximately 2 minutes more.

Serve with white rice.

There are two interesting aspects here.

First, the method of cooking the meat in an egg white coating, called velveting, which reputedly keeps the chicken succulent and soaks up flavor. I can't speak for the succulence since I used chicken thighs instead of the originally called for chicken breasts. Thighs don't need the help. It did pick up the flavor from the vegetables and seasonings nicely without covering up the flavor of the chicken, though, so that's a success.

Second, and more importantly for our purposes, does the celery taste both good and like celery? (Some would say that's a contradiction, but let's give it a chance.) One immediate problem; The celery leaves are kale-tough. I didn't expect that so they're still pretty chewy in the finished dish. On the other hand, they release a lot of celery flavor as you chew them so there's a lot of variation of flavor in different bites which I'm going to count as a plus. As for that flavor, I'm going to say, yes, I do like it. The aromatic sharp herbal flavor of the celery floats above the rich savory heat of the soy, chicken and chili oil quite pleasantly. Unless, that is, you get a whole wad of celery to chew through. That's rather too strong and too harsh. Otherwise, I actually like its pairing with the other flavors quite a bit. So, on the whole, yes, this works and I can recommend it this dish.

I'm not sure how I could have kept the leaves from matting up as they wilted, not while keeping this a stir fry. I'll bet if I add another non-leafy ingredient at the same time as the leaves--bamboo shoots maybe--that would have helped. If you try this recipe, try that.

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