Sunday, June 24, 2007

Eat More Chinese Food

Martin Yan has always been one of my favorite cooks to watch. He always seems so enthusiastic about the food. Although I watched Julia and Lidia and all those PBS cooks, it was Martin that could inspire me to get into the kitchen. I would watch him prepare a dish and could literally imagine it’s taste and texture. I recognized many of the ingredients he used, such as ginger, garlic and chilies (as opposed to tarragon, dill or rosemary). For me, his food felt familiar even though I didn’t grow up eating Chinese food.

Browsing through the cooking section of our local library, I came upon his book Martin Yan’s Chinatown Cooking. This book is a gem. He presents recipes from Chinatowns all over the world. Some of the dishes are commonly found in Chinese restaurants in larger American cities, but there are also dishes from Hawaii, Singapore, Macau, Malaysia, Canada, Australia and England. It’s interesting to see the local influences in each dish and how much variation there can be in Chinese cooking.

The first recipe I wanted to try was oven-baked salmon in spicy chili-bean sauce. Only problem was my local supermarket didn’t have any good looking salmon. I decided to use chicken instead and do it as a stir-fry with various veggies (I know, I have a bad habit of changing recipes. But isn’t improvisation and versatility a good thing in cooking?). The veggies I chose were just the ones I had on hand and needed to use, but really you could use just about anything else: carrots, broccoli, green onions, celery, green beans, Chinese long beans, Chinese broccoli. And even though this dish may seem spicy, it’s not (you could always add more chili bean paste or sambal oelek if you like more heat). My son, who is 4, could eat and enjoyed it.

Chicken and Veggies in Spicy Chili-Bean Sauce
  • 3 tbs soy sauce
  • 2 tbs hoisin sauce
  • 2 tbs Chinese rice wine (or dry sherry) + 2 tsp kept separate
  • 1 tbs honey (or brown sugar)
  • handful of cilantro, finely chopped
  • 1 tbs Chinese chili bean paste*
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • ½ large onion, sliced into thin wedges
  • 1 cup snow peas or sugar snap peas
  • 1 small zucchini, sliced into 2 inch long sticks
  • ½ red bell pepper, sliced into sticks
  • 1 bunch baby bok choy, leaves cut in half lengthwise
  • 120z white meat chicken, sliced thin
  • 1 ½ tsp cornstarch
Combine the chicken, 2 tsp rice wine and cornstarch in a bowl and mix well to coat the chicken. Let it sit for about 10 minutes.

In a bowl, combine the soy sauce, hoisin, 2 tbs rice wine, honey, chopped cilantro, and chili bean sauce.

Heat a wok over high heat. Add oil (1-2 tbs) and swirl to coat the sides. Add the garlic and fry for about 10-15 seconds. Add the chicken and stir-fry until almost done. Remove and set aside.

In the same wok, add the onion and red bell pepper (add more oil if you think it’s necessary). Stir-fry for a minute or two. Next add the snow peas then zucchini and continue cooking for another minute or two. Finally add the baby bok choy and return the chicken (and juices) to the pan. After about a minute, add the sauce. Your wok should be hot enough to reduce the sauce on contact. Continue to cook until completely heated through and the chicken is done. Serve with steamed rice.

*Just about every Asian country has their own version of a chili bean paste/sauce. I recommend using the Chinese version for this dish. If you can't find it, try using 1/2 tbs black bean paste (with or without garlic is fine) + 1/2 tbs chili garlic sauce, both of which can usually be found in most large supermarkets.

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