Wednesday, December 2, 2009

cashew chicken and caramelized broccoli

Full disclosure: It wasn't until recently that I distinguished between Chinese food and Chinese-American food. Specifically, I was pretty much ignorant of the former, convinced that the take-out staples of my youth (sweet-and-sour pork, General Tso's, and *oh sweet god* honey-glazed shrimp with walnuts) were entirely authentic. Since then, my understanding, and my palate, have evolved considerably, as I've been schooled on soup dumplings and Sichuan peppercorns. But deep inside, a candle still burns for the cornstarch-filled, sealed-with-a-fortune-cookie meals I remember so fondly.

This cashew chicken appeals to teenage take-out lover in me. It may not be authentic—let’s be clear, the recipe comes from Martha Stewart—but it's so fast and tasty and even moderately healthy—I can forgive all that. M., who is far better versed in these things, agrees.

Cashew Chicken
Adapted from Everyday Food

I'm not going to say this is the best version of cashew chicken I've ever tasted; my friend Susanna, for instance, makes a version that easily rivals this one. But for a first attempt, I'm pretty pleased. I also think the (minor) fault may have been with my soy sauce, a fancy artisanal variety (fermented in 100-year-old barrels!) that didn't perform as well as say, Kikkoman, under these conditions.

Serves 2-4

1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch pieces
2 tablespoons dry sherry (or cooking wine)
2 teaspoons minced, peeled, fresh ginger

3 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch

Coarse salt

1/2 cup chicken broth

2 tablespoons soy sauce

1 tablespoons rice vinegar

2 teaspoons sugar

1 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons vegetable oil

2 garlic cloves, chopped

2/3 cup unsalted cashews, toasted
2 green onions, white and green parts separated and thinly sliced

In a medium bowl, toss chicken with sherry, ginger, and 1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch; season with salt. Refrigerate 30 minutes. In another bowl, combine broth, soy sauce, vinegar, sugar, and 2 teaspoons cornstarch. Set sauce aside.

In a large nonstick skillet, heat 1 tablespoon oil over medium-high heat. Add half the chicken and cook until golden and cooked through, about 5 minutes. Transfer chicken to a covered plate. Add 1 teaspoon oil to skillet and cook remaining chicken (reduce heat if chicken is over-browning). Transfer to plate.

To same skillet, add 1 teaspoon oil, garlic, cashews, and green onion whites. Cook, stirring constantly, until garlic begins to soften, about 30 seconds. Whisk sauce and add to skillet along with chicken. Cook until sauce thickens, about 30 seconds. Top with green onion greens and serve with rice or noodles.

Caramelized Broccoli with Garlic
Adapted from Food & Wine

To all of the broccoli haters burned by memories of soggy, water-logged florets—please, give this recipe a chance. Crunchy and caramelized, it went perfectly with the cashew chicken, but I suspect it would perk up any plate.

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 heads of broccoli (1 1/4 pounds total), stems peeled
1/2 cup water
3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
Pinch of crushed red pepper
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Cut the broccoli into thick slices. In a large, deep skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Add the broccoli, cut side down, cover and cook over moderate heat until richly browned on the bottom.

Add the water, cover and cook until the broccoli is just tender and the water has evaporated. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil along with the garlic and the crushed red pepper and cook uncovered until the garlic is golden brown. Season with salt and black pepper, drizzle with the lemon juice and serve.

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