Monday, February 06, 2012

Asian Chicken Brain Explosion

My grandma, whom I love more than my own life, loves to send me recipes. Some she clips from the newspaper, some she gleans from her library full of cookbooks, some she gets from Martha Stewart, and some...some are handwritten and passed around from the ladies at The Center. My newest acquisition was from the latter category, a recipe for Asian Orange Chicken, which sounds like Agent Orange Chicken, which is kind of funny since it felt like a bomb burst in my brain while trying to follow this recipe.

First of all, the recipe is handwritten (I mentioned that, right?) in a vaguely scratchy left-handed-kid-forced-to-go-righty-by-the-mean-Catholic-school-nuns sort of way. Also, it appears to have been run off on a photocopier, so a lot of the words are faded, and some of the letters are missing at the ends of lines.

Second of all, I committed the number one Cook's Sin by not reading the entire recipe before I started cooking. The chicken needed to marinate for 2 hours. So now I was staring down the barrel of a 7pm dinner, when bedtime is at 7:30, and the whole reason my gram sent me the recipe in the first place was because "Bebe LIKES orange chicken! You make this for her!"

Folks, it only gets better.

After waiting 2 hours for the chicken to marinate in the sweet/sour sauce, I scan through the recipe to find where I left off and realize that I FORGOT TO ADD THE SWEET into the sauce. That's right. The words "brown sugar" were so faded that they somehow completely escaped my recipe-illiterate eye sweep. First, I panicked. I almost threw everything in the trash and ran to Del Taco. Then I rationalized that I should at least make a show of pretending to try to save the $4.50 I probably spent on chicken breasts by finishing the recipe. So I soldiered on.

I added all the brown sugar to the remaining sauce that hadn't been used to marinate the chicken, assuming that what the hell? sugar is sugar and somehow it'll still get on the chicken.

At this point my kitchen is totally trashed, by the way. A million ingredients and not a lot of counter space makes a very sloppy cook. It is also at this point that I'm trying to figure out where the heat in the chicken is supposed to come from. You know, when you get orange chicken at the Chinese take-out it's always got a little kick. Well I'm reading and re-reading the recipe and I begin to realize that even though the recipe didn't specify it, where I used fresh ground black pepper, I should have actually used red pepper flakes. So I added them in, sort of at the last minute on a wing and a prayer that they'd give the kick they were supposed to give.

Are you still with me?

Now we're down to the nitty gritty. I was at the last step, where the chicken simmers in the sweetened sauce for minutes. What's that? Oh, I didn't put in the number of minutes the chicken is supposed to simmer? Oh, that's probably because NEITHER DID THE RECIPE.

After all this you're probably wondering how the dish actually turned out. You're probably thinking that at this point you would have just thrown the recipe away, no matter how the dish tasted, just on principle. That's what I thought too, until I tasted the chicken. It was the best orange chicken I've ever had in my life. And I went to college in Pittsburgh where everyone knows the world's best Chinese restaurants live. I'm telling you, I was actually disappointed that it tasted so good because now that means that I'll have to make it again, and again, and again. So instead of throwing out the recipe, I'm going to RE-write it and immortalize it here on this blog for ever and ever.

And even after all I've been through with this Asian Orange Chicken, I still urge you to try it. Make it with a nice big pot of brown rice and some broccoli, and you can curse at me first, then thank me later.

Asian Orange Chicken

1 1/2 c. water
2 tbs orange juice
1/4 c lemon juice
1/3 c rice vinegar (I used white balsamic)
2 1/2 tbs soy sauce
1 c brown sugar (packed)
1 tbs grated orange zest
1/2 tsp fresh, grated ginger
1/2 tsp minced garlic
2 tbs chopped green onions
3 tbs cornstarch
2 tbs water

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1 c all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
3 tbs olive oil

Cook it:
Pour into saucepan water, orange juice, lemon juice, rice vinegar, and soy sauce. Set over med-hi heat. Add in orange zest, brown sugar, ginger, garlic, and chopped green onion. ring to a boil. Remove from heat, let cool for 10-15 minutes.

Place chicken pieces in a re-sealable bag. When contents of sauce have cooled, pour 1 cup of sauce into bag. Reserve remaining sauce. Seal bag and refrigerate at least 2 hours.

In another bag, mix flour, salt and red pepper flakes. Add marinated chicken pieces and shake to coat.

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Cook chicken and brown on both sides. Remove to paper towels and cover with foil.

Wipe out skillet and add the reserved sauce. Bring to a boil over med-hi heat. Mix cornstarch and water and stir into sauce. Reduce heat to low and stir in chicken pieces. Simmer about minutes, stirring occasionally.*

Trust me, it's worth it.

*Your guess is as good as mine. I think I let it simmer about 3 minutes and it looked good to me.

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