07 November 2011

Eats: sesame chicken

There is no good Chinese restaurant in our part of town, where Mr. P and I currently live. The selection is even worse in the part of town Mr. P lived before we got married. As a matter of fact, there’s really only one good Chinese place that we’ve found in Nashville (shoutout to Chinatown in Green Hills!), and it’s totally out of our way to go there.

And that is why I’m on an ongoing quest to make tasty Chinese food in our own home! Well, you know, American-ized, like good Chinese-joint-in-the-city sort of food. More American than the authentic stuff, more Chinese than P.F. Chang’s.

(Seriously. Their “egg drop soup” tastes like just Campbell’s chicken noodle.)

It’s an ongoing challenge, because I don’t quite have the flair for Chinese that I have (or at least, believe I have) for Italian. So I’m still relying heavily on good recipes instead of faking my way through it. And I’ve found another good one, this time for sesame chicken!

Emily at Imperfect – who, by the way, largely shares my grocery-budget-planning philosophy – has her own walkthrough, but here’s mine. I did a few things differently, but it’s probably good either way. You begin by toasting your sesame seeds.

How does one toast sesame seeds? Yeah, I have no idea. I shuffled mine around in a dry pan until they were a shade darker. Seemed good enough! Then I set them aside.

Next I cooked the chicken in the same pan. Per Emily’s directions, I coated them with flour, salt, and pepper first (by dumping the chicken piece in the pan, sprinkling them, then flipping them all over and flouring the other side).

After cooking most of the way through, I set them in a separate dish. Then it was time to make the sauce!

It kinda takes a lot of ingredients. Sorry about that. You probably have most of them already, though!

Emily’s recipe calls for almost all of those things, though I added the red wine vinegar and garlic because I think those are essential flavors in Chinese food. I also adjusted the ratios, using two parts soy sauce to one part vinegar, one part sherry, half-part syrup (not too sweet), and zero parts water (seriously, why dilute?). “Parts” because I don’t measure, but also because her recipe calls for way too little sauce, in my opinion. My rough estimate would be at least a quarter-cup of soy sauce and go from there.

First I added the sherry to de-glaze the chicken bits in the pan:

And then I added the rest of the liquid and let it simmer while I added the spices (plus the garlic, which made it in the wrong photo).

Emily calls for ginger and “five-spice mix”. I don’t have either of those, so I googled a bit and decided that I could improvise with red pepper, black pepper, fennel, and cinnamon for the five-spice mix. As for the ginger, I don’t care much for it, so I just added a ton of garlic instead, per my usual.

Then I let it simmer over medium-low heat. For a while. Simmer simmer simmer. Think back to the last time you had sesame chicken – the sauce was thick and sticky, right? That’s what you’re going for here.

I test for thickness by dragging the spatula through it:

Getting there, but not quite...

Theeerrrre we go. When it leaves tracks like that, it’s good. (Actually, this is probably too thick, but you get the idea.)

Then add the chicken and sesame seeds! Mmmmmmmmmm. You can finish cooking the chicken in the thickened sauce, if you took it out a little early.

So, how was this? Well, this particular time I made it (to take the photos) I did reduce the sauce a bit too much, but even then it was tasty. The maple syrup, I have to admit, is exactly what makes this like the sesame chicken at our favorite Chinese restaurant. I was almost snobby enough to sub in brown sugar, and I’m so glad I didn’t. But be careful – I thought the amount of sweetness was perfect in our version, and compared to the source, it’s much less. So, to each his or her own, and keep that in mind when you adjust the sauce ratios for yourself.

We usually have it with the oh-so-fabulous garlic noodles:

This may be my favorite Chinese-inspired dish in our home. I hope you enjoy it, too!


Shanna said...

I think Mr. Russell & I would like this one, so I'll put it on the menu. You make it look so easy!