Spicy Orange Chicken

Another game night. Another adventure. Tonights entertainment: Settlers of Catan.

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Settlers of Catan is a crazy popular and fun strategy board game of territory and resources. You build roads and settlements, which eventually become cities, all the while collecting resources to spend on expansion or development cards that gain you Victory Points. The first to 10 points wins the game (which I epically failed to do tonight). It’s a great game. Family friendly and good for ages 10+. You should check it out, if you’re into that sort of thing.

This game night was again held at my friend Sara and Darren’s place. If you read the last game night entry, you’ll remember that it was bit of an adventure cooking at their place.  Tonight, a different adventure awaits us as we cook Spicy Orange Chicken (p. 119)! The exclamation mark is deserved. This was very, very good.

Not the best ingredients picture, I know. Orange zest, marinated chicken, cornstarch slurry, chili garlic sauce. Not pictured: scallions, tomato

Not the best ingredients picture, I know. I was having an off day. Orange zest, marinated chicken, cornstarch slurry, chili garlic sauce. Not pictured: scallions, tomato

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As for the adventure… well… I sort of, um… forgot my wok. Ugh. But all was not lost! I had remembered the rice maker! Eh. Not that helpful.

Fortunately, our hosts had a large skillet that, although far from perfect, was serviceable for our current situation.

Sear, baby, sear!

So this recipe calls for a brief marinade of the chicken in a mixture of ginger, rice wine, soy, sugar, and some pepper (including Sichuan peppercorn). You could really taste the marinade in the final dish. The first step is briefly stir-frying some ginger and then carefully add the chicken, allowing it to achieve a nice sear. In with the zest and bean sauce (chili sauce) and stir-fry another minute. Add tomatoes and combine. In with the slurry and finally finish with scallions.

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Even with the absence of the wok, we all thought this turned out really well. We accompanied it with rice and roasted brussel sprouts, which were excellent.

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And there you have it. Spicy Orange Chicken! The flavor was very nice and the ginger and chicken really come through. I would definitely try this again.

Mmm, mmm, good.

What I Would Do Differently

  • Hmm, nope. Can’t think of anything. I definitely didn’t forget anything important. No, no, nothing at all.
  • On a serious note, I would definitely try this with the chili bean sauce next time around to see how that might add to the already bold flavors of this dish.

Next on the Menu: Stir-Fried Curried Beef

Kung Pao Chicken

I made this dish for the inaugural evening of what I hope will become a monthly or bimonthly game night. Tonight’s menu: Carcassonne.

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And also Kung Pao Chicken (p. 113)! The evening started off with the intention of a quick stir-fry dinner so we could get to the gaming as soon as possible. Given the common wisdom about good intentions, you’ve probably guessed that the cooking didn’t go 100% according to plan.

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Subtle foreshadowing…

First was the rice. I brought a new bag of white rice that nobody was familiar with. The idea was to get the rice cooked first and then proceed with the stir-fry. My hosts were also planning to prepare sauteed chard from their garden to go along with it. Needless to say, the new rice provided a sticking point. Wrong rice-to-water ratios and a failure to wash the rice ahead of time resulted in a botched first go. Wet and gummy. No bueno.

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The ingredients.

This wasn’t the only do-over of the evening. Cooking in an unfamiliar kitchen can sometimes be an adventure. Sometimes that adventure involves pepper-spraying your hosts. With the best of intentions, of course.

This particular recipe calls for dried red peppers and crushed szechuan peppercorns. When it came time to begin the stir-fry, I heated the wok on the burner as per usual. Upon adding the peanut oil there was a great deal of smoke. I moved forward anyway, adding the pepper and szechuan peppercorn to the smoking oil. This created a great plume of peppery smoke within the kitchen, choking all those within, including myself. It was basically pepper spray.

I immediately removed this from the burner and into the sink. The peppers were charred black after just 5+ seconds in the wok. The heat potential of this stove was clearly far greater than what I had gotten used to at home.

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When a problem comes along, you must wok it.

The lesson here: If your oil smokes, your wok is too hot. Apparently this is possible.

And so, with irritated eyes and heavy hearts, we began again. This time with much better results.

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Before the chiles in too long, you must wok it.

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Now wok it.

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Into shape.

I’ve never been a huge fan of Kung Pao Chicken. I think it’s the peanuts. And also that I’ve only ever had it from heavily Americanized Chinese take-out restaurants. This recipe was different. The peanuts seemed much more subtle, adding just a bit of texture without overpowering everything. The flavor balance of the dish itself was great. We all really enjoyed it. And the chard was an excellent side. I’d go into more detail on that, but I drank too much wine and frankly forget what they did. I think some garlic was involved.

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Shape it up. Get straight.

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Go forward. Move ahead.

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Now do a taste test. It’s not too late.

I will absolutely be trying this again. This recipe has won me over to Kung Pao Chicken… as long as I’m the one making it.

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To wok it. Wok it good!

What I Would Do Differently

  • Try not to burn the hell out of everything.
  • More spice. I couldn’t make it to the asian market, so I substituted chile de arbol for the dried peppers. Most of the chiles sold in market here are of the Southwest or Mexican varieties. I’m not sure these carried the same amount of spicy kick. Next time I make this I’ll be sure to get the real deal so I can achieve the level of heat I crave. Or just double down on the recommended dosage.

Next on the Menu: Chinese Trinidadian Stir-Fried Shrimp with Rum

Chinese Jamaican Jerk Chicken Fried Rice

This was a bit of a departure from the Wok Wednesdays schedule. I had some leftover rice from the previous recipe and decided to try my hand at making fried rice. I love me some fried rice, so I chose the first recipe off the schedule that fit the bill: Chinese Jamaican Jerk Chicken Fried Rice (p. 262).

So what to say about this dish? The first bit consisted of marinating a couple whole chicken legs in a jerk rub and resting them in the fridge for a couple hours. I let mine go overnight because I’m hardcore. The chicken is then roasted and removed from the bone. Pan drippings are reserved for the stir-fry which is a common indicator of a great recipe.

Onion and carrots are briefly stir-fried before adding the rice. A soy sauce mixture is added along with scallions, pan drippings, and the chicken (cut into bite-size pieces). That is it.

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I made a couple deviations from the recipe in the book. First, I forgot to get carrots and had to omit them. Sad face. The other is that during the initial stir-frying of the rice, I felt the soy mixture wasn’t coating the rice the way I thought it should, so I added more soy to the wok.

Overall, I thought this turned out very well. A super simple dish, although with a bit of prep ahead of time, and very quick to make. The chicken leg could easily be substituted for a multitude of leftover meats and this would still be a great go-to dish for a lazy dinner.

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What I Would Do Differently

Apparently, I don’t learn my lessons the first time around. I once again deviated from the plan and I wonder what the results would be if I hadn’t. Although the dish was good, it could have been better.

  • Carrots! These would have added some much needed color and texture to the fried rice. Not to be omitted.
  • The extra soy sauce. I think that ultimately, with a bit of patience, the rice and soy would have come together on it’s own. Next time I’m sticking to the script.
  • Try removing the skin from the legs before marinating. It could allow the jerk marinade to better incorporate into the meat, imparting more flavor. Save the skin and still roast it along with the meat so that pan drippings aren’t affected.

All in all, a successful first endeavor into fried rice in my new wok. Not perfect, but still quite good.

Next on the Menu: Stir-Fried Sugar Snap Peas and Shiitake Mushrooms

Chinese Burmese Chili Chicken

I have a confession to make. Before posting the Prologue, I had already made five of the recipes from Stir-Frying to the Sky’s Edge. Unfortunately and mostly due to absent-mindedness, I didn’t take pictures of a couple of them. I will be repeating those recipes at a later date and will post a full write-up here.

If you are referencing the Wok Wednesdays recipe schedule, you’ll find that I’ll be a little out of sync with it until such time as I remake those missed recipes, but for the most part you can use that as an indication of what to expect in coming weeks. But for now, on to the show.

Chinese Burmese Chili Chicken (p. 140) is the second recipe that I made with this new toy of mine. Of course, before endeavoring on this project, I had to stock up:

The arsenal

The arsenal.

Tools in hand, it was time to dive into what was my first stir-fry to incorporate meat. Given my initial experience with the wok (coming in a later post), I took care to ensure every ingredient was at the ready and steeled myself for the whirlwind of wok cooking.

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Although it looks pretty good there, I made a few tactical errors in this dish. First was not reading the recipe thoroughly enough. The chicken is to be marinated briefly in cornstarch, oil, salt and pepper. I mistakenly omitted the salt and pepper and instead put it into the dry spice bowl with the paprika and cumin. In addition, I put the chili powder into this bowl as well, when in fact you are supposed to add it at the end of the dish.

Second, I think I used too much oil at the start before putting in the onions. I chalk this up to inexperience and the fact that I was pouring from a full bottle of peanut oil rather than from a dispenser which would have provided more control. This caused the onions to not caramelize as much as I’d like and also they would not stay up on the side of the pan when making room for the chicken. I think this also contributed to a dish that was more wet during cooking than the recipe seems to indicate. So when it came time to put in the cornstarch/water mixture for thickening, it took a lot longer for the liquids to cook off.

As a result, the vegetables weren’t as crisp as they could have been. However, the overall flavor was very nice with a mild touch of heat and made a satisfying meal served over rice.

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What I Would Do Differently

Well, besides putting the right spices in the right places at the right times according to the actual recipe (c’mon, man!), there are a few things I’d change.

  • Add more heat. It simply wasn’t spicy enough. I’d introduce more chili powder, cayenne, or even some red pepper flake. I like it spicy.
  • Use a bit more salt than the recipe calls for. Although, this could just be a byproduct of not putting it on the chicken at the start. The extra liquid could have been a factor as well.
  • Take it easy on the oil! Although heat of the stove’s range could have been a factor, I feel the stir-fry definitely had too much liquid introduced that kept it from being all it could be.

In the event that I try this recipe again, I’ll be sure to incorporate my changes and write an addendum to this post describing the results.

Next on the Menu: Chinese Jamaican Jerk Chicken Fried Rice