Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Heavy Metal vs Your Takeaway Part 1: Chicken Stir Fry with Sweet and Sour Sauce

Celebrate the Chinese New Year four days late with my take on this fast food favourite that probably isn't Chinese anyway.

I'll admit it: even I, on occasion, succumb to temptation and order myself sweet and sour chicken with egg fried rice from the local takeaway.  It sounds like a good idea at the time but I always find myself thinking "hmm... that was expensive and it tasted crap".  Some kind of love/hate thing going on there.

This chicken stir fry is lighter than the deep fried balls of crap you get from your takeaway, and the sauce has the lovely flavour of real ingredients rather than the usual mix of Toilet Duck and communism.  You can vary the ingredients if you like, e.g. by using mushrooms and bell peppers.  The sweet and sour sauce would also make a nice dipping sauce for canapes at a middle class dinner party.

Stir fry ingredients (to serve two):
  • 200g basmati rice
  • 1 free range egg
  • 1 chicken breast
  • 1 large carrot
  • 3 savoy cabbage leaves
  • 5ish spring onions
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1-2 tbsps vegetable oil
Sweet and sour sauce ingredients (vary to taste)
  • Thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger
  • Small splash of rice vinegar
  • 2 tbsps dark soy sauce
  • 3 tbsps soft brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • Juice from a small tin of pineapple rings
  • 1 tsp English mustard
  • 2 tsps Chinese five-spice powder
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 100ml chicken stock
  • 2 tsp dried chilli flakes
  • 1 tbsp plain flour
  • 2 tbsps tomato puree
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  1. Soak your rice in about 300ml cold water for about twenty minutes, then bring it to the boil and stir it ONCE, then turn the heat right down low (or off completely on an electric hob - you could even take it off the heat temporarily to speed this bit up) to let it steam.  When it's all clumped together, which should take about 10 minutes, drain any excess water and let it rest while you get on with the other stuff.
  2. Heat some vegetable oil in a non-stick saucepan.  Peel your ginger and finely chop it along with the garlic.  Add to the oil (not too hot or the garlic will burn), then add your five spice powder and dried chilli flakes.  When it's all fragrant, add the flour to make a sort of roux (this will thicken the sauce without making it lumpy).  Next, cook the tomato puree out a bit, and finally, chuck everything else in.  Bring it to the boil and then simmer it briskly until it reduces to a consistency you like.
  3. Meanwhile, heat a wok up - you want it pretty damn hot.  The key to a good stir fry (not that I'm really an expert in this kind of cooking) is to have everything ready chopped, otherwise your ingredients will burn while you're adding the next lot.  Remove the stems from the cabbage leaves and roughly chop them.  Peel and julienne the carrots (that means chop them into little thin strips) and finely slice the spring onions.  Slice the chicken breast thinly.
  4. When the wok is hot, make sure your smoke alarm is not going to get a whiff of anything and add some oil to the pan.  Season your chicken strips and chuck them in the pan, tossing them around so that they don't stick (if you're a bit of a lad - if not, use a wooden spoon).  Then add your veg in order of density until the chicken is cooked through, the carrots are al-dente and the cabbage has wilted a bit.
  5. Finally, put the rice in the wok and break in an egg, then stir fry it so that little bits of scrambled egg get spread around the mixture and serve it immediately with the sweet and sour sauce.

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Roast chicken on your Jack Jones

We all love a nice Sunday roast, but this is the 21st century, house prices are going up, we're all marrying and owning homes much later in life... basically, the idea of cooking something like a roast just for yourself can seem like a lot of fuss and bother, leading to a tendency to have Bachelors Super Noodles and a few cans of special brew before crying into your pillow about how you've wasted your life and no-one will ever love you.  Not anymore!

I recommend buying a good quality chicken at the beginning of the month, jointing it yourself (guide coming soon) and freezing each individual part separately.  You can get several decent meals out of one chicken that way rather than just buying a bag of frozen breast fillets.  I've been fairly minimalist with this recipe as it's all about the juicy chicken, crispy skin and fragrant garlic and rosemary.

  • 1 chicken leg
  • 2 whole garlic cloves
  • Good handful of white cabbage leaves, washed
  • 1 medium sized red potato
  • 2 rosemary sprigs
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2-3 tbsps of olive oil
  • 250ml good quality chicken stock
  • 1 level tbsp plain flour
  • A couple of knobs of butter
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  1. Get your chicken out of the oven at least half an hour before you want to cook it so that it can adjust to room temperature.  This will help it to cook evenly.
  2. Preheat the oven to 220 degrees.  Smash a garlic clove and put it in a small roasting tin with a bay leaf, then the chicken leg and finally a sprig of rosemary on top.  Season the chicken well with plenty of salt and pepper, drizzle a bit of olive oil and stick it in the hot oven.  If you like you can french trip the drumstick prior to putting it in the oven, but as you can see from the above pic, I forgot to do that.
  3. After 20 minutes, baste the chicken with a spoon, then lower the heat to 180 degrees and cook for a further half hour.
  4. Meanwhile, shred your cabbage leaves (a good, sharp, heavy knife with a big blade will make this easy) and slice your potato into slices that are roughly 5mm thick - don't do them too thick or they won't cook in the centre.  Heat a frying pan to a medium-high heat and add a liberal splash of olive oil.  Season the potato slices and put them in the pan, seasoned-side down.  Saute them for a few minutes until they're crispy and golden, then turn them over.  Chuck in a smashed garlic clove, a rosemary sprig and some butter.  When the aroma of loveliness fills the air, baste the potatoes with a spoon.
  5. When the chicken is done, rest it and the potatoes in a warm place (i.e. the oven you just turned off with the door open) to let the meat relax and stop the potatoes from going cold while you do the next bit.  Fry your cabbage in the potato pan, season it and add a little drop of water to stop it from burning.  It should only take a few minutes to cook because this isn't 1957.  Put the chicken roasting tin on a ring on the hob and turn up the heat, stir in the flour to make a roux, then add the chicken stock, scrap any sediment off the bottom of the tin and reduce to taste.  Strain the gravy into the jug and pour it generously over the chicken.