Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Chicken of Circumstance

Sometimes I'm completely backwards with my meal planning method. Instead of taking meat from the freezer and finding something to accompany it, I will decide I'm in the mood for, say, pineapple, and then work out a meal to incorporate it. Such was the situation a few days ago when I found myself at the market, blindsided by a basket of beautiful beans.

green and gorgeous

But this is not about the beans. Their duty is done. They sat in wait in their raw wooden crate being all green and gorgeous until I just had to have them.  They were the bait that lead to the switch in the story of meal planning backwards.

Bag in hand, knowing that I couldn't just serve up a plate full of green beans for dinner (though, I actually could - and would be perfectly happy with it), it was now my job to drum up the rest of the meal.  I began by banging my green bean repertoire around in my brain - sauteed? steamed? side dish? stir fry? lemon? garlic? almond? sesame? SESAME! oh-yes-a-me.  And the rest came tumbling after.

This simple sesame chicken, victim of my vegetable circumstance, is a delightful dish that can be made in the same amount of time it takes to cook some rice and steam some beans (and half the time it takes to read this article). If you don't require an obscene amount of meat, it can also be quite economical.  One half of a large boneless, skinless chicken breast feeds the two of us.  If you are a raging carnivore, or are feeding a family of more, feel free to double, triple or mass produce. It will all work out fine (and leftovers are always nice too).

beans on board

First, rinse your breast (the chicken.. the CHICKEN!) and pat dry with a paper towel  Here we could insert an entire conversation about whether we should or shouldn't rinse our chicken prior to cooking - but, since it's my blog, and I do, that's the first step. I guess some may argue that the probability of cross contamination increases if you rinse due to water splashing on to items within close proximity, but I'm not recreating a scene reminiscent of Flashdance here, I'm simply running a single breast under a slow flowing tap, wrapping it in a double paper towel and placing it on my glass board - sans splash - zero drips.  What more can I say? I like my breasts bathed and swaddled before they hit the pan.  Anyway... do rinse or don't rinse, then, if your breasts are thick like mine (stop now), slice through horizontally to make two pieces of equal thickness, then cut into a-bit-smaller-than-bite-size cubes.

one half boneless, skinless chicken breast...

Now, I'm fairly confident that most of you (aside from, perhaps, the raging carnivores) will share my opinion that raw meat is generally not an attractive subject matter for photographs; but, after a recent conversation in which a friend could not grasp, through my words, the concept of horizontal slicing (forgive her, English is not her first language), I have reluctantly decided to illustrate. Please bear with me. Cooking isn't always pretty.  Besides, all this talk about breasts and photos of naked chicks should get me a few extra hits on my blog; my Naked Noodles post is extremely popular, and not because Googlers are searching for plain ol' spaghetti (sorry to disappoint, folks).

... horizontally sliced becomes two...

...and then cubed.

Ok, back to the task at hand.  Sauté a handful of diced onion and a couple cloves of chopped garlic in a small amount of oil (I use olive - and just enough to coat the bottom of the pan and to carry the flavours).  When the onion is soft, add the cubed chicken and allow to cook through until no longer pink.

sesame seeds, dried chili pepper flakes, honey, sesame oil, soy sauce

While the chicken, garlic and onions are happily cooking on the stove, make your sauce.  In a small bowl or cup, stir together a large spoonful of honey, an equal amount of soy sauce, a touch of sesame oil (depending on your taste because it is powerful stuff... I probably used about 1/4 tsp) and 75mL (ish) of water.  Add 1/4 tsp powdered ginger (unless you are lucky enough to have fresh) and 1 tsp cornstarch; whisk until smooth then finish with a dash or two of dried chili pepper flakes (according to taste).  Remember that this is enough sauce for one half chicken breast - increase the amounts if you'll be using more.

When the chicken is cooked through, add the sauce to the pan and stir until it becomes slightly thickened (add a bit more water if the sauce is too thick).  Stir in a small spooful of toasted sesame seeds; cover and simmer for about ten minutes (or until your rice and green beans are done).

Assemble.  Serve.  Love.

sesame chicken w/ green beans and rice

I generally lack imagination and enthusiasm when my starting point is meat.  Backwards works best for me. Instead of torturing myself with "what should I do with this chicken?" while pacing from cupboard to cupboard with occasional stops at the fridge, I'll take a trip to the market (or garden!), allow myself to be swayed by a seasonally spectacular vegetable and become inspired to create a meal. 

Seriously Curious:  Do you rinse your chicken before cooking, or is it just me?!  Shoot me a short comment below, or visit The Perfect Avocado on Facebook to tell me why you do (or don't).  I've really got to know!


Rebecca said...

Looks yummy! Now I want sesame chicken!

And, I don't rinse my chicken. I had never even heard of people doing it til a couple years ago. I did it a few times after reading about it, but then I stopped because I always have dishes in the sink and don't need to drip chicken juice all over them - and I couldn't really figure out what it was I was supposed to be rinsing away exactly!!!

Ellen Kinsel said...

On the question of whether to rinse or not rinse, I say, "it depends." It depends on the source of the chicken (known because I know who did the butchering or unknown because it comes wrapped in plastic from the grocery store). It depends on whether it is a whole chicken (I rinse) or pieces (I usually don't rinse), and don't ask me why. It depends on how it will be used...naked or needing egg dip, breading, seasoning, or whatever. So I am not helpful in your quandary.

But this is great writing and great photography.

pollysplayground said...

thank you (:

i guess i rinse my chicken because we individually wrap and freeze 2kg of these beautiful chicken breasts at a time. i defrost them, still wrapped, in the fridge in a small container... and when it is time to use them, they are still wrapped, sitting in their own defrosty juice. the whole container goes to the sink (where there are never any dishes inside - except for maybe the cat dish, but i move it first if that's the case) where i do my unwrap and rinse.

funny ellen... we are opposite. we never rinse our whole chickens - only the pieces!

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