Sesame Chicken

I love "Chinese Food."  That's in quotations because what we eat and make in America, and especially in my part of the country, is enough to make Chinese people giggle politely.

So, then I love the "flavors" of Chinese or Asian cooking.  Ginger, soy, sesame, garlic, rice vinegar, chili paste, fish sauce.  Give me all sorts of noodles, sticky rice, and crispy vegetables. 

Chinese take-out is fine.  I could eat it every day, actually, but there's the whole cost thing, and the whole MSG thing (I know I can get it without MSG at many places), and there's the whole over-cooked-soggy-veggie aspect.  I'm sure there are great Asian places in smaller neighborhoods in bigger cities, but not near me.

We like a basic stir fry with lots of vegetables (colorful, please!), served over rice or noodles.  Beef, shrimp, chicken are all good, we're not picky about that.  I will not eat tofu.  Soy ought to be fermented to be healthy, as far as I've researched, and tofu isn't fermented.  Besides, the Sassy crew enjoys meat.

Most people think of Sesame Chicken as deep fried chunks of chicken, slathered in a medium-spicy, gooey-sweet glaze, and perhaps a few small vegetables thrown in for good measure.  Often, you're lucky to get a green onion or two, maybe a sliver of red bell pepper.  If that's the case, you might as well get some chicken nuggets, dip them in ketchup, munch a carrot stick and call it dinner.

Not this recipe!  This is a tasty, tangy, spicy glaze, chicken that is unbreaded, but rather lightly stir fried, and a medley of  crunchy vegetables.  It's more about the sauce than anything.  You can use whatever veggies you and your family enjoy best.  We tend to like the crispy-sweet things, like carrots, bell peppers, and sugar snap peas.  I tried to find baby bok choy at my store, but they were out.  It's a great veggie to add to stir fry and soup - think "dark green leafy."  Feel free to add broccoli, celery, summer squash, mushrooms, and anything else you like!

The sauce recipe makes two full cups.  I only use one for the finished dish, which leaves plenty left over to pour over a whole chicken while it roasts, brush on salmon as it finishes, stir into a pot of Asian chicken soup, or use as a sweet and spicy meatball glaze.  It will keep just fine in the refrigerator for a few weeks, at least.  You could definitely freeze this sauce.

You might not have all the ingredients in your pantry.  I didn't!  That's ok, I needed a walk to town.  The chili paste can be omitted, but add some heat from cayenne or red pepper flakes instead.  You'll miss the rich depth of the fish sauce component, but it won't ruin the sauce.  If you don't have sesame oil, no biggie, but you'll only get sesame flavor from the seeds sprinkled at the end.  Note on both these items:  READ LABELS.  At my store, one chili paste had MSG and cost a dollar less, one had good ingredients and was that dollar more.  Spend more for better health, friends.  Sesame oil comes in regular or toasted.  Toasted is about twice the price!  I got regular.  And sesame oil will keep forever in your fridge.  Buy a little bottle, it's so tasty!

This recipe will make plenty of dinner for the kids and I (man is dining out), plus leftovers for lunch tomorrow.  We're serving it over brown rice tonight. 

By the way, we started giving our kids chopsticks when they were tiny, 2 years old, and all they did was spear the food.  Today, most of them can use chopsticks with fairly decent skill.  It's a fun way to make a meal special, and it makes me slow down and taste my food :)

Sesame Chicken

3/4 cup sugar
1 cup chicken broth
1/4 cup rice vinegar
1/4 cup soy sauce
1 tablespoon chili paste
2 teaspoons sesame oil
1 clove of garlic, minced or crushed
3 tablespoons cornstarch, dissolved in 1/2 cup cold water

In a sauce pan, combine all ingredients except cornstarch and water.  Bring to a boil.  Add cornstarch-water mixture, lower heat slightly, and simmer for 2-3 minutes.  Sauce should thicken nicely.  Taste to see if you want more heat (chili paste) or salt.  This sauce can be made hours or days ahead of time.

6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into strips or chunks
3 tablespoons peanut oil
4 large carrots, peeled and sliced
1 large red bell pepper (or other color), cut into chunks
8 ounces sugar snap or snow pea pods
8 ounces bean sprouts
1/4 cup chopped scallions (green onions)
3 tablespoons sesame seeds

In a large skillet or wok, heat the peanut oil until it's very hot.  Add the chicken and quickly stir fry, keeping it moving.  When it is JUST done, remove from pan.  Add a bit more oil, and add the carrots to the pan.  Stir fry for 3-4 minutes, add the bell pepper, stir fry for 3-4 more minutes.  Add the pea pods, stir fry for 2-3 minutes.  Add the chicken back to the pan, and fry it all together for a minute.  Pour one cup of the Sesame Sauce over the mixture, and cook for a minute.  Stir in the bean sprouts and scallions, cooking for another 2 minutes.  Sprinkle with the sesame seeds and serve immediately over rice or noodles.