Cupboard love – you have to have it. Those days when nothing will do but something simple. Guaranteed, full-proof. We all have some of those – the sandwich that quenches all hunger, the drinks that cool all thirsts and the chicken….. that satisfies the desire for creamy, succulent, fragrant and all with something straight from your cubby.
I always keep myself armed – stocked stores so in an instant I can whip up a treat. This time, it is Peanut Butter Chicken. A recipe I concocted and have repeated a few good times. Without fail and incident.
I make it Chinese-style, flavoured with soy sauce, ginger, garlic and some Shaohsing/Shaoxing rice wine, peppered with yellow chilies and lovingly garnished with roasted peanuts and a chiffonade of basil. The star of the show though is some crunchy peanut butter – use your favourite. I used mine. If you’re like Shaohsing what…. then fear not. It is basically chinese coooking wine. You’ll find it in China town or a Chinese shop near you…it might even be on the shelves in the International aisle at your supermarket. If you can’t find it to buy, then dry sherry would do.
I think the creaminess of the sauce is well-paired with Chicken, Tofu or some white fish fillets though I’ve only ever tried it with Chicken.
I start by marinating some chopped up chicken breasts with light soy sauce, chinese rice wine, minced ginger and garlic. I just love light soy sauce. Commonly used in Chinese Fried rice, I prefer its light saltiness and taste to the somewhat intense, syrupy harshness of dark soy sauce. When my hand shakes and I tip in more light soy than planned, I don’t fear ruin – I can’t say the same when that happens with the dark (and these things have a way of happening often, don’t they?) Enter garlic press: make my life easier.
What joy it is to be able to put an unpeeled clove of garlic in the press and watch the cream come out the other side, or the pleasure of mincing ginger with no fear of grating my skin. Did you know that the longer you leave garlic and onions after prepping them (mincing, slicing or chopping) at room temperature before cooking them, the healthier it is? This is because when they are chopping, crushing and slicing stimulates the enzymatic process that converts the phytonutrient alliin into allicin, a compound to which many of their health benefits are attributed. In order to allow for maximal allicin production, wait several minutes before eating or cooking (Source: WH Foods).
While the chicken is soaking up the delicious flavours, I prep the veggies. So I slice the spring onions, reserving some of the green shoots for the end. Usually I use fresh vegetables but I wanted to try a pack of frozen ones which my friend, L, gave me to try. A trio of Broccoli, Cauliflower and Romanesco Cauliflower. In the past, I’ve made some great combos – Broccoli and Beans, Cauliflower and Carrots, sorry, I have no D veggie rhymes to continue.
Confession, fresh veggies rock, frozen ones….. in this sauce don’t (rock as much). They tasted just ok. Not even close to the spectacular, as previously experienced but still, it turned out good.
Once I’m convinced the chicken is ready to be cooked, I heat up a wok. I heat it up before I oil/grease it. If you don’t have a wok, a large frying pan would do.
Then I stir-fry the chicken, salivating slowly. After a few minutes, the chicken can come out. I capture the chicken juices by pouring in some water to ‘rinse’ out the wok and reserve this light stock.
I set the wok back on and let it dry up, then lightly grease it again. Once the oil is hot, in go the veggies for a minute, followed by a drizzle of light soy and out they come. Six tablespoonfuls of creamy peanut butter are ladled into the pan. As soon as the melting begins, I slowly whisk in the ‘flavoured water’ reserved from before and let the sauce form. A few dashes of light soy later and a little chopped chili, we are in business. The chicken and veggies follow suit till all heated through and bubbling.
Then to the table we go, with our garnishes and noodles…. to feast. Btw, I don’t think there’s a herb that goes better with this than Basil…..
Oh the goodness of life.
Ingredients2 Spring onions, sliced (white and green separated) 2 Chicken breasts, chopped up in little blocks Light soy sauce 1 tablespoon Shaosing Rice wine or Dry Sherry 1 clove of Garlic, minced 1 small piece of Ginger (about 2.5 cm piece), minced 2 teaspoons of Groundnut oil or any other oil with high smoke point 400g Vegetables – Broccoli and Green beans or Carrots and Cauliflower or any other combinations you like 400-500ml Water 6 tablespoons of Peanut butter (smooth or crunchy) Fresh Chili pepper (to taste) Basil and Roasted peanuts to garnish
Marinate the chicken bits by mixing with 1 tablespoon of Light soy sauce, Shaosing rice wine and the minced garlic and ginger. Leave for flavours to marry for about 15 minutes at room temperature. You can marinade the chicken ahead of time but ensure it is covered and refigerated. Sometimes, I’m out of time and basically go from putting the spices into the chicken to heading for the wok!
On a good day, while chicken is marinading, heat up the wok or frying pan and dry-roast the peanuts (if using for the garnish). When that is done, remove nuts from the pan and let them cool down.
Put the wok back on fire and let it heat up. Don’t add any oil till it is hot. This ensures that when you start cooking the pan is properly heated and allows the chicken and vegetables stir-fry well and evenly.
Then put in a teaspoon of oil and stir-fry the vegetables for a couple of minutes – no more. You could add a splash of soy sauce to taste (about a tablespoon) if you want. (Sometimes I do it the other way round if I have ten balls in the air…. frying the chicken first before the veggies. It has no effect whatsoever on the delicious, delectable end, so do as you will).
Remove the vegetables out of the wok and then heat another teaspoon of oil. Add the spring onion whites for 30 seconds and then put the marinaded chicken in. Be sure to move the chicken around in the pan so it cooks well. It is (nearly) cooked when the bits have turned white from their initial raw pink state.
Then remove chicken from the pan and rinse pan out by pouring in water to make a light stock. Reserve this stock.
Put the wok back on the heat and add the peanut butter. After a few seconds, it will begin to melt. When it starts melting, whisk/mix in most of the light stock, reserving about 100ml. Let it come to the boil and then turn down heat to low. If using chilies, add now.
Put chicken in and let cook for a couple of minutes. After that, add vegetables to the pan, give a good stir and season to taste with the soy sauce. If sauce isn’t quite saucy enough, add the rest of the reserved stock.
Let the sauce simmer for 2 minutes or until vegetables are cooked to your taste. Turn off the heat and sprinkle the green spring onions over it.
Serve immediately with a garnish of Basil Chiffonade, dry-roasted Peanuts and Fried Rice or Noodles