To Stir-Fry Authentically

Edited 6/28/13

Mongolian Chicken


Chicken and Black Bean Sauce

There are restrictions to the repertoire of a Chinese chef. If one takes their Chinese heritage exclusively, certain culinary techniques go by the way side. For instance, most Chinese cannot bake.

On Food Network’s Chopped, a native Chinaman headed into the desert round clearly as the front runner. When put to the test, while other contestants are preparing bread pudding, ice cream, cakes, and cookies, this Chinese chef came up with French toast.

The issue is that all Chinese deserts either take forever to bake or are not inherently sweet, while something like a chocolate cake is not traditionally prepared anywhere in Asia. What the Chinese excel at are stir-fries. For a potluck, I prepared two versions: chicken in black bean sauce and Mongolian chicken.

The trick to a good stir-fry is through an understanding of the basics. First, the meat needs to be cut extremely thin. For authenticity, avoid chicken chunks or the typical stir-fry strands of chicken at the neighborhood meat department. Moreover, thin slices cook faster and evenly with the veggies. Stir-fries are supposed to be quick and painless.

Secondly, marinate the meat just for a few minutes. The traditional stir-fry marinate for any type of meat is equal parts soy sauce, rice wine, and tapioca starch. A good soy sauce is Kikoman, and the cheaper versions at Costco or GFS will ruin a dish. Rice wine cannot be substituted with red or white wine. The tapioca starch has a specific, unique texture for Chinese stir-fries.

Thirdly, be careful with salt. In my black bean chicken dish, the soy sauce acted as an agent of salt, the black bean sauce another salt component. Traditional Chinese often complain about the abhorrent levels of saltiness in American food. Consider the complexity of French fries. A stir-fry is more mature than simply cutting up a potato, deep-frying, and then overtly salting.

Theoretically speaking, a budding chef could add any four or five ingredients together and call the creation stir-fry. To stir-fry like traditional Chinese, follow the advice of this post without deviation. If the instructions sound too easy, it’s because the dish itself is incredibly easy to make.

Chicken in Black Bean Sauce (feeds 3 people)
½ pound chicken breast sliced thin
1 ½ tablespoons of tapioca starch
2 tablespoons of rice wine
1 tablespoon of soy sauce
1 red pepper julienne
1 orange pepper julienne
1/2 cup of chopped cilantro
Salt and black pepper to taste
1 tablespoon of dried parsley
Base Sauce
1 tablespoon of chopped garlic
2 tablespoons of black bean garlic sauce

Begin with oil and garlic. Add black bean sauce, as well as peppers. Let caramelize by adding a splash of rice wine and a pinch of sugar. In a separate pan, cook the chicken under hot vegetable oil, preferably on a cast-iron skillet. Once the chicken is 60% cooked, add it to the peppers pan. If the sauce is too thick, add water with rice wine and black bean sauce mixed in. If too runny, consider cold water with tapioca starch. Add cilantro and parsley when dish is off the stove top.

Mongolian Chicken (feeds 3 people)
½ pound chicken breast sliced thin
1 ½ table spoons of tapioca starch
2 tablespoons of rice wine
1 tablespoon of soy sauce
1 tablespoon oyster sauce
2 pablano peppers julienne
1 cup chopped basil
½ cup chopped scallions
2 shallots diced
½ tablespoon crushed red pepper
1 tablespoon five spice
Pinch of sugar

Caramelize the peppers and shallots, and in a cast iron skillet, cook the chicken until 60%. Combine chicken, spices, and basil. Add water if sauce is too thick, or rice wine mixed with starch and oyster sauce if too runny. Incorporate scallions right after taking the dish off the stove top.

***Note: According to Chef Saundra at the Anderson’s, the most important factor to a good stir-fry is a super hot pan. Open your windows and embrace the smoke.


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