It seems like forever ago that I wrote about my two year long craving for Chinese food and shared my recipe for Mongolian Beef. But really it was only last year. I’ve wanted to write about today’s recipe since shortly after that post, but it just never worked out. But it’s certainly been a life saver when a Chinese food craving strikes. Why is it that Chinese food is such an iconic craving? So many people I know lament that they crave Chinese food but can’t find a decent restaurant for it. Sure; people get cravings for pizza, sandwiches, soups, Mexican food, and any number of sweets. But Chinese food is what you always see the characters ordering for delivery in the movies. It’s what you always hear mentioned during conversations about late night bar crawls or whirlwind trips. And almost invariably the expression of the craving is followed by “but there just isn’t anywhere nearby to get good Chinese!” Someone will say “Such & Such has decent food, but it’s (insert location that is most definitely out of the question for whatever reason).” And that usually leads to the party agreeing to either eat at some mediocre Chinese place or forgo it altogether. Neither option does anything to satisfy the craving. In fact, that usually just makes it worse. Yeah… been there done that. Got really sick of it. Once that happened, I went on a search for a good chicken recipe. I found a copycat of the recipe that P.F. Chang’s uses for their Crispy Honey Chicken. I’ve never been to P.F. Chang’s, but I’ve heard they’re really good, so I started with that recipe and went about tweaking it so it went beyond “good”. That’s what I do. And I’m good at it ;-) What I ended up with is a definite family favorite that my kids rejoice over when they see it on the menu. Chinese Food Craving- 0, Humble Food Snob- 2 :-)
This is a recipe that is highly adaptable. You can swap out ingredients or add veggies with ease. I’m going to give the basic recipe and method and then suggest substitutions and additions at the end. This is also a super simple recipe that doesn’t use any specialty ingredients at all. All you really need is this:
Start with a pound of boneless, skinless chicken breasts (or thighs, if you prefer). Slice them thin or cut them into small cubes (about half an inch). Combine the cut up chicken with about 2 tablespoons soy sauce and 2 or 3 cloves of finely minced garlic. Mix well, cover, and refrigerate for at least an hour. You can certainly skip the marinating step- I do sometimes- but it adds a really nice, yet subtle, flavor to the chicken.
Ummm… there’s supposed to be a picture of chicken marinating here. As you can see, there isn’t. I had no garlic. Sigh. And I forgot to take the chicken out of the freezer last night. Oh well. Use your imagination ;-)
Once the chicken is done marinating (if you choose to do so), set it to drain in a colander. Once the chicken is well drained, put in into a large bowl. Add enough cornstarch (corn flour) to completely coat the chicken. I can’t tell you how much that will be- it differs with each batch I do. You might have to add cornstarch a few times until your chicken is coated. Just start stirring and see how it goes. It should look something like this:
Let the chicken sit while you heat up the oil in which to fry it. If you have an actual fryer, awesome! Go for it! I don’t. I tend to go back and forth on whether or not I want one. It would be nice to have an actual deep fryer, but I never have a place to store it. Maybe once we move again. But then again, as I’m working on getting rid of appliances and gadgets that use electricity, I’ll most likely pass even if I have the chance to get a fryer. For me, a pot or deep sided pan works just fine. So get out your frying equipment and get ready to fry your chicken. My “fryer” is an old dutch oven. It was my grandmothers. It’s in an atrocious state. I need to see to that. Later. Anyway, I’ve filled my fryer about halfway. Don’t fill anything you fry in more than half full. If you do, the oil could bubble up over the top and start a fire. Heat the oil to about 350 degrees. This usually takes about 10 minutes for me but it will vary according to the size and shape of your fryer. I have a frying/candy thermometer, but I don’t usually use it for frying. I use my experience to tell me when it’s about ready and then try a tiny piece of whatever I’m frying. If you don’t have a thermometer, put a small piece of bread in the hot oil. If it takes about 30 seconds to brown, you’re right around 350 degrees. Or you can take a wooden spoon and stick the handle into the oil. If the oil bubbles around the handle you’re there. When your oil is hot, take a small handful of chicken and jiggle it a bit in your partly open fingers to get rid of excess cornstarch and gently put the pieces in the fryer, one at a time. Wash your hands and then use a slotted spoon or wire frying spider to stir the chicken around a bit. Let the chicken cook until it’s just barely golden. That can take anywhere from 3-5 minutes, depending on the way you cut your chicken.
Once done, use the spoon or spider to retrieve the chicken and transfer it to a colander over a heat proof bowl to drain (that’s the easiest way I’ve found) and put another batch of chicken in. Repeat the process until all of the chicken is cooked. It really is supposed to be this pale. If you marinate it before cooking it will be a little darker.
Now you can start on the sauce. Spray a measuring cup with cooking spray or brush the inside with a tiny bit of oil and measure out the honey. The oil will prevent having to wrestle the honey out of the cup. Pour the honey into a pan large enough to hold all of the chicken. Add the rest of the ingredients- except the slurry ingredients- and turn the heat up to medium high. Whisk to dissolve the sugar and bring the sauce to a boil. Once boiling, add the chicken and stir to coat. Boil once again for about 3 minutes to see what effect the cornstarch coating on the chicken will have. Mix up the slurry during that time. Stir in about half of the slurry. Boil and check the consistency. It’s supposed to be very thick- almost like a gel. If you would prefer it thinner, add only 1/4 of the slurry to begin with. If needed, add more. It should only take a minute or so after the addition of the slurry to see what the sauce will do. Watch it closely- it will seize on you pretty quickly. If it does (you’ll know; it gets clumpy), add apple or pineapple juice to thin it out a bit, stirring to make the sauce a sauce again.
Normally I serve this over noodles because my family doesn’t really like rice. In fact, most of this went over noodles (the same ones pictured in the Mongolian Beef post). But I wanted mine over rice and I didn’t want to have both Chinese food posts over noodles, so I made this serving with white rice. But isn’t it pretty?? And it’s SO good! It’s one of my favorites- my kids’ too. The leftovers (if there are any) are fabulous!
I promised you some adaptations, so here they are:
-Shrimp could easily be substituted for chicken. Marinate them if you want, coat them in cornstarch, and fry like the chicken.
-You could add some ginger to the marinade if you wanted to. About 2 teaspoons of fresh grated or 1 teaspoon of dry ginger is very tasty.
-You could make this chicken without frying it, but it’s not the same. It’s still really good, don’t get me wrong. But coating and frying the chicken adds enormously to the texture and flavor of the finished dish.
-If you wanted to add garlic and/or onions (green, white, or both) it would be a very welcome addition! Simply saute them in as small amount of oil as you can manage in the pan you will make the sauce in. Once they are sauteed, add the sauce ingredients and proceed as directed above.
-You could also add some steamed veggies and/or water chestnuts. Steam the veggies on their own and then add them at the last moment. OR, if you want them crunchy, stir fry the veggies quickly in the pan you’ll make the sauce in. If you add water chestnuts, slice them (if they aren’t that way when you buy them) and put them in the sauce along with the chicken to make sure they are heated through. I’ll put the substitution ideas in the ingredients list.
FOR THE CHICKEN:
1 LB Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breasts or Thighs, sliced or cubed as directed above
2-3 Cloves Garlic, minced fine
2-3 T Soy Sauce
Enough Cornstarch to thoroughly coat the chicken
FOR THE SAUCE:
1/2 C Chicken Broth (Sake, Rice wine, White Wine, or even plain Water will work too- but will add zero flavor. I avoid cooking with it when I can!)
1/2 C Honey
2 Oz Apple Cider Vinegar (Rice Vinegar or White Wine Vinegar will also work- just don’t use plain, white vinegar. It’s much too harsh.)
3 T Soy Sauce
1/4 C + 2 T Sugar (Granulated is what’s called for, but Brown Sugar will work fine)
FOR THE SLURRY:
1/4 C Pineapple Juice (I take mine from canned pineapple I feed my kids :-) You can also use Apple Juice like I did here or plain Water. My preference is pineapple, but I was out.)
1/4 C Cornstarch
*Combine the chicken ingredients- except for the cornstarch- and refrigerate for about an hour (or as long as possible if you don’t have an hour to spare.)
*Drain the chicken well and place in a large bowl. You want a bowl with high sides because cornstarch’s fondest wish is to make a huge mess!
*Coat the chicken with the cornstarch and set aside.
*Heat a fryer, large pot, or large, deep pan with oil for frying the chicken to 350 degrees.
*Fry the chicken in batches, draining each batch well.
*Combine the sauce ingredients in a pan large enough to hold the chicken as well as the sauce.
*Whisk the sauce to dissolve the sugar and turn the heat to medium.
*Bring the sauce to a boil and then add the chicken.
*Boil gently for about 3 minutes then add one quarter to half of the slurry. Boil once again.
*Check for consistency. If you want the sauce thicker, add the more of the slurry. Bring back to a boil. Don’t let it overcook- it will seize and get clumpy and gummy. If that happens, use juice, broth, or water to thin out and correct the sauce.
*Serve over noodles or rice.