Saturday, January 30, 2010

Wok This Way

First of all, I'm not apologizing to Steven Tyler and Joe Perry like I did to Patsy Cline for bastardizing their song lyrics. They still haven't apologized to all of their fans for all that shiat they put out in the 90's...

Regardless, here it is, Saturday night at the Batch Pad, and I'm neck deep in the kitchen buffoonery. As I'm writing this, I've just finished all the prep work for tonight's project--Pineapple chicken and spicy coconut mushrooms. Oh, and rice, too. But I'm taking a little break for a couple of minutes while the chicken rests in the fridge with it's fresh coating of seasoned cornstarch.

I spent the better part of the last hour slicing and dicing chicken, shallots, yellow onions, chives, fresh ginger, red chili peppers, and cremini mushrooms. I think that's about it--well, at least all I can remember off the top of my ol' bald head. Dicing up the shallots damn near killed me--I swear it was like I got tear-gassed. And the yellow onion was even worse (no, it wasn't one of those sweet Vidalia onions with good manners that would never make me cry in my own kitchen). But I'll be the first to admit that I'm out of practice with the prep knife. I worked in kitchens all through college, but it's been years. So I think that I was prolonging the stinging in my eyes because I was so slow. Nobody is going to confuse me with one of those crazy Japanese chefs at Benihana. A sumo wrestler, maybe...

The funny thing is, as much as the onions got to me, the chili pepper wasn't bad at all. I'm guessing that it's actually pretty mild. Even sniffing the bowl that they're sitting in doesn't irritate at all--it smells like a regular old red pepper. We'll see how it turns out. On the other hand, I'd forgotten how strong fresh ginger root is. It smells good, but wow, it packs a punch.

Here are the ingredients for tonight's meal:

Now that I'm looking at it, I'm ashamed that it took me so long to get that far. But peeling fresh ginger isn't quite the same as peeling a potato, and we've already discussed the angry onions.

Anyhow, once everything was ready to go, I heated up a few tablespoons of peanut oil in my new pot, then added the garlic and chili peppers, and after just a minute or so, in went the shallots:

It was pretty straightforward after that. Once the shallots had sweated out a little bit, in went the mushrooms. They cooked for about three minutes or so, and then I put in about 3/4 of a cup of coconut milk. That was basically it--I just let it boil rapidly until the liquid was reduced by half, then I sprinkled on some chopped chives and it was finished.

Over in the wok, I heated oil, and then stir-fried the chicken for a bit until it was just barely cooked through. Then I took it out of the wok, brought the oil back up to temperature, and then added the garlic, ginger, and onions. A few minutes of stirring that around in the peanut oil hot tub, I added in two small cans of pineapple, along with their juice. I let that get good and hot, added soy sauce, then put the chicken back in.

Once the liquid reduced down to a glaze, I stirred in some scallions, and it was done.

That's the best pic I've got of the finished product, and those mushrooms, they weren't exactly photogenic. Gray and lumpy, but the chilies and chives gave the dish a bit of color. And I need to work on my food-photography skills, too. The 'shrooms looked like shiat in their bowl, and I needed to fill up the plate for the sake of a better picture, so that's what I got. It looks like a huge, unappetizing portion. The picture doesn't do it much justice.

Anyhow, the pineapple chicken was outstanding--two thumbs way up! It had a great balance of sweet and salty with the pineapple and soy, and then every now and then one of those ginger matchsticks would find it's way onto the fork and added a whole other layer of flavor. Very good--much better than I expected.

The mushrooms, on the other hand, were kind of a disappointment. First of all, they didn't have an appealing look once they got to the serving dish. I couldn't imagine somebody trying to feed them to a kid. Second of all, I think I needed more chilies. The mushrooms were actually a bit too bland for my tastes. Now, I love me some coconut, but mushrooms on their own need some help. I followed the recipe to the letter, but I think my chilies were just a bit too mild. That being said, every now and again, I'd get a bite and it would do that classic Thai move of being a harmless bite of food at first, and then a few seconds later, it brought the heat. But too little too late, I think. I thought maybe some cayenne pepper might help, but that's not gonna do it. I'm guessing that plain old salt and pepper would work, along with some more, or stronger, chilies. Overall, it was a good dish, but it didn't live up to my expectations. I wanted it to knock my socks off, but it fell a bit short.

So it was a good meal, and that pineapple chicken recipe is definitely a keeper. And yeah, I've got *lots* of leftovers, too. That chicken chow mein might have to wait a couple more days.


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