Thursday, April 28, 2011

Sweet-and-sour Mock Chicken with Cucumber and Cantaloupe

I was looking through my small collection of old-school cookbooks looking for ideas when I opened my 1976 edition of Creative Wok Cooking and found this astonishing recipe.

Our dinner plans were hampered only slightly by a damaged water main somewhere in Virginia that kept our water off from noon-ish to about ten in the evening, but as I am a resourceful and level-headed cook, I opened up a gallon of "emergency water" and got to work.

I chopped up some gluten and set it aside to marinate in soy sauce, corn starch and michiu. The original recipe says to use sherry, but rice wine works just as well.

I got some rice going in the cooker and then, because I am a gourmet powerhouse (and not, as some people in the household contend, because I am too cheap), blanched and peeled my own almonds. This turns out to be much easier than I thought, but feel free to remain impressed.

Thirty seconds in boiling water -- just until the skins wrinkle, and then straight into some ice water. They just sort of jump out of their skins when you squeeze them, kind of like edamame.

Then I set about chopping up half a red bell pepper, half a cantaloupe, and half a peeled, seeded cucumber. The original recipe just says to score the cucumber skin with a fork, but sometimes when I am cooking I forget that I am trying to follow a recipe and just go nuts with a vegetable peeler.

With the fruits and vegetables all chopped up (whatever haters I know those are all technically fruits I went to college you can't trip me up), I mixed up a little sweet-and-sour sauce from pineapple juice, sugar, cider vinegar, soy sauce and corn starch.

Then, after having bravely struggled with the genuinely first-world problem of a temporary interruption in my supply of unlimited clean safe drinking water, I got my stir-fry going.

First the gluten -- next time I make this, I may not marinate it, the corn starch made it sticky and weird, and I don't think chicken per se would have reacted the same way. There was just a little too much moisture to get a good crunchy sear going.

When the gluten is done, toss in the fruits and stir for a half a minute, then stir up your sauce and toss that in. When the sauce is glossy and delicious, stir in the almonds and serve it up.

I plated this with some black japonica rice (mixed with some short-grain brown rice because I didn't have enough of either to make a full cup) because I thought it would set off the vibrant colors of the stir-fry. I was right.

Ingredients list:

Stir fry:
14 oz. seitan
1 1/2 Tbsp. soy sauce
1 Tbsp. michiu (can also use dry sherry)
1 Tbsp. cornstarch
2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
1 cucumber
1/2 cantaloupe
1/2 red pepper
2 oz. blanched almonds

Sweet and Sour Sauce
3 Tbsp. brown sugar
3 Tbsp. vinegar
1/2 cup pineapple juice
1 tsp. soy sauce
1 Tbsp. cornstarch

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