One of our favorite quick meals is a chicken stir fry. It took me a while to perfect this recipe, but I’ve found that the secret lies in two things: velveting the chicken (tossing it with cornstarch, flour, and some oil to give it a crispy coating that to protect it from getting dry) and using oyster sauce, a thick, gloppy substance that brings a nice rich salty flavor to Chinese (and, in this case, Chinese-American) dishes.
When I started teaching, I bought one of these, thinking it would be useful for labeling teaching supplies. It totally isn’t, but it’s lots of fun to label things in the kitchen! The bottle on the left is soy sauce.
You can play with the amounts of chicken and meat, depending on how virtuous you feel. For 4 servings, I’ve used as much as a pound of meet and as little as 8-10 ounces. Obviously, if you use less chicken, use more vegetables. You can also substitue beef (use thin sliced flank steak) — if you do this, you can skip the velveting step.
There are a couple of different vegetables that we like to use in stir fries. Our favorite is baby bok choy, which is a type of Chinese cabbage. My favorite thing about bok choy is that you get two vegetables in one – the white part gets sort of creamy and crisp-tender and the green part wilts quickly, like spinach. Bok choy is usually about $2 a pound, and it is almost always cheaper and fresher at an Asian market. We also like to use broccoli, and have used, as well as asparagus, broccoli raabe, and even zucchini.
Stir Fried Chicken and Vegetables
Serves 4, with rice
- 12 ounces boneless, skinless chicken breasts or thighs, cut into bite-size chunks
- 3 tablespoons soy sauce, plus more to taste
- 2-3 tablespoons oyster sauce (Panda is a good brand; you can buy it at most grocery stores)
- Sriracha to taste (optional)
- 3 tablespoons cornstarch
- 1 cup chicken broth or water (or use half white wine and half broth/water)
- 1 teaspoon rice wine vinegar
- 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1 onion, cut into chunks or strips
- 1 bell pepper, any color, cut into strips
- 1.5 pounds broccoli, stalks peeled and stalks and florets cut into bite-size chunks, OR 1.5 pound baby bok choy, bottom 1/2 inch chopped off and then cut into 1 inch segments
- 1 carrot, grated (optional, but it adds nice color)
- 1 small bunch scallions, sliced thin (optional)
- 2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
- 1 tablespoon ginger, peeled and grated
- 1/2 cup peanuts, cashews, or other nut (optional)
Toss the chicken with 2 tablespoons soy sauce, 1 tablespoon oyster sauce, and a squirt of Sriracha (optional); cover and refrigerate while you prep the rest of your ingredients.
Make the stir fry sauce: in a small bowl, combine 1 T cornstarch and the broth, stir to combine. Add 1 tablespoon soy sauce, 1 tablespoon oyster sauce, and the rice wine vinegar and stir (I sometimes makethe sauce in a Mason jar and just shake to combine). Taste and adjust seasoning if you think it needs it (sometimes I add some sugar); set aside.
Drain the chicken and toss in a strainer with 2 tablespoons cornstarch. This is called velveting the chicken and its a key step in making a nice crusty, crispy piece of chicken that thickens the sauce aroundit. You want to lightly coat it with the cornstarch; not all of it will stick but thats OK.
In your widest nonstick skillet, heat 1 tablespoon oil over high heat for 1-2 minutes, or until shimmering but not smoking. Add the cornstarchy chicken and do not stir for 1 minute. After a minute, start stirring occasionally with a spatula and continue to cookuntil well browned, about another minute or two. Remove from pan and set in a bowl.
Add 1 tablespoon oil and bell pepper and onion. Like the chicken, cook undisturbed for 1 minute, then cook, stirring, until soft (a few more minutes). When done, add to the bowl with the chicken.
Add the last tablespoon oil and the broccoli or bok choy. Cook, stirring, for a few minutes. If you are using bok choy, it will be done by now; if you’re using broccoli, it probably won’t. That’s OK. Add the scallions and cook, stirring frequently, for about a minute, then add the garlic and ginger and cook, still stirring, for about 30 seconds, until fragrant.
Add the stir fry sauce and cook, still over high heat, until the vegetables are as done as youd like (if it seems like its getting too dried out, add more water, broth, or wine). When almost done, add chicken and onions/peppers back into pan along with the carrot. Cook about 1 minute, until everything is heated through and ready to go. Taste for seasoning; it might need more soy sauce, but it probably wont.
Serve with white or brown rice, sprinkled with nuts.