Monday, 2 March 2015

Chicken chow mein

Yes, it's supposed to be chow mein and this is Chop Suey.   
It's a great song so fucking sue me

While I've been doing this blog I've done recipes from various parts of the world, but so far not from China, as such. And that's not going to change with this recipe, since this is yet another bastardised/Anglicised variation on an authentic regional dish. OK, it's Chinese, in that the ingredients are oriental but, like chicken tikka masala in Indian restaurants, it's basically thrown together to appease the delicate pallets of us poor, fragile westerners. There's no sharks' fin, no rotten smelling durian fruit, no bird's nest composed of dried avian spit (or other exotic ingredient regarded as a delicacy in the orient). Not that there's anything wrong with these ingredients from a culinary point of view per se. Tastes vary around the world and what one culture find a delicacy other people find repugnant. I mean, nobody east of the Danube in their right mind would even consider bringing a lump of rancid, congealed, mouldy milk (or "blue cheese" as we refer to it in Western Europe) anywhere near their mouth, never mind eat it. Or there is surstr√∂mming arguably the most disgusting "delicacy" in the world, which is a tinned form of effectively rotten fish originating in Sweden. On the other hand, and taking a broader view, the demand for sharks' fin in the east and in oriental restaurants all over the world is seriously depleting the global population of sharks. This is because sharks' fin soup is a luxury dish and a burgeoning middle class in countries like China, Singapore and Malaysia, keen to show off their wealth and status, has increased demand.

I've eaten sharks' fin soup. It tasted delicious. Not because of the fin but because of the ingredients that went to make the broth of the soup. The fin itself added fuck all to the flavour, only being present as strips of slightly chewy gristle floating in the broth.

This raises an obvious question. If it doesn't have any taste of its own, why is sharks' fin so popular? It's so highly prized because, according to traditional Chinese medicine, it's supposed to impart sexual potency. So sharks are being hunted to extinction because businessmen can't get a stiffy. That is bad enough, but there is actually no evidence that sharks' fin is in any way an effective remedy for erectile dysfunction. In fact, since sharks are apex predators, they accumulate toxic metals like mercury in their tissues which can lead to all manner of health problems including sterility and erectile dysfunction in men. Ahh, the irony. Personally, if any bloke wants to show his social status or how magnificent his tumescence is, I think he should buy a bigger car, shag his secretary then just fuck off, and leave sharks alone. Or try Viagra.

Dragging myself back on track, noodles are huge in east Asia. They are the perfect foodstuff: filling, cheap and versatile. They are popular street food, taste fantastic and really keep these countries running.You can have fried dishes like this or soups with noodles in. In fact most eastern Asian countries have their own versions of a noodle dishes: pad Thai in Thailand, mee goreng and laksa in Malaysia, Japanese udon. They are the origin of pasta, brought back from China by Marco Polo, apparently. Like shark fin, they also taste largely of fuck all. This means they need a well-flavoured sauce (or broth in soup recipes) and other ingredients to turn them into something worth eating.

This is a really easy dish to make. The most time-consuming part is preparing the ingredients. Chopping carrots into matchstick-sized pieces, slicing peppers into strips and finely chopping ginger are a collective pain in the arse, but they cook quicker and the results are worthwhile.

150g dry egg noodles
300g chicken fillet cut into strips
2 tbsp light soy
black pepper
3 or 4 cloves garlic, crushed
1 piece ginger (about 3 cm), finely chopped
1 small bunch spring onions, cut diagonally into pointy sticks
1 small-medium carrot, cut into matchstick sized strips
1 red pepper, cut into thin strips
100g washed bean sprouts (about a handful)
200g mushrooms, sliced
2 tbsp vegetable oil (not olive, see notes!)

2tbsp dark soy
1 tbsp sweet chilli sauce (the thick dipping kind)
3 tbsp dry sherry 
1 tbsp sesame oil
1 tsp sugar

Put the chicken in a bowl and pour the light soy over it and add a liberal grind of pepper.

Mix them well so they are well coated in the soy and put in the fridge to marinate for a couple of hours or so.

Boil up a large pan of water and add the noodles.

Simmer gently until they are soft, about 5 minutes (depends on their thickness). Drain them and set aside.

Make up the sauce by adding the dark soy, chilli sauce, sherry, sesame oil and sugar to a cup and mix well then set aside.

Add half the oil to a frying pan or wok and heat until it's very hot.

Stir fry the chicken until it's cooked (about 10 minutes).

Remove the meat with a slotted spoon, leaving the oil plus any juices from the cooked chicken in the pan.

Add the remaining oil and the throw in the garlic and ginger and stir fry for about a minute.

Throw in the carrot, pepper, spring onion and mushroom and stir fry for 5-10 minutes.

Add the bean sprouts and carry on stir frying for another couple of minutes.

Return the chicken to the pan and keep moving on the heat to make sure everything is warmed.

Refresh the noodles by running them under the cold tap, drain well and add them to the pan.

Try to mix up everything and once the noodles are warmed through add the sauce mixture, and the best way I've found to do this is to gently turn them over like you might do when dressing a salad.

I would add a warning that it is a bit of a ballache to make sure that the noodles are mixed with all the other ingredient.

Use a neutral-flavoured oil for this, like sunflower or soya, but NOT olive oil which has too much flavour and is definitely not Chinese and doesn't tolerate the high heat you need to stir fry.

The chilli sauce adds a little spicy edge to the sauce as well as a bit of sweetness and stickiness. It should be the Thai sweet type as made by the likes of Blue Dragon or Encona. These aren't very hot, but if you really can't tolerate chilli, leave it out. Then again, if you do have an aversion to chilli, why are you using a cookery blog which has a significant Scoville rating in almost every recipe?

You can put lots of different vegetables in this. I've done the same recipe with combinations including mange tout, sugar snap peas, green beans, baby sweet corn, bamboo shoots, water chestnuts. They ought to be fairly crunchy, but otherwise it's up to you. You could also make it with any other meat like beef, pork or prawn. You could even omit meat altogether and make it vegetarian.

Recipes in Chinese cookery books suggest using Chinese rice wine, or sherry as an alternative. The sherry works perfectly well, but it needs to be a dry type. Something like a fino is what you need but definitely not Harvey's fucking Bristol Cream

Like rice, soy sauce is best bought from Asian supermarkets where you can get a huge bottle for the same price as you might pay for a tiny one in your usual place.

No pictures on this entry yet. I'll take some next time I make this.

This isn't intended to be a racist blog. The rant about sharks' fin is a rant against general fuckwittedness anywhere it raises its head in the human race. All of these superstition-based remedies are as idiotic as one another. For "Chinese traditional medicine" you could just as easily read "homeopathy" or "astrology". If this sounds cynical, I can't help it. I'm a Sagittarian, it's in my nature