Wednesday, March 10, 2010

naked chicken with cashews and green peppers, Hominid-style

PREP FOR THE LIQUID (modified teriyaki sauce)

1/2 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup molasses (or a bit less)
a splash of whisky
Asian red pepper flakes (to taste)
garlic powder (to taste)
black pepper (to taste)
ginger powder (to taste)
1 heaping tablespoon dried onion
1 heaping tablespoon of cornstarch in 3-4 oz. of cold water (prepare this just before adding it to the sauce while cooking; do not add well in advance)


4 large chicken breastuses (preferably from Costco's Kirkland line; their breasts are enormous)
3 large green bell peppers
3-5 green onions
3 handfuls of cashews (I use salted, and they work fine, but there's nothing wrong with washing off the salt or buying unsalted cashews)

rice (prep separately in a rice cooker)


1. Make the sauce first by combining all the ingredients except the cornstarch-and-water mixture. Stir thoroughly to allow the molasses and brown sugar to mix well with the rest of the ingredients. I often heat the mixture for a few seconds in a microwave so as to thin it out and make the ingredients easier to combine. (If, by the way, you don't like molasses in your teriyaki sauce, feel free to replace it with some other sweetener: dark corn syrup, more brown sugar, etc., though I'd advise against table sugar. In my opinion, molasses works just fine, and has appeared in quite a few recipes for teriyaki sauce.)

2. Set the sauce aside, and start up the rice cooker. The rice is now on auto-pilot. Don't worry about it for the rest of this procedure.

3. Prep green peppers by cutting away all the irrelevant portions (seeds, core, membrane), and cut the peppers into sections roughly half an inch square. This is a chunky-chicken preparation, and I want the chicken pieces somewhat larger than the green pepper and cashews.

4. Put the prepped green peppers in a bowl and set aside.

5. Put three handfuls of cashews in a bowl and set aside.

6. De-fat and cut up four thoroughly thawed chicken breasts into cubes/chunks, perhaps 3/4 of an inch on a side, maybe a bit smaller-- but larger than the green peppers. Trim away any morsels that look like connective tissue.

7. The chicken won't be coated with flour or anything like that (hence the "naked" in the blog post title); once the meat has been cubed, place it all into a large bowl.

8. Set stove top to "high." Put down a generous amount of oil for the chicken. Once oil is hot, throw the bird chunks on. Add salt and pepper. Stir-fry until the chicken flesh is zombie-white and all the pieces have been thoroughly cooked through (no red centers!).

9. At this point, you'll find you have a lot of liquid that's cooked out of the chicken. I find that this extra liquid impedes the subsequent cooking process, so at this point, I'd recommend draining the chicken in a strainer or colander, then tossing it back into the pan with more oil.

10. Now we're at Phase 2 of the chicken-cooking process. Cook the chicken until you start to see some-- not all-- of the pieces develop significant browning along edges, corners, and sides. Be careful, because it's now a delicate balancing act between (a) dryness, and (b) the extra taste and texture that accompany such browning. Once you start to see the browning, add the cashews. After a minute or two, add the green peppers. Cook another minute or so, stirring constantly.

11. While this is going on, prepare the cornstarch-and-water mixture, and have it at the ready. Do this by mixing the heaping tablespoon (not too heaping!) of cornstarch with 3-4 ounces of cold water. Stir until you have a cloudy mixture. Caution: too much cornstarch, and you'll have to figure out, within seconds, how to thin out your sauce. Unlike flour, which usually needs to be made into a roux to act as a decent thickener, cornstarch reacts almost instantly to high heat, and the thickening process begins right away. Be careful.

12. By this point, the green peppers should have a shinier, more intense green color than when they started. Don't move too far beyond this phase, or you'll end up with dead, faded-looking green peppers. ADD THE SAUCE. Stir for another 30-50 seconds, allowing all the solid elements to be thoroughly coated. At this stage in the process, the moment the sauce is added to the heat, the entire dish acquires its signature fragrance, and all your efforts suddenly make sense. This is the part of the process that I've been waiting for. (The dish, you'll notice, won't look half bad, either.)

13. Finally! It's time to add the cornstarch-and-water mixture to thicken up the sauce. You don't want the sauce too thick, but you don't want a runny sauce, either. The water from the green peppers, the residual water from the chicken, and the oil in the pan should ideally combine quite well with the modified teriyaki sauce and the cornstarch.

14. Once the sauce has thickened, you're done. Do be sure that you've been checking the state of the chicken the entire time. Breast meat in particular has a tendency to turn into the meat version of hard tofu if overcooked, so be on the lookout for any potential textural difficulties.

15. Scoop some rice into a large serving bowl (or plate), top with the naked chicken mixture, and eat. Sides optional. Sesame seeds sprinkled atop the glistening dish optional. Oh, yes-- the green onions! Chop them up into little 1/4-inch cylinders and sprinkle atop the dish as a garnish.

CAUTION: The sauce is definitely sweet, and might not be to everyone's liking as a result. One idea, which I got from my brother David, is to add a tiny splash of rice vinegar. Personally, I'm not a big fan of this addition because it gives the sauce an almost citrus-y taste, but that's not to say that the resultant taste is bad. It's not. Another way to reduce sweetness in the sauce might be to reduce the amount of sugar and replace it with something tasteless, like water. You do risk having a bland sauce, though, as the water will also dilute the saltiness of the soy sauce.

I cooked and served this dish for Tuesday dinner. Alas, I didn't have the super-large Kirkland chicken breasts, so the meal ended up serving just me and my brother. We slaughtered the entire thing, so if you were to ask me how many people this dish serves, I'd say "two hungry adult males." In our case, this meant one full-sized serving in a large bowl, followed by one half-sized serving in the same bowl.

Please consider the recipe a guideline only. Vary the proportions of the cashews, chicken, and green peppers according to your preference. Throw in other ingredients, such as carrots and/or mushrooms. I put my cashews in whole, but you might prefer breaking them up slightly for a different mouth-feel. And if you'd prefer a different type of brown sauce, there are plenty of recipes online. I've found that the above modified teriyaki recipe works well for me and my palate, but I'm biased toward sweetness.


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