Chicken, Green Pepper, and Mushroom Stir Fry


One of my greatest self-professed weaknesses as a cook is that I have a hard time tasting any big difference between the allegedly “flavorless” fryer chickens in American grocery stores and their vastly more expensive, free-ranged counterparts. I mean, god damned everybody runs around talking about how flavorless your overfed, hormone pumped fryers are compared to the free rangers, but I can’t taste it. To me, even regular chicken breasts, which are the most flavorless parts of any chicken, can be flavorful enough if you season it with enough salt and pepper, marinate it in wine for a while, and avoid overcooking it.

This time around we are making a simple home style stir fry using the “flavorless” chicken breasts. This is a fast dish that takes mere minutes to assemble and is great for a summer lunch. The three main ingredients are chicken breasts, green bell peppers, and mushrooms. It is a light yet flavorful combination that draws influences from both traditional Chinese cuisine and Western style Chinese cuisine.

Ingredients

More ingredients than you can shake a stick at? I don’t think so. You can shake a stick at all of them if you wanted to.

Prep/Cook time: 15 minutes, plus ~2 hours hydration/marination time
Serves 2-3

2 skinless boneless chicken breasts
2 green bell peppers
7-8 button, brown, or shiitake mushrooms*
Chinese cooking wine**
salt
pepper***
1 garlic clove (optional)
cooking oil
1 tbsp corn starch or 1 1/2 tbsp flour

*In the picture I had some hydrated shiitakes and a few leftover button mushrooms. You can use all of one type, a mixture, or however you like. Of course, shiitakes and mushrooms aren’t exactly cheap. If you’re on a shoestring budget you can omit mushrooms altogether.
**The brown kind. If you buy Chinese cooking wine from an Asian goods store it should be far cheaper than the cheapest grape wine you can find. Otherwise, substitute the cheapest white wine you can find.
***White or black pepper can work. White pepper is quite expensive in Western supermarkets for whatever reason, you can probably find it cheaper in the same Asian goods store you buy the Chinese cooking wine.

Cooking

This time we’ll start with the cooking first and move on to the prep later! Just kidding. We always prep first.

At least two hours before you make the dish, cut your chicken breasts into about 3/4 inch (2 cm) pieces. Season them with about half a teaspoon of salt and douse with 5-6 tablespoons of wine. Set the breasts in the refrigerator until cooking time. If you are using dried shiitakes, use this time to submerge them in some water as well (cold water if soaking overnight, warm if on the same day). Both marination and soaking can be done up to a day ahead of time.

These days chicken farmers are obsessed with large breasts.

Just before you are ready to cook, chop your mushrooms and green peppers into bite-sized pieces, also roughly 3/4 inch (2 cm). Mash your clove of garlic. If you plan to serve this dish with rice, you should start on it roughly 10 minutes after the rice has started cooking to ensure that both items finish at the same time.

NOTE: If you are using rehydrated shiitakes, squeeze the excess juice out of them after removing from the soaking liquid. This is a very mild dish and the strong flavor of shiitake can easily overpower everything else.

If you know karate, feel free to chop the vegetables by hand.

Now we are ready to cook. Pour 2-3 tablespoons of cooking oil into a pan and turn heat to high (if on an electric range) or medium/medium high (if on a gas stove). Dump your chicken minus the marinating fluid into the pan. Season with pepper and cook until just before done, about two minutes. Stir the chicken often to keep it going and cook all sides evenly. Do not worry about browning; it is not required for this dish.

The French will tell you this is poulet and the Chinese will tell you it’s ji, but they’re all lying. It’s actually just chicken.

Dump all of your vegetables into the same pan. Season with salt and cook until almost done, which should take about three minutes. The non-shiitake mushrooms should soften but the green peppers should stay firm and crisp. While you are stir frying, prepare about 6 tablespoons of cold water mixed with 1 tablespoon of cornstarch (or 1 1/2 tablespoons of flour).

What if it’s possible to become fungitarian and not eat meat or vegetables?

When the vegetables are almost done, add both the chicken and flour/water mixture into the pan. Taste for seasoning. Cook for about a minute or two until the the sauce thickens and coats all the pieces of meat and vegetables.

To Westernize the dish further, add six cups of heavy cream and beat in four sticks of butter.

Serve hot with steamed short-grained rice. Although the dish is mild, it pairs well with other, strong-flavored dishes such as chilled kimchi for contrast.

The Result

Kimchi is like Wheaties for Starcraft.

4.5 / 5 Pretty good for a quick, fast meal. The crisp green bell peppers provide a contrast in texture from the juicy mushrooms and chicken. The chicken breasts are tender and juicy, not tough or overcooked. As you can see, I have a small side bowl with some kimchi topped with a bit of chopped scallions to balance out the flavors for the meal.

Conclusion

Unlike Western cooking philosophy, which considers a wide variety of flavors in terms of gauging a dish, Chinese cuisine prioritizes two main factors when determining how tasty a dish is: aroma and umame (or savoriness). For this reason, you will often find many dishes in true Chinese cuisine which are rather one-dimensional in flavor, but presents the flavor in an extremely assertive way. This is a dish that follows such a philosophy: both chicken and mushrooms are heavily umame-flavored and serve to enhance each others’ flavor in this dish. The overall taste is simple and direct. That is why it is good to have a small side of kimchi for palate cleansing if this is the only dish you plan to serve with rice.

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1 Comment

  1. velinath

     /  September 15, 2012

    I just tried this this summer using morel mushrooms. It worked quite well.

    Reply

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