I was delighted to find out that the theme for the 18th IMBB, hosted by Linda of At Our Table, is “Summer’s Flying, Let’s Get Frying!” for I had been doing just that. Earlier this year, I decided that it was high time to do something about my being Chinese and not knowing how to cook Chinese food. I made a conscious effort to look up Chinese recipes in search for dishes that are not too complicated to make. Did you have any idea how much deep-frying is involved in Chinese cooking? Sure, it may look drenched in a thick, dark sauce, but underneath all that gooey goodness is a piece of battered and deep-fried fish or meat. Not that I have anything against deep-frying. It’s just that the exhaust fan in my kitchen is not very well designed. As far as I can tell, it doesn’t accomplish much at all when it comes to getting rid of the smell. When I cook something strong smelling, such as duck or lamb, I often still smell it the next morning. It’d take days to get rid of the oily odor that comes hand-in-hand with frying. But with summer came the solution. While other people do outdoor grilling, I do outdoor frying.
It occurred to me that I could set the tabletop burner that I use for hotpots in the winter in the yard to heat up a pot of oil and fry my heart out without leaving a trace of smell in the house. Brilliant, isn’t it? Why didn’t I think of it earlier?!
For my first frying experiment, I made Jason’s favorite Chinese dish – General Tsao’s Chicken. Ask any real Chinese and they’ll tell you that General Tsao’s chicken is the type of quasi-Chinese food invented to suit the American palate. I’ve never seen it on any menus in restaurants in China, or any country outside the United States for that matter. But hey, if that’s what my man wants, that’s what I’ll cook.
This dish being an Americanized Chinese invention actually has its merits: I was able to find an English recipe with exact quantities for all the ingredients (none of the vagueness of “some”, “the right amount” that are so typical of Chinese recipes). So on a hot summer day I set out to make General Tsao’s chicken. The recipe is pretty much self-explanatory except you do not need to mix in so much starch. Being a frying novice, the hardest thing for me was trying to determine when the chicken was done, but it was nothing a few pokes with a chopstick wouldn’t solve.
This was the finished product and it was a huge hit if I might say so myself, well worth the frying trouble. Not only did Jason eat loads of it and brought the leftover to lunch, he talked about if for the next couple of days. The only thing I would change when I make it again is to coat the chicken in the starch after dipping it in the marinade, instead of mixing the starch in from the beginning. I think this will give the chicken a crispier outer layer and make the dish perfect, just the way they serve it in restaurants.
Fueled by the success, I fried up some sea bream a couple of days later, and topped it with a sweet and sour sauce. I also made fried tofu in lemongrass sauce. Believe me when I tell you it tastes so much better than the soggy pre-fried tofu you get in stores. When I come back from my trip, I’m making spring rolls! Oh yeah!
Thanks Linda, for hosting this event and taking my early entry!