30 April 2014

Sweet and sour chicken with peppers - not pineapple!

Now interestingly, I came to cook this recipe completely unintending to velvet the chicken beforehand.  However, my recent experiments with egging and breadcrumbing brought back to mind the process of "velveting" chicken before cooking.

I first experienced this technique when I did a recipe of Ken Hom's, except he used just the white of an egg.  It really bothers me, to lose the best part of an egg (the yolk) in this way and for all that our dustbins (a.k.a. the dogs) enjoy a bit of raw egg from time to time, I'd far rather use it than throw it down the dustbins.  (What a meanie of a dog owner I am!)  This is why - following on from the success of using the whole egg to make a chicken parmesan dish the other day - I decided to velvet the chicken with whole egg instead of just the white.

I'm really not sure what Ken Hom would have to say about it all, but from where I was sitting, it worked!  Of course, the drawback with this process is that it causes son and heir to doubt whether his chicken is cooked correctly, as it feels so slippery-slidy on the tongue.  He is studying catering at school and has a good understanding of the dangers of eating uncooked chicken.  I knew this was going through his mind and immediately reassured him of the fact that the chicken was indeed cooked through and safe - it was simply a technique that the Chinese use in some of their dishes.  This served to reassure him as to the safety of the dish, but he still wasn't terribly impressed at the flavours.  He never has particularly enjoyed vinegar in or on his food, but it has been a long time since he tried a sweet and sour dish - and it had coconut rice to accompany it, which he very definitely likes!

In developing this recipe, I had looked at - literally - dozens of sweet and sour chicken recipes.  Many involved that copout of a sweet and sour ingredient, pineapple.  Why "copout"?  Well, I feel that the sweetness of the pineapple is often used to boost the sweetness of the dish, with scant or no attention paid to the acidity it brings.  I think there is more than enough acidity involved with the vinegar, without bringing it along with the pineapple too.

Sweet peppers are often included - most often red pepper - and I felt that if I used a red or yellow pepper along with the more savoury notes of a green pepper, it would help to calm the often overpowering sweetness.  Along with this, it was important to not cook the onion for too long, as the more sweating off an onion receives, the more caramelised it becomes and so the sugars develop.  Instead, I cooked the onion relatively quickly - until it was softened and browned in places - and it retained a good degree of savouriness.

For me, it was important to balance the sweetness against savoury notes, so as to prevent the dish becoming more a dessert than a main course.  Yes, the vinegar would inevitably have a large hand in doing that, but even vinegar can become sweetened when it is reduced.

As regards the vinegar, I noted that in most recipes just one denomination of vinegar was used.  In one - horrors! - they even cited using malt vinegar.  ~wince~  I just can't imagine what that one must have tasted like!  Ultimately, I decided to go with a 50/50 split between the two - white wine vinegar and cider vinegar.  I felt that the tartness of the white wine vinegar would be too much on its own, whereas the sweetness of the cider vinegar would likewise be too much on its own.  However, sharing space in the recipe, they should balance one another - and so it proved.

Hubby is known for being really sensitive to acidic combinations and I was worried - right up until the last - that he would find the sauce unpalatable.  However, I was delightfully wrong and he declared this dish to be the best sweet and sour dish he'd had in a very long time.  Wow!

I served the chicken over coconut rice, however in future, I think I'd rather serve it over a fried rice or noodle combination.  For all that coconut rice is just to die for, it was a fraction too sweet to complement the chicken.  I felt something more savoury - or even plain white rice if you're in a hurry - would be a better balance.

As a cook's note, it is worthwhile pointing out that the basic sweet and sour sauce would be just perfect with other things.  For instance, I am sure that it would be divine with King Prawns and just great with pork.  A veggie combination of carrot ribbons, courgette, baby sweetcorn, beansprouts and mushroom would be fabulous, too.

Like a lot of Chinese-based dishes (I can't, in all honesty, call this directly Chinese), it is friendly, flexible and quick to make - once you've done all your cutting and a-chopping.  So, the next time you're thinking of having a Chinese takeaway, maybe try this instead!


Ingredients :

3 skinless & boneless chicken breasts, cut into bite sized chunks
1 egg, beaten
3-4 tbsp cornflour
sea salt & black pepper
2 tbsp plus 1 tbsp rapeseed oil, used separately
1 large onion, chopped into large pieces
2 sweet peppers - I used a yellow and a green
1 clove garlic, chopped
4 tbsp tomato ketchup
3 tbsp white wine vinegar
3 tbsp cider vinegar
1 tbsp light soy sauce
2 tbsp granulated sugar
200ml water.

Method :

1.  Crack the egg into a bowl and whisk.

2.  Place the cornflour into another bowl and mix in a pinch each of sea salt and black pepper.

3.  Begin to heat the 2 tbsp oil in a deep non stick frying pan.

4.  Dunk handfuls of chicken pieces into the egg, then onwards into the cornflour.  Using a fork, pick each piece out and move it into the frying pan.

5.  When all the pieces are coated in egg and cornflour and in the frying pan, increase the heat under the pan to a moderate heat and cook the chicken pieces until they are golden.

6.  Once golden, remove the chicken from the pan to keep warm.

7.  Add the remaining tablespoonful of oil into the pan and add the onion, garlic and peppers.  Cook, stirring frequently, until they are softened and browned in places.

8.  Mix the sauce ingredients - the ketchup, white wine vinegar, cider vinegar, soy sauce and sugar - together and add to the pan.

9.  Add the water and stir through.  Place a lid on the pan and simmer for 10-15 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through.  You'll need to stir occasionally, to make sure the chicken is evenly cooked.

10. When you are sure the chicken is cooked through, remove the lid and allow the sauce to reduce until you are happy with the consistency.  The sauce should coat the chicken pieces and be glossy and thick.

11.  Taste for seasoning and adjust if necessary, then serve.

I served the chicken with some coconut rice, but it would be as good over noodles or a fried rice dish.

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