September 21, 2016

Chicken and Veggies in Brown Sauce

I apologize for the delay in posting, but between classes, networking, social events, football games, and all other aspects of being in college I've barely had enough time to cook let alone write about what I'm eating. Unfortunately, that usually means I rely on various types of takeout for dinner. I've probably had pizza at least twice a week since classes started, but that's mostly due to clubs and meetings with free food. When I'm craving Chinese food, I do have a backup so I'm not forced to order delivery *every* time.

One of my family's favorite Chinese takeout staples is chicken with mixed vegetables in a standard brown sauce. I have no idea what the actual name is for this magical sauce since every place we've ever ordered from just calls it brown sauce. It salty, savory, and a little sweet, so it goes with everything. Here I've used stir-fried chicken and a combination of broccoli and eggplant with some water chestnuts for crunch. However, you can easily sub in your favorite meat and vegetables. Given my love for the Dane County Farmers' Market and all the wonderful finds there, I'll just use whatever looks best this week.

If you do decide to swap veggies, you have to consider the best ways to cook them. The vegetables will be warmed at the end but that's rarely enough to cook them all the way through. For broccoli and similar vegetables like cauliflower, blanching works wonders to keep the crunch and the color. If you use eggplant, squash, or zucchini, I find it's best to brown those in a bit of oil instead. Thin, crunchy options like water chestnuts, bean sprouts, carrots, and jicama are best left raw until added in at the end. I usually pick one or two from each category so there's some textural variety.

The meat is incredibly easy, and it doesn't even get much seasoning since I want it to soak up all the flavor from the sauce. Simply heat a big skillet (or ideally a wok if you happen to have one) with a little bit of oil and sear the chicken or other meat until brown. For the juiciest results use a whole chicken breast and slice after cooking; for the crispiest results cut into slices before cooking.

The last component is the sauce, which is my personal favorite since you can use it to improve any assortment of ingredients. It starts by cooking lots of garlic in the meat drippings. That gets deglazed with chicken broth and soy sauce and then sweetened with brown sugar. The final step is typical of many Chinese-American sauces: thickening with a cornstarch slurry. That sounds intimidating, but it's really just mixing cornstarch with water and adding it to the warm sauce as a thickening agent. The trick is to wait until shortly before serving since you'll get lumps if you don't whisk it frequently. You should end up with a thick, velvety sauce that perfectly coats all the other components of the dish, so it might be worth making an extra extra large batch of the sauce and freezing it for future use, which for me will probably be the next time I get home after a 3-hour library study session.

1 1/2 lbs Boneless Skinless Chicken Breasts, Sliced
1 1/2 lbs Eggplant, Diced
12oz Broccoli Florets
1 8oz Can Sliced Water Chestnuts, Drained & Rinsed
8 Cloves Garlic, Minced
3 Cups Chicken Broth
1/3 Cup Soy Sauce
1/4 Cup Brown Sugar
1/4 Cup Cornstarch

Heat some oil in a large skillet. Add enough eggplant cubes to form a single layer and brown on all sides, about 5 minutes total. Repeat with the remaining eggplant and set aside.

Meanwhile, heat a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the broccoli, cook for 1 minute, drain, and place in an ice bath. Drain and pat dry once cool.

Heat some oil in the large pot used for broccoli. Add enough chicken to form a single layer, season with salt and pepper, and brown on all sides, about 6 minutes total. Repeat with the remaining chicken and set aside.

Cook the garlic in the chicken drippings until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Stir in the chicken broth, soy sauce, and brown sugar. Whisk the cornstarch with 1 T water and stir into the sauce. Simmer/boil for 6 minutes or until thickened. Add the chicken, eggplant, broccoli, and water chestnuts and cook for 2 minutes or until coated.

Serves 8
Recipe Adapted from