Note: I wrote this blog a year ago, which means it’s no longer the Year of the Dragon. This year, 2013, we are celebrating the Year of the Snake… and Jaden Hair has a brand new cookbook out! Be sure to check out Healthy Asian Favorites from Steamy Kitchen.
Gong Xi Fa Ca! That’s Mandarin for “wishing you prosperity.” The Chinese New Year holiday is based on a lunisolar calendar, which calculates both lunar and solar activity. Each Chinese year is associated with one of twelve symbolic zodiac animals: Dragon, Rooster, Dog, Pig, Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Snake, Horse, and Ram (or Goat). In 2012, the Chinese will welcome the Year of the Dragon. The holiday is celebrated with 15 days of fireworks and feasting, leading up to a traditional Lantern Festival on the first full moon of the Chinese year.
When I heard that Chinese New Year starts this week, I wanted to cook something tasty to celebrate. Admittedly, I don’t know much about Chinese food. I enjoy eating it, but when it comes to cooking it I’m sort of a novice. I’ve experimented here and there with recreating Chinese dishes from restaurants, but for the Chinese New Year I thought it best to seek help from an expert. I immediately thought of one of my favorite food bloggers (and people!), Jaden Hair from SteamyKitchen.com. Jaden was born in Hong Kong and grew up in America. She learned traditional Chinese cooking from her mom via cell phone. After moving to a small town in Florida with her husband and discovering a lack of authentic Chinese markets or restaurants there, she sought cooking advice from her Chinese mother in California. Jaden racked up close to $450 in cell phone minutes– which, as she puts it, “is way cheaper than three years at a fancy culinary institute.” Around that time, she started her famous blog Steamy Kitchen, which eventually turned into one of the most popular food sites on the internet!
Jaden and I met last summer at the BlogHer conference in San Diego and became fast friends. I went out and bought her first book, The Steamy Kitchen Cookbook, which is filled with easy Asian-inspired recipes that you can easily recreate at home. I love the simplicity of these recipes… most of them are so quick, you can take them from stove to table in 30 minutes or less. Can’t beat that!
A heads up for my kosher readers– The Steamy Kitchen Cookbook is not kosher. Chinese cuisine is all about pork, shellfish, and copious amounts of oyster sauce. But the book does have some yummy recipes that will work for a kosher diet, including the one I’m sharing with you today– Sweet and Sour Chicken. If you don’t keep kosher and you like Asian-inspired food, this cookbook is definitely worth a look!
Of this Sweet and Sour Chicken recipe, Jaden writes:
“This dish is for my husband, Scott, who totally digs the standard Chinese take-out… after 2 years of living in Florida, Scott started showing an interest in shopping and offered to take me to the mall several times… And then it hit me. He wanted to take me to the mall because he was craving Panda Express, a Chinese fast food chain located in malls and airports. I’d be in the dressing room, shimmying into some fancy jeans and Scott would sneak off, order Sweet and Sour Chicken or Orange Chicken and scoff it down. Ahhh… my American husband was craving the Chinese-American classics…”
I love Chinese takeout, and the recipe didn’t require any unfamiliar ingredients, so I thought this would be fun to try for the Chinese New Year. I found the dish to be pretty tasty as written. The only change I made was adding a couple pinches of cayenne pepper for heat. Add the cayenne with care if you’re sensitive to spice. I also found that letting the dish rest for 10 minutes after preparation allowed the sauce to thicken, which made the chicken saucier and more delish. You can easily make this gluten free by using a certified GF cornstarch, vinegar, and ketchup. You’ll love how easy the dish is, and you may have the ingredients on hand already– it won’t require a special trip to an Asian market. It takes less than 30 minutes to make (including prep time). It’s also much lighter than the batter-fried Sweet and Sour Chicken served by many Chinese restaurants. Who needs all that fried fatty coating when you have so much flavor in the sauce?
This recipe is healthy, affordable, fast, and a fun way to celebrate the Chinese New Year. Serving it over jasmine rice stretches the dish to 4 servings. Give it a try! And be sure to stop by Jaden’s blog to say hello, I’m sure you’ll love it (and her!) as much as I do.
P.S. I was born during the Year of the Ram (some say the Year of the Goat– I think Ram sounds cooler though). What’s your Chinese zodiac animal?
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- 1 egg white
- 2 tsp cornstarch
- 1/2 tsp salt, divided
- 1 lb boneless, skinless chicken breasts or thighs, cut into 1-inch chunks
- 1 can (8 to 10 oz) pineapple chunks in juice (reserve the juice)
- 1 tsp fresh grated ginger
- 1/4 cup white vinegar
- 1/4 cup ketchup
- 2-3 tbsp brown sugar
- 1-2 pinches cayenne pepper (or more to taste-- spicy!)
- 2 tbsp high heat cooking oil, divded (ex. grapeseed, peanut oil)
- 1 red bell pepper, seeded and cut into 1-inch chunks
- 1 yellow bell pepper, seeded and cut into 1-inch chunks
- 1/2 tbsp sliced green scallions for garnish (optional)
You will also need
- Wok or saute pan, medium bowl
- In a bowl, whisk together the egg white, cornstarch, and 1/4 tsp of the salt. Add the chicken pieces and stir to coat evenly. Let sit for 15 minutes at room temperature or up to overnight in the refrigerator.
- Meanwhile, whisk together 1/4 cup of the reserved pineapple juice, ginger, vinegar, ketchup, brown sugar, remaining 1/4 tsp of salt, and 1-2 pinches cayenne pepper (or more to taste--optional).
- Set a wok or large saute pan over high heat. When a bead of water instantly sizzles and evaporates, pour in 1 tbsp of the oil and swirl to coat. Add the red and yellow bell pepper chunks and cook for 2 minutes. Remove from the wok onto a plate. Wipe the wok or pan dry.
- Return the wok to the stove on high heat. When a bead of water instantly sizzles and evaporates, pour in the remaining 1 tbsp of oil and swirl to coat (be sure to fully coat the pan so the meat won't stick). Add the chicken to the pan, spreading it out in one layer.
- Let the chicken fry, untouched, for 1 minute, until the bottoms are browned. Flip and fry the other side the same for 1 minute. The chicken will still be pinkish in the middle.
- Add the cooked bell peppers, pineapple chunks, and pineapple juice mixture to the pan. Let simmer for about 2 minutes until the chicken is cooked through. Remove from heat. Let the chicken rest for a few minutes till the sauce thickens.
- Garnish with sliced scallions, if desired. Serve warm as part of a multicourse meal, or over jasmine rice for a complete entree.