Growing up my family had a favorite Chinese restaurant that we frequented nearly weekly for dine-in or carryout. We knew the names of the servers, were friendly with the owners, and had the menu completely memorized. Whenever I came home from college for a visit, a trip to the Chinese restaurant was always on the agenda. Stan and I even considered hosting the rehearsal dinner for our wedding at my beloved restaurant. (We ended up going for a backyard barbecue instead.)
Considering my deep and abiding love (and ingrained habit) for Chinese food, you can imagine my dismay upon discovering the lack of good Chinese food in Nashville. (Nashville folks, if you’ve got a recommendation, I’d love to hear it!) I’ve looked around, asked long-time residents, and tried some less than stellar venues. While Nashville has many other amazing options for ethic cuisine, Chinese food is just not where my current hometown shines.
Since I don’t get back to Dayton as often as I’d like, I’ve had to come up with ways to get my Chinese food fix in my own kitchen. The recipes I’ve tried are certainly not as authentic as those you’d find in a restaurant, but they tide me over until I can get the real deal. And besides, they’re pretty darn delicious.
Like this recipe for Szechuan Chicken with Peanuts. You can make this recipe in less time that it would take to pick up carryout, and I guarantee you it’s healthier than its restaurant counterpart. Strips of chicken breast are quickly stir fried (not deep fried) with carrots, green pepper, and peanuts and then tossed in a slightly spicy (or really spicy, if that’s how you like it) brown sauce that’s rich in flavor without being high in calories. Served with some rice, it’s as good as take out - with half the time and calories.
Szechuan Chicken with Peanuts
Adapted from Take Out Tonight!
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1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into thin strips
3 T. hoisin sauce, divided
2 T. cornstarch, divided
1/2 cup low-sodium chicken broth
2 T. rice wine vinegar
2 T. sugar
2 tsp. chili-garlic sauce
1 T. canola oil
1 T. fresh ginger, peeled and minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 green bell pepper, seeded and chopped
2 carrots, thinly sliced on the diagonal
1/4 cup unsalted, dry-roasted peanuts
In a large bowl, combine the chicken, 1 tablespoon of the hoisin sauce, and 1 tablespoon of the cornstarch. (I like to use my hands to make sure to really coat every bit of the chicken.)
In another bowl, whisk together the remaining hoisin sauce, remaining cornstarch, broth, vinegar, sugar, and chili-garlic sauce. Set aside.
Heat a wok or a large, deep skillet over medium-high heat until a drop of water sizzles when it hits the surface. Add the oil, swirl to coat the pan, then add the chicken. Stir-fry until almost cooked through, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add the garlic and ginger and cook until fragrant, about 15 seconds. Add the green pepper, carrots, and peanuts. Stir-fry until crisp-tender, about 2 minutes. Pour the sauce over the chicken and vegetables. Cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture boils and thickens and the chicken is cooked through, about 1 minute.