Many New Englanders have a tradition of ordering Chinese take-out for New Year's Eve, but there's no clear explanation of when this started or why. Believe me, I have nothing against take-out, but I wanted to share the world's best recipe for Kung Pao Chicken and the New Year holiday seemed like the appropriate time.
You may be familiar with Ming Tsai from his show on WGBH or from his restaurant, Blue Ginger, in Wellesley. Stellar credentials don't always translate to a workable cookbook for the home kitchen, but his Simply Ming One-Pot Meals includes recipes that produce authentic results using ingredients that are readily available.
If you prep everything ahead of time, you can pull this together while your rice is cooking, so that's how I'll organize the recipe.
Kung Pao Chicken (slightly adapted)
1. Combine the following ingredients in a measuring cup or a small jar with a lid. (My choice because you can shake it up to combine things when you're ready to cook.)
1 TBS sugar
2 TBS sambal ( Very hot ground chiles. Found in any grocery store.)
1/4C soy sauce
1 TBS sesame oil
zest and juice of one lemon
2. Cut 2 pounds of boneless chicken thighs into small bite-sized pieces. Zip locked bag works great for no-cleanup storage. Measure 1/4 C cornstarch. Store it in its own zip-lock bag with the chicken.
3. Mince 3 TBS garlic and 2 TBS fresh ginger. Combine them in yet another small zip-lock bag.
4. You'll need 2C diced carrots and 4 to 5 stalks of celery, both in 1/2 inch dice. Tip: Buy a bag of cleaned baby carrots and slice them into 1/2 inch dice. Combine the carrots and celery in a zip-lock bag. Measure 1C of roasted peanuts and put them in a separate bag.
When you're ready to cook, assemble all of your prepped food, along with about 5 TBS of canola oil. Get your rice started because the Kung Pao will cook pretty quickly once you start. I'm a big fan of basmati, but any good quality white rice will do. Follow the directions on your rice of choice.
1. Heat a wok or heavy saute pan over high heat. Add 2 TBS oil.
2. Toss the chicken pieces and cornstarch together. Season with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper. Stir-fry half of the chicken for about 4 minutes, until it's fully cooked. Put it on a plate and set it aside.
3. Add 2 more TBS oil. When the oil is hot, stir-fry the rest of the chicken. Add it to the first batch of chicken.
4. Add the remaining tablespoon of oil to the pan. When it's hot, add the garlic and ginger and stir-fry for about 30 seconds. Add the carrots, celery and peanuts. Stir-fry for about 3 to 4 minutes until the flavors have combined.
5. Add the liquids that you've combined in the jar. When it simmers, add the cooked chicken back to the pan. Stir to combine all of the ingredients.
Serve over cooked rice. I like to add a few chopped scallions to the rice.
This recipe feeds four people very generously. I know that, at first glance, it might look like a lot of work, but it is so worth your time and effort. It's really pretty easy if you do your prep ahead of time. The end result is amazingly good.
Happy New Year!