1.26.12 Juicy Breasts
I'm not one of those people who's at a loss for what to cook. I have a repertoire of favorites and a list as long as my arm of new things I want to try. This is not bragging. There are plenty of things I do not have: Children. A Pulitzer Prize. Thin thighs. Yet on some nights even I don't have it in me to start whirling around the kitchen like a culinary dervish. On those nights, I just want something delicious to appear on my plate. But there's no takeout up here, remember? So I like to store a few tricks up my sleeve. Nothing wrong with a little help from your friends, though I can't recommend fast food. Nor canned food, for that matter. Not to harsh your mellow, but do you know about the epoxy liners in most cans? They're made with Bisphenol A (BPA), a chemical that can mimic human estrogen and is linked to breast cancer and early puberty in women. (The horror, the horror.) The Environmental Working Group tested canned food bought across America and found BPA in more than half, at levels they call "200 times the government's traditional safe level of exposure for industrial chemicals." So much for those canned beans, my darlings.
Luckily for us, Agrodolce for Fast Foodies has created the delicious and glass-bottled Master Stock. It's an intense mix of soy sauce, yellow rock sugar and Shaoxing Rice Wine that is boiled and infused with fresh garlic, ginger and spices. Slightly sweet and slightly salty, you can use it to successfully braise chicken, duck, beef, lamb and pork. The Australian chef responsible for this witchy brew, Prue Barrett, explains that "unlike other stocks and sauces, it’s not discarded after use. It’s simply boiled, strained and frozen for the next time. So while the meat absorbs the flavors of the stock, the meat also imparts its own flavor into the stock making it more rich and complex with each use.” Talk about sustainable cooking! The Agrodolce site includes a couple of nice recipes: one for salmon, and one for crispy-skin chicken. (And check out their other products while you're at it.)
I've used Master Stock for poaching skinless chicken breasts, and the directions are right on the bottle. Plunk in the boobs, bring to a boil, simmer and then cool in the liquid. That's it. They emerge juicy and flavorful, with a decidedly Asian accent.
I like to serve them with a little brown rice and a quick stir-fry of bok choy and wood ear mushrooms.
These mushrooms are pretty easy to find dried, but recently I have come across the fresh ones. They are incredibly cool! Velvety on one side and slick on the other, and the most gorgeous tortoise-shell hue, reminiscent of Titi, my sweet kitty.
Stir-fry is just a catch-all term for throwing things in a skillet and sauteing them quickly over relatively high heat. Once you get it down, you can get all bold and creative, tossing in all manner of things, from pea pods to bean sprouts to celery to cashews. There's not much to get down, really. The thing to know is that ingredients often have a different optimal cook time. So you start with the things that take longer, and gradually add the rest.
I poach the chicken breasts, and while that's happening, I make some short-grain brown rice and stir-fry the vegetables. I serve it garnished with a lot of chopped scallions and cilantro. Maybe a little chile oil drizzled on top. Simple, fast, delicious. Oh, and healthy. Of course. You know me by now.
So easy, you don't even need a recipe. What? Tell you exactly how to make that stir-fry? OK, but then you're on your own, kid.
Stir-Fried Bok Choy & Wood Ear Mushrooms
- — 1/4 cup Chinese rice wine
- — 1 1/2 cups fresh wood ear mushrooms
- — 1 large shallot, peeled and minced
- — 2 tablespoons neutral oil, like grapeseed or raw sesame
Slice bok choy, and set thicker ends apart from leaves.
Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat and saute shallot until golden. Add thicker ends of bok choy and toss to coat. Saute for 3-4 minutes, then add mushrooms, rice wine and soy sauce. After a couple of minutes, add bok choy leaves. Saute, stirring a lot, until everything is tender, most of the liquid is absorbed and flavors are combined.
*Other good additions: minced ginger, sliced scallions, crumbled chile, sesame seeds.