Eilene is at a party on a Saturday night and that means that Jan and I can have an ingredient that she doesn’t like, mushrooms. Chicken and mushrooms, a Chinese restaurant standard, came to mind. To go with this main dish, I chose Chinese broccoli as the vegetable, but what was to be my starch? The standard Chinese accompaniment to these dishes would be steamed white rice. However, Jan loves pan fried noodles, so that is where I went. Form a mundane Saturday night meal this had turned into restaurant quality fare.
However, the quality of the commercial versions of Chicken and mushrooms varies markedly between restaurants. Some chefs will use white button mushrooms, others will use either fresh or dried black mushrooms. Jan and I are very fond of oyster mushrooms, which is what I decided to use for this dish.
I was making a separate vegetable dish for this meal, so I wanted to keep the main dish simple. I did not want this to be a vegetable stir-fry with added chicken and mushrooms. Green onions would complement the main ingredients well and not distract from the stars.
Note: My vegetables dish produced a pile of unused Chinese broccoli leaves. If I was making a different dish, I would have no problem shredding these and adding them to this dish.
When I came to the sauce, I ran into a problem. The standard sauce for Chinese chicken and mushrooms is Oyster sauce. This is a dark brown sauce, rich in umami flavor, made from boiling down oysters. I had used my last quarter cup of oyster sauce for the vegetable dish. Time to get creative.
Another standard sauce that lives in my refrigerator is Sichuan Spicy Noodle sauce. This is the sauce used for Dan Dan Mian and contains chilies, preserved vegetable, soy bean paste, peanut paste, Sichuan pepper and five spice powder. This sauce goes great with chicken and would keep my dishes from all tasting the same.
A Note on Using Bottled Sauces: Chinese cuisine has some very complex sauces with, sometimes, some very arcane/hard to get ingredients. For the average cook, or a quick weekday meal, bottled sauces are fine—most of the Chinese restaurants you go to are using them too. If you have the time and patience—and money—you can build your own sauces from scratch. But, if you are not cooking Chinese food every day, your pantry will soon fill up with partial bottles of things like preserved vegetables and fermented tofu. However, be aware DIY-ers that even the base ingredients may be processed and come in bottles as well (like ground soybean sauce/paste). The serious disadvantage of bottled sauces is extra sugar and salt that the companies add that really does not really need to be there.
Karl’s Chinese Chicken with Oyster Mushrooms
2-3 chicken thighs, boneless, skinless
2 Tbs. soy sauce
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 tsp. fresh ginger, grated
1 tsp. chili garlic sauce
1 tsp. shao xing rice wine
½ tsp. dark sesame oil
¼ tsp. sugar
2 Tbs. Sichuan Noodle sauce
1 tsp. soy sauce
1 tsp. shao xing rice wine
½ tsp. fresh ginger, minced
½ lb. oyster mushrooms
4 cloves garlic
6-8 green onion, cut into 2 inch pieces
2 Tbs. peanut oil
½ tsp. corn starch, mixed with 1 Tbs. water
1. Trim away any large lumps of chicken fat and cut the thighs into medium bite sized pieces.
2. Put the chicken into a bowl and add 2 Tbs. soy sauce, chili garlic sauce, shao xing, sesame oil, sugar, and one crushed clove of garlic. Mix the chicken and sauce ingredients together, cover with plastic wrap and set aside for at least 15 minutes.
Tip: Refrigerate if marinating the chicken more than one hour.
3. Put the Sichuan Noodle sauce, soy sauce, shao xing, and ginger for the stir-fry sauce into a small bowl and set it aside.
4. Wipe the mushrooms with a paper towel and lay them out to air dry.
Tip: The mushrooms will brown more quickly if they are completely dry.
5. Slice the garlic into thin coins and cut the green onions into two inch pieces. Set them aside.
6. Add one teaspoon of peanut oil to a large sauté pan and swirl the oil to coat the bottom.
7. When the oil is shimmering, add the chicken and spread it out in a loose single layer.
Tip: if there is too much chicken to fry without crowding the pan, do it in two batches.
8. After one minutes shake the pan to release the pieces from the pan.
Tip: Use a turner to poke at the pieces to get them to release, but do not turn them over yet.
9. After 3-4 minutes, turn one piece of the chicken over to see how well browned the bottom is. If it is done, turn over the rest of the pieces.
10. Fry the second side for 1-3 minutes and remove the pieces to a bowl as they are done.
11. When all of the chicken is done add the remaining peanut oil and bring it to a shimmering heat.
12. Add the mushrooms and shake the pan, so that the mushrooms do not stick. Push the mushrooms into a single layer, but let the mushrooms fry undisturbed for two to three minutes.
13. When the first side is well browned turn them over and fry the second side. Shaken—not stirred.
Tip: Do not stir the mushrooms too much, because this causes the moisture inside the mushrooms to be released. This would make the mushrooms dry out and would also cause them to steam instead of fry. You want them seared, juicy and browned, not dry, limp and pale.
14. Add the sliced garlic and white parts of the onions to the pan and stir-fry for 1-2 minutes.
15. Return the chicken, and any collected juices, to the pan and add most of the remaining green onion and the sauce in the bowl.
16. Stir-fry for 1-2 minutes to re-heat the chicken and coat the contents of the pan with the sauce.
Tip: If the sauce is thin in the pan add just enough of the cornstarch and water slurry to thicken it.
17. Finely slice the last bit of the green onions.
18. Transfer the contents of the pan to a serving bowl and garnish with the green onion.
Tip: Serve with pan fried noodles or steamed rice.