Add Chinese food to the list of things I didn't like as a kid, and now can't get enough of. In case you're keeping track at home, that list now includes chocolate and beans as well. I think Chinese food was one of those things I just decided one day I didn't like and I refused to eat it. I went many, many years without trying it. That changed in college when I experienced the food nirvana that is Panda Express. I don't even remember the first time I gave Chinese food another chance, but I'm so glad I did.
Unfortunately, I don't make Chinese food at home very often. I have no good explanation for this. It just doesn't happen a lot. Tragic, I know! But the excuse I'm going to use today is that when I get Chinese food, I get chicken. And most of the recipes I have for Chinese chicken are fried. I'm not a food saint, but food just doesn't get fried in my house. A few weeks ago I remembered that I had a recipe for sweet and sour sauce scribbled in a cookbook and I decided it was time to try it out. But I wasn't going to put it on pieces of fried chicken. So I took a shot at pan-frying some chicken pieces and adding this sauce to make my own healthier version of sweet and sour chicken. And I'm happy to report that it turned out even better than I had hoped!
Sweet and sour chicken purists might scoff at the idea of non-fried chicken. But I thought this chicken was pretty darn good! Not only is this not fried, but it also packs some veggie and fruit power with pieces of green pepper, pineapple and onion. The sauce is easy to make and has a combination of vinegar and sugar to give it a perfect sweet and sour balance.
To make the chicken, this recipe instructs to cook it through in the skillet and then let it simmer in a bit of water for 20 minutes. I did this to make sure the chicken was nice and tender, but it probably could be omitted with no problems if minutes are precious in your kitchen. I won't tell on you. Now that I'm a working woman again, I can sympathize more with those who wish to take shortcuts!
I served this sweet and sour chicken with a batch of fried brown rice. As a bonus today, I'm sharing this recipe as well! Fried rice is another thing that I'm not a huge fan of but will eat. I found a recipe for fried rice on Cook's Illustrated's website and decided to try it out. But I had to use brown rice. In case you didn't know, brown rice is the whole grain sibling plain old white rice, so it has a lot more good-for-you fiber. And I personally think it has more flavor and a better texture, so I happen to prefer it over white rice.
Anyway, I actually really liked this fried rice. It was way better than anything I had ever had at a Chinese restaurant. So if I liked it, and I don't usually care for fried rice, those of you out there who like fried rice should go nuts for this. I would say it makes a good 6 servings, but I think my husband ate approximately half of it at a time. He is one of those people who really, really, likes fried rice!
The bottom line is that this meal is awesome and will now be a regular in my rotation. It is surprisingly simple to make and is delicious, and nutritious! Now you can have the taste of great Chinese food in the comfort of your own home. And you don't even have to worry about tipping a delivery driver, changing out of your stretchy pants, or fitting into your non-stretchy pants the next day. That, my friends, is perfection!
Sweet and Sour Chicken
2 pounds chicken, cut into bite-sized pieces
2 tsp canola oil
16 oz pineapple chunks, drained with juices reserved
1/4 cup light brown sugar
1/4 tsp ground ginger
2 Tbsp cornstarch
1/4 cup vinegar
3 Tbsp soy sauce
1 green pepper, chopped
1/2 large onion, chopped
Heat large skillet over medium heat. Add oil and heat. Add chicken to skillet and brown. Reduce heat to low and add 1/4 cup water. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, whisk together brown sugar, cornstarch, ginger, pineapple juice, vinegar, and soy sauce in a small bowl. Add sauce, green pepper, and onion to chicken. Cook until thickened. Add pineapple and continue to cook until heated through.
Fried Brown Rice
2 Tbsp oyster sauce
1/2 tablespoon soy sauce
1 1/2 tablespoons canola oil
1 large egg, beaten lightly
1cup frozen peas and carrots, thawed
1 medium clove garlic, minced
3 cups cooked white rice (cold), large clumps broken up with fingers
1/4 cup finely chopped onion
Combine oyster sauce and soy sauce in small bowl; set aside.
Heat 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat until hot, about 2 minutes; add 1/2 teaspoon oil and swirl to coat pan bottom. Add egg and cook without stirring until it just begins to set, about 20 seconds, then scramble and break into small pieces with wooden spoon; continue to cook, stirring constantly, until egg is cooked through but not browned, about 1 minute longer. Transfer eggs to small bowl and set aside.
Return skillet to burner, increase heat to high, and heat skillet until hot, about 2 minutes. Add remaining oil and swirl to coat pan bottom. Add peas and carrots, and cook, stirring constantly, 30 seconds; stir in garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add rice and oyster sauce mixture; cook, stirring constantly and breaking up rice clumps, until mixture is heated through, about 3 minutes. Add eggs and onion; cook, stirring constantly, until heated through, about 1 minute. Serve immediately.
Fried Rice recipe adapted from Cook's Illustrated.