Happy Chinese New Year!
The holiday has sort of snuck up on me, actually. I've spent the past two months in such a whirlwind of book promotion and other events, including speaking on a panel at the Roger Smith Cookbook Conference this past weekend, that February 10th was here before I knew it. Other than planning the Chinese New Year Virtual Potluck on this blog (which all you food bloggers should join!), I hadn't had a chance to plan ahead for the first few days of the New Year.
Luckily, there are still 12 days left to plan a big dim sum outing or dinner. In the mean time, I still like to cook Chinese as much as possible, though leaning toward the simpler dishes.
Like this Chinese Walnut Chicken. There are two versions of walnut chicken you might be familiar with, a stir-fry with a very light but flavorful sauce and one with a white creamy sauce made out of mayonnaise or sweetened condensed milk. This is the former, which I actually prefer, because you can actually taste the chicken and the sauce doesn't make you feel weighed down.
My version of walnut chicken involves first making candied walnuts. There are methods of making candied walnuts, involving toasting in the oven, deep-frying, or adding corn syrup or other excessive ingredients. But sometimes the most basic way is the best. You start off toasting the walnuts in a dry skillet. Then you melt sugar in a separate pan or pot until it fully caramelizes, then toss the walnuts in briefly before spreading them out on parchment paper.
After that, the stir-frying is very straight-forward. If you're looking for a fast chicken dish with some sugary, crunchy goodness, this is a great one to try.
Chinese Walnut Chicken
- 1/2 cup raw walnuts
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs or breasts, cut into 1-inch cubes
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon Chinese rice wine or dry sherry
- 1 teaspoon cornstarch
- 1 tablespoon peanut or vegetable oil
- 2 scallions, chopped
- 1 red bell pepper, sliced into thin strips
- 1/4 cup frozen peas
- 2 teaspoons hoisin sauce
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- Salt and pepper to taste
- In a dry skillet over medium heat, toast the walnuts for about 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper.
- In a small pan or shallow pot over medium-low heat, heat the sugar, stirring continuously. The sugar will take about 3 to 5 minutes to turn amber and completely melt. Wait until the sugar completely melts, including the larger clumps. Turn off the heat and immediately stir in the walnuts. Quickly transfer the walnuts to the parchment-lined sheet pan. Using forks, quickly separate the walnuts so they don’t clump. (Don’t worry about getting all of them. What doesn’t separate can be broken apart with your hands when full cooled. Just make sure to separate the larger clumps immediately.) Set aside to cool while you prepare the chicken.
- Marinate the chicken: In a medium bowl, combine the chicken with the soy sauce, rice wine, and cornstarch. Stir until the cornstarch is dissolved and the chicken is well-coated with marinade. Let stand for 10 minutes.
- Heat a wok or large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the oil and swirl to coat the base. Add the scallions and cook for about 20 seconds, just until aromatic. Add the chicken and stir-fry until no longer pink, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the red bell pepper and frozen peas and cook for another 1 minute.
- Add the hoisin sauce and sesame oil. Stir so that everything is well-coated. Cook, stirring occasionally, for another 1 to 2 minutes, until the chicken is fully-cooked. Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper if needed. Transfer to a plate and serve.