While I sometimes complain about Chinese food in the U.S., there are certain foods and restaurants I love and miss. One such place is a tiny kosher restaurant near Boston that serves unabashedly Americanized Chinese food. The food was good in the low-brow indulgent way that Kewpie mayonnaise and powdered Milo on ice cream are good. And given the depressing state of "authentic" Chinese food in the Boston area, I ended up eating there about every other week during my college career.
Taam China was close to my very Jewish university, so it seems that everyone who patronized the restaurant either attended or graduated from the same school. I was frequently the only Asian face there other than the staff's, which probably lent the place a tiny whiff of authenticity for the duration of my meal.
No matter. I formed an addiction to their deep-fried dishes like sesame chicken,"General Gau's", and sweet and sour chicken. The deep-fried dishes, despite being take-out mainstays across the U.S., had the perfect crunch-to-meat ratio few other establishments could master. Everything came with a side of crisp steamed broccoli, that very un-Chinese vegetable. (To this day, even when cooking in China, I subconsciously serve broccoli with my meat dishes much more often than, say, bok choy.) I don't recall if alcohol was on the menu, but afterwards we would aid digestion with a pint from a local pub, or some Manischewitz back in someone's dorm.
Today I made a nostalgia-inspired orange sesame chicken dish, a hybrid of orange chicken and sesame chicken, two of my favorite Taam China "Chef Specialties". I tried to keep the sauce a bit lighter, and portions smaller, as healthy as one can possibly make a deep-fried Americanized Chinese dish without taking away flavor. I have to admit my chicken was not as crispy as Taam's. But it's good enough for a cook who doesn't deep-fry every day of the week except Shabbat Friday.
Since I don't have a rabbi overseeing my kitchen, this dish was not made in a completely kosher fashion. But I can guarantee the recipe is 100% MSG free, if that's any consolation.
More Chinese chicken recipes to try:
Orange Sesame Chicken
1/2 pound chicken breast, cut into 1-inch cubes 3 cups peanut oil for frying 1 cup cornstarch 1 teaspoon toasted white sesame seeds
Marinade: 1 cup orange juice 2 teaspoons light soy sauce A few drops sesame oil 1/2 teaspoon salt
Sauce: 1 cup orange juice 1/2 cup chicken stock 2 tablespoons sugar 2 teaspoons light soy sauce 1 few drops sesame oil A few teaspoons oil 1 clove garlic, minced 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar 2 teaspoons cornstarch, dissolved in 1 tablespoon water Salt to taste
Combine the ingredients for the marinade. Add chicken and marinate for 15 to 20 minutes.
In a separate bowl, mix together the sauce ingredients: orange juice, chicken stock, sugar, soy sauce, salt, and sesame oil. In a small to medium sized pot, heat up a few teaspoons oil and sauté minced garlic until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add apple cider vinegar, then the combined sauce ingredients. Simmer until liquid is reduced by three fourths, about 15 minutes. Stir in cornstarch and water mixture until sauce thickens, then season with salt to taste. Set sauce aside and keep warm.
(Update: Seems I missed a step! Fixed.) Drip excess marinade off the chicken, and toss cubes in the 1 cup cornstarch. Shake off excess cornstarch before frying.
Meanwhile, heat up the 3 cups oil in a wok. When oil just begins to smoke, add the first batch ofchicken cubes and deep-fry until cooked through, about 4 to 5 minutes. Remove chicken with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Repeat with the rest of the chicken.
Reheat orange sauce and add drained chicken cubes. Mix until well-coated. Plate and sprinkle sesame seeds on top. Serve with side of white rice and, of course, steamed broccoli.