Friday, October 12, 2007

Chicken and Tofu Stir-Fry with Black Bean Sauce

I eat a ton of rice...It's a consequence of being Taiwanese so anything that goes well with rice is fine by me. Stir-Fry fits the bill. In addition, stir-fries are fast, easy and cheap which are all hospitable to the college student lifestyle. Stir-fries are also extremely versatile so, with any luck, I'm going to show you the basic technique to stir-frying which will enable you to take advantage of this flexible cooking technique.

Today's stir-fry will utilize chicken, fried tofu and Black Bean Garlic Sauce. I'm unfamiliar with the BBGS but it sure is delicious! Although I've never cooked with BBGS, this recipe will also demonstrate another basic cooking principle: If you have sound technique, you can vary the flavorings and ingredients in order to create an infinite progression of dishes. No more slavishly following recipes!

Special mention should be made to tofu. I generally buy soft tofu because I prefer it's texture over the firm stuff. However, I press soft tofu for about a half hour.

To press tofu:
1. Lay a paper towel on a flat plate.
2. Remove tofu from package and rinse.
3. Place rinsed tofu on the paper towel. Cover the top of the tofu with another paper towel.
4. Place a plate on top of the tofu. Balance a weight on top of the plate. Use a can of beans, a few beers, whatever. I'm sure you get the point.
5. Wait a half hour or so. Common sense dictates that you start pressing the tofu before you start with the rest of the prep work.

So why do I press tofu? Pressing helps expel some of water in the tofu and this helps firm up the tofu. Yah, yah, I said that I don't like firm tofu but the difference between pressed soft tofu and firm tofu is quite large.

Here's the play-by-play...

1 Block of Soft Tofu...I always seem to end up buying Wo Chong brand...don't ask me why.
1 tablespoon Chinese Fermented Black Beans(NOT dried black beans...totally different)

1 lbs of boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1.5 tablespoons of Black Bean Garlic Sauce
2 teaspoons of Chinese Shaoshing Rice Wine
2 teaspoons of light soy sauce
2 teaspoons of corn starch

3-4 Cloves of Peeled Garlic

4 Scallions aka Green Onions

Cooking Oil..I generally use canola or peanut.

Press tofu--see instructions above.
Soak Fermented black beans in 1/4 cup of warm tap water.

Slice chicken into bite size pieces. Try to cut the chicken as evenly as possible. Don't worry if some slices are a little bit bigger than others.
Combine sliced chicken with the next 4 ingredients. Mix throughly and set aside. What you're looking for is a somewhat moist chicken mixture. If you see any liquid pooling at the bottom either spoon it out or add a bit more cornstarch and mix again. I've included a picture of some of the Asian ingredients used in this dish. This might make it a bit easier for you when you go shopping.
From Left to Right: Light Soy Sauce, Black Bean Garlic Sauce, Fermented Black Beans, Roasted Sesame Oil, Shaoshing Rice Wine.

Thinly slice the cloves of garlic.

Slice green onion tops into 1/4 inch slices...cut just the green tops. Not terribly important to be totally accurate. When finished, set aside.

Slice tofu into blocks. I usually slice the tofu into 12 pieces.

Pour enough oil into your cooking vessel so that there's about a 1.5 inch thick layer of oil. Heat oil to 375 degrees. Yes, you might have to buy a cooking thermometer for this but I feel it's important that my readers not fry in cold oil. Horrible results will ensue. Anyhow, when the oil is hot enough, CAREFULLY add the sliced tofu. Fry until the tofu is golden in color. This should take about 5 minutes. While the tofu is frying, take a plate and place a paper towel on it. When the tofu is done, remove with a slotted spoon and place on the prepared plate. Set aside. Here's a picture of my finished tofu so you get an idea of the color I am looking for:

Below is a picture of an oil/sugar thermometer and my well-used wok.

Give the hot oil 10 minutes to cool. Get rid of oil. I'm not sure how you're going to do this but we have a large tin that we've saved for this purpose (see pic below). It's kinda's been there for close to 3 months. Anyhow, I don't care what you do with your oil. It ain't none of my bidness.

Drain the soaked, fermented black beans. It's okay if they're a little bit damp.

Wipe out the frying pan and heat it. Give it a good 3-4 minutes to heat up again. Most people don't let their pans get hot enough before they stir-fry. When hot, add a few tablespoons of oil and toss in the drained, fermented black beans and the sliced garlic. Careful! The pan will splatter. Stir fry the black beans and garlic for 15-25 seconds. The whole point is to flavor the oil with the black beans and garlic. Now, add the the previously prepared chicken. Stir fry for five seconds so you combine the chicken with the black beans/garlic. What you want to do is spread out the chicken so most of it is in contact with the hot pan. You want to hear a constant sizzle. If the pan stops "talking" to you, the pan has become too cold. Keep this in mind for the next time you stir-fry. Either you didn't let the pan heat up enough or you're adding too much to the pan at one time.

Give the chicken about a minute to cook. You're looking for the chicken to pick up a little bit of color. Give it some time. Patience is a virtue!

Start stir-frying the chicken. Do this for about a minute and then toss in the prepared tofu. Stir-fry for minute or so. At this point, you can start checking the chicken for done-ness. Just grab a piece of chicken and cut into it...does it look done? The chicken shouldn't be pink. If it's sort of white, then you're on track. If not, keep cooking it. You can also start tasting for seasoning. Does it need salt? White pepper? You're the one eating the dish so season to your taste.

At this point, I usually add three to four tablespoons of water. This activates the cornstarch you used in the chicken marinade and helps create a slightly viscous sauce. Just add the water and allow it to come to a boil. Most (all?) starch thickeners need to come to a boil before they are at maximum thickening power. When it hits a boil, turn off the flame. Toss in the sliced green onions and give it all a stir.

You're done! Feel free to add comments if you have questions or if my explanations are inadequate. Writing this post makes me respect cookbook authors all that much is extremely difficult translating a primarily physical activity into words!

Total time: About 35 minutes. Might take you longer.
Food cost: This recipe will feed two hungry college students, three if you stretch it. The most expensive component of a dish is usually the protein and this dish is no different.

Chicken- $1.29
Tofu- $0.89
Scallions- $0.39
Incidentals- $1.00?
Total- $3.57

So...the bottom line: $1.78 per plate if two people are eating, $1.19 per plate if three are eating. Sure beats takeout!


Jim said...

This looks really good(except for the tofu of course). I'd like to give it a try.
A couple of questions:
1) How long will the black bean garlic sauce and fermented black beans last in the frig?

2) Is it possible to do a decent stir fry without a wok?

Mike Czyzewski said...

1.BBGS will last a good long while in the fridge. Mine has been there for a few weeks.

2. Yes although having a wok with high sides really makes stir-frying much easier.

Question: Why don't you like tofu?

SteveH said...

Great blog- thanks for all the tips and recipes.

Not sure if you mention this elsewhere, but cooking protein just- and I mean just- long enough makes so much difference.

My girlfriend's mother is a stellar cook and knows exactly when to take the food off the heat. Especially with shrimp and chicken, where seconds matter.

As someone who's just getting into cooking, I really appreciate your insights. Plus I think I love fried rice as much as you do, so I'm going to try your green curry recipe this weekend.