Kung Pao Chicken with Cashews and Gai Lan (Amazon Fresh)

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As sent: ***

Hackability: ****

Amazon Fresh is selling meal kits with some classic dishes, like Kung Pao Chicken.  You can get them delivered to your door along with other groceries.  They come beautifully packaged, in brown cardboard boxes with a wrap-around label.  The first one I tried is this Kung Pao Chicken.  I guess I had really high hopes; the taste was fine, and it was better than take-out, I guess, but it was a little insipid, flavor-wise

Tasting:  Kung Pao Chicken is supposed to pack a punch.  The chicken should be covered with sauce, the vegetables should be crunchy, the dish should be spicy, and the nuts should add a crunchy saltiness.

None of that happened here.  The chicken (thigh meat) was tender, and everything should have worked, but it just didn’t hit any high notes.  It was banal, like a Muzak version of the dish.  They tell you to make the dish with the sambal oelek on the side, so you can add the spicy punch yourself later, but that doesn’t really cut it.  In my opinion, it is a spicy dish—so make it spicy in the first place.  The instructions could just as easily tell you when to leave it out, if you prefer, rather than to add it at the end.  There are dried chilis included to add at the end of the cooking process, but they just end up as garnish, not part of the actual flavor of the dish.  It’s not a bad dish; it’s just not a very good one.

Cooking:

Everything is pre-cut, making the cooking process a little faster.  You put some oil in a pan and add the marinated chicken pieces (the marinade comes ready made). Then add the aromatics, and then the vegetables, more marinade and some cornstarch.  Simmer a bit and you are done.  There is very little time for the flavors to blend.

Meanwhile, blanch the gai lan in boiling water for two minutes.  I am really glad to see this step of blanching vegetables before putting them into a frying pan, but in this case, the blanching has to be very quick, since the leaves of the plant are quite delicate.  Once drained, they go into a hot pan with oil and fresh garlic.  That’s it.

Hacking:

First, this dish needs heat.  Second, it needs fresh celery.

Take two ribs of fresh celery, split them down the center, then slice into ¼ inch slices.

Do the marinaded chicken as they say to, then remove to a plate.  Next, heat a pan with 1 tablespoon peanut (or other) oil and a teaspoon of sesame oil.  Add the chilis and let them char a little, then add the ginger, and let the flavor release.  Finally add the garlic, and watch that it doesn’t burn.  Add the sambal oelek, then add the celery and the water chestnuts.  Stir it all together, and let the celery get covered with the paste.  Then add the chicken back in and let it all settle in together.  Finally, add the remaining marinade, and turn the heat down to very low, and cover the pan.

For the gai lan, I recommend using some fermented black beans, which are dried and salted.  You can buy them in a Chinese grocery in a package, and they last forever in the fridge.  You need about 2 tablespoons, roughly chopped.

In a pan, heat 1 tablespoon of peanut oil along with a teaspoon of sesame oil, and add the black beans and minced garlic.  When that is aromatic, add the blanched gai lan, and ½ cup of chicken stock or water.  Let that simmer a little, then add 1 teaspoon of cornstarch dissolved in a tablespoon of water.  Increase the heat to let the sauce thicken slightly.

(You can also buy black bean sauce in a jar in the Asian section of the supermarket, if you want an easier version.  Cook the gai lan in the pan the way the recipe card says to, then add the black bean sauce at the end and add some black pepper.)

Remove from heat, douse with 1 tablespoon of soy sauce, and grind over some black pepper.

Finish the chicken with the cornstarch according to the recipe, and garnish with the cashews.

I guarantee this will be a spicier and fresher version of the chicken, and a much tastier version of the greens.

 

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