Szechuan Stir Fry ("Chicken and Rice")

Szechuan stir fry, commonly known as "chicken and rice" in our household.

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This stir fry is amazing and delicious and just hang with me for a few minutes here before I share the recipe.

First, news:

  1. I’m engaged! Paul asked me to marry him at the Krohn Conservatory on September 29th, and after standing there with my mouth hanging open in shock for a few seconds, I said yes!
  2. I took a fantastic trip to New Orleans in October and my next culinary mission is to recreate some of the delicious food I ate there.
  3. I’m in the process of moving…which means looking at new apartments and condos, trying to find subletters, and daydreaming about all the IKEA products I will soon purchase and attempt to assemble.

Now you’re more or less caught up…on to the food!

Paul and I have a running joke that whenever I ask him what he wants for dinner, nine times out of ten he will say: “Chicken and rice.” What he means is stir fry–and this particular stir fry recipe has become his (and my) favorite.

The recipe is loosely based on a recipe for Szechuan shrimp in The Seventh Daughter by Cecilia Chiang. Last year for Christmas I got one of those Food & Wine Best of the Best cookbooks–and Chiang was one of the featured chefs. I’ve modified and added to the recipe, but that’s where the basic idea comes from.

The other great recipe I’m sharing with this dish is Steve Pavlina’s brown rice preparation. It’s the easiest and most foolproof way of cooking rice I’ve discovered, and I follow it to the “T”!

Szechuan Stir Fry,
AKA Chicken and Rice

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 1 cup dry brown rice
  • 6-12 oz raw chicken
  • 1 tbsp cornstarch
  • 3-4 cups assorted veggies (I used 1 vidalia onion, 3 small carrots, 2 red bell peppers and a handful of green beans)
  • 1-2 tbsp vegetable oil

Sauce Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup ketchup
  • 2 tbsp soy sauce, preferably low-sodium
  • 1 tbsp seasoned rice vinegar
  • 1 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 2 tsp minced garlic
  • 2 tsp minced ginger root
  • 2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes (it’s actually not as spicy as it sounds, but start with less and taste the sauce if you like a milder stir fry)
  • 2 tsp sugar (optional)
  • squirt of sriracha sauce (optional)

Steps

  1. Start by prepping the chicken. Cut it into bite-sized pieces and toss with the cornstarch. Set aside for at least 5 minutes before using.

    The cornstarch helps create a crispy coating on the outside of the chicken pieces.
    The cornstarch helps create a crispy coating on the outside of the chicken pieces. (It’s hard to take good pictures in my kitchen when it gets dark so early, so sorry for some blurry shots!)
  2. Make the sauce. Combine all the sauce ingredients, plus a splash of water (maybe 2 tbsp). Stir and set aside.

    Start with a small amount of red pepper flakes if you're not a fan of spicy cuisine.
    Start with a small amount of red pepper flakes if you’re not a fan of spicy cuisine.
  3. Prepare the vegetables. Cut them into bite-sized pieces and sort them according to cooking time. For instance, I combined the onions and carrots to be cooked first, while the peppers and green beans went in a separate bowl to be used a bit later.

    Red bell peppers, carrots and green beans star in this stir fry. I've also used zucchini, broccoli, bok choy and other vegetables with great success!
    Red bell peppers, carrots and green beans star in this stir fry. I’ve also used zucchini, broccoli, snow peas, shelled edamame, bok choy and other vegetables with great success!
  4. While you’re preparing the vegetables, start the rice. Place the rice, 1 1/2 cups water and a pinch of salt in a saucepan and bring to a boil, uncovered, over medium-high heat. When the rice reaches a boil, put a lid on the pan, turn the heat down to low and simmer for 20 minutes. When the timer goes off, simply turn off the heat and let it sit undisturbed for at least 10 minutes more. (It’s perfectly fine to let it go until you’re done cooking everything else–your rice will stay hot and delicious!)
  5. Cook the chicken. Heat a wok (or another large pan) over medium-high heat. Add 1 tbsp or so of oil. When hot, carefully place the chicken pieces in the pan. Fry until golden brown, slightly crisp and cooked through.
    Unless you're cooking on a nonstick surface, your chicken will probably stick to the pan. That's fine--just be patient and stir when it releases itself.
    Unless you’re cooking on a nonstick surface, your chicken will probably stick to the pan. That’s fine–just be patient and only move it when it releases itself.

    The thing I’ve learned about cooking in the wok is that meat is going to stick to the pan–until it’s good and ready to be moved, that is. If you can’t move the chicken with a gentle nudge of the spoon, that means it’s not cooked on the bottom yet. Let it be for a few more minutes until it releases itself from the pan. Understanding that will save you lots of elbow grease from trying to scrape off your food prematurely, and it will also give the chicken a chance to caramelize and get a little crispy on the outside.

    Set the chicken aside when it is cooked through and crispy on the outside.
    Set the chicken aside when it is cooked through and crispy on the outside.
  6. Remove the chicken to a bowl with a slotted spoon. Add more oil to the pan if needed and heat. Add your first round of vegetables to the hot wok (this was the carrots and onion for me). When they begin to soften, add softer vegetables (peppers and green beans). Once you make this dish a few times, you’ll get a feel for which vegetables “go together” and when to add them to the pan.
    Add heartier vegetables like onions and carrots first to give them the longest cook time.
    Add heartier vegetables like onions and carrots first to give them the longest cook time.

    Add softer vegetables like peppers later. Greens like spinach or Swiss chard can be added in a third wave if desired, as they only take a few minutes to cook through.
    Add softer vegetables like peppers later. Greens like spinach or Swiss chard can be added in a third wave if desired, as they only take a few minutes to wilt and cook through.
  7. When the vegetables are crisp-tender, lower the heat to medium-low and add the chicken back to the pan to warm through. Then, give the sauce a final stir and pour it over the chicken and vegetables. Cook and stir for a minute or two, until the sauce is slightly thickened and the food is coated.

    Toss the chicken and vegetables with the sauce over medium-low heat until coated.
    Toss the chicken and vegetables with the sauce over medium-low heat until coated.
  8. When you’re ready to serve, open the rice pan and fluff with a fork. Serve the chicken and vegetables alongside a big scoop of brown rice.
    Open the pan and fluff the rice just before serving.
    Open the pan and fluff the rice just before serving.

    There you have it! Chicken and rice. Better than take out and healthier too. Enjoy!

    This recipe is infinitely adaptable--use whatever protein and vegetables you have on hand. It's also a great way to clean out the fridge!
    This recipe is infinitely adaptable–use whatever protein and vegetables you have on hand. It’s also a great way to clean out the fridge!

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