Before G and I decided at the beginning of the year to be more sensible with our spending, our weekday dinners usually meant a quick run to Panda Express before I headed home from work. We both have an affinity for Chinese food and Panda Express combos have, indeed, kept us deliciously fed, especially on the days I was too crunched for time to bother with a homecooked meal. But I guess it’s true that it takes
21 66 days for a person to form a new habit because after months of determinedly watching where our cents go, I could no longer stand the idea of paying almost $20 for two 2-item combos when I could easily whip up a fairly decent version at a small fraction of the cost.
So what does one do when she has a strong hankering for the big, bold flavors of Panda Express but is too cheap to cough up the dough? She learns to make them at home! I came across this Panda Express firecracker chicken copycat on ABC News last week and it was like an answer to my longing
tummy heart. With succulent chicken morsels and crisp red and yellow peppers tossed in a spicy black bean sauce, it’s a happy dance for the taste buds.
Although the recipe was pretty solid, I had to make a few minor adjustments. First, the ingredient list called for marinated chicken. Marinated in WHAT? And then it dawned on me, Chinese stir-fries usually apply a special technique called velveting, where meat is marinated in a mixture of soy sauce, Chinese wine and cornstarch to keep the morsels from drying out even with the high heat stir-frying. I am a true believer of this cooking process and use it extensively in my stir-fry dishes. And like always, it worked like a charm! The chicken pieces were not only extra flavorful, they were also super moist and tender. Another thing I changed on the ingredient list was the black beans. In Chinese dishes, black beans usually mean the salted or fermented type, which are bit saltier and stronger in taste. They are readily available in the Asian stores I frequent but can be found at the Asian aisle of most main grocery stores as well.
- 1 pound chicken breast, sliced thinly
- 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 2 tablespoons Chinese cooking wine
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon + ¼ teaspoon cornstarch
- ¼ cup water
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- ½ red bell pepper, cored, seeded and cubes into 1-inch cubes
- ½ yellow bell pepper, cored, seeded and cut into 1-inch cubes
- 6 pieces whole dried chili pepper
- 1 teaspoon crushed red dried chili pepper
- 1 onion, peeled and sliced thinly
- 3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
- 1 thumb size ginger (about 1 tablespoon), peeled and grated
- 1 tablespoon salted black beans, rinsed and drained
- In a bowl, combine chicken, one tablespoon of the vegetable oil, 1 tablespoon of the cooking wine, 1 tablespoon of the soy sauce and cornstarch. Massage onto meat and marinate for about 20 to 30 minutes. Drain chicken well.
- In a small bowl, combine water, the remaining 1 tablespoon cooking wine, 1 tablespoon soy sauce and ¼ teaspoon cornstarch, and sesame oil. Stir together and set aside.
- In a wok or skillet over high heat, heat 1 tablespoon of the vegetable oil. Add bell peppers and stir fry for about 10 to 20 seconds. Remove from wok and keep warm. Add chicken and cook, stirring frequently, for about 2 to 3 minutes or until lightly browned and cooked through. Remove from wok and keep warm.
- Wipe down wok as needed. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon of the vegetable oil. Add whole dried peppers and cook for about 5 to 10 seconds or until darkened. Add onions, garlic and ginger and cook, stirring frequently, until aromatic. Add crushed red pepper and salted black beans. Cook, stirring regularly, for about 20 to 30 seconds.
- Add chicken, bell peppers and sauce mixture to pan. Stir regularly for about 1 to 2 minutes or until heated through and sauce is slightly thickened. Serve hot.