Chicken in ginger-scallion sauce is to my friend Jade Zimmerman what bagels and lox are to me: the ultimate childhood comfort food.
Jade’s mother, Lan Hing Riggin, never had a recipe. She knew the dish by smell and feel, sensing exactly when the pan was hot enough to add the chicken, or how much ginger and soy sauce would be enough to flavor the blistering oil that she then poured over the cooked meat.
Jade, who tests recipes for my cookbooks and also does food styling for the NYT Cooking website, told me about the dish while we were talking about stir- frying techniques.
A common method is to quickly cook the main ingredients (meat, fish, vegetables) in a wok, then to add sauce, letting the liquid bubble and thicken, coating everything. This is how I’d always done it.
In Riggin’s recipe, the main ingredient is cooked separately, then removed from the wok. The sauce — a pungent mix of hot oil, soy sauce, ginger and scallion, balanced with a pinch of sugar — is poured on top. In classic Cantonese cooking, the protein (usually chicken or a whole fish) would be steamed or poached. But Jade’s mother sometimes stir-fried the chicken, so she could use the same pan to make the sauce.
Part of the pleasure of this dish is that, unlike in a more classic stir-fry, the flavors of the sauce and the chicken are not thoroughly intertwined. In some bites, you taste only the brawniness of the bird; in others, there’s more complexity, with the tangy sauce, crisp chicken and a garnish of raw scallions together on your tongue. Each mouthful is a little different, one more compelling than the last. It is also fast to make — under 20 minutes from start to finish.
Jade’s grown-up tweak to her mother’s recipe is to add a leafy thatch of cilantro to the raw scallions on top of the chicken, which wilt when they are hit with the steaming sauce. Cilantro wasn’t something she’d ever touch as a child; she hated its aggressive flavor. But now she can appreciate the freshness and earthiness the herb brings to the mix.
I can relate: I feel the same way about sliced onions on my bagels and lox. It’s a slightly more adult take on a dish that still satisfies so many kinds of hunger.
By Melissa Clark
- 2 large scallions, trimmed
- 1/4 cup peanut oil, or neutral oil such as grapeseed, more as necessary
- 1-3/4 pounds boneless skinless chicken thighs or breasts, cut in 1-inch chunks
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, as needed
- 1 cup roughly chopped cilantro leaves and tender stems
- 3 tablespoons thinly sliced ginger
- 3 tablespoons soy sauce
- Large pinch sugar
Cut scallions in quarters lengthwise, then cut crosswise into 1-1/2-inch-long pieces. You should end up with thin blades. Separate dark green tops from pale green and white parts.
Heat oil in a wok or 12-inch skillet over very high heat. When it’s shimmering but not smoking, stir in chicken and salt. Cook, stirring almost constantly, until chicken is barely cooked and no longer pink, 3 to 5 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to transfer chicken onto a serving plate, leaving oil in the pan.
Immediately scatter cilantro and scallion greens over hot chicken.
Return wok to medium-high heat. Make sure at least 2 tablespoons oil is left in wok. If not, add more. Stir in ginger and cook until lightly browned, about 1 minute. Stir in scallion whites, soy sauce and sugar; cook another 30 seconds (if using a skillet, remove from heat).
Immediately spoon contents of pan evenly over chicken and herbs. Serve right away. Serves 4.
Nutritional information unavailable.
AND TO DRINK
Riesling is often a go-to choice with Cantonese-style dishes, especially those bottles with light-to-moderate sweetness. Kabinett or spatlese rieslings from Germany are ideal. Their refreshing acidity, delicacy and modest sweetness will meld well with the lightly spicy ginger and scallions.
Dry whites will also work, especially those without apparent oakiness or overbearing fruit flavors. Gruner veltliner from Austria is one option; herbal, minerally sauvignon blancs from the Loire Valley are another.
Or, how about sparkling wines, like a good cava from the Penedes region of Spain, or the various French cremants — alternatives to Champagne — from regions like the Jura and Alsace? Many petillant naturels would be ideal, too.
Require a red? Mondeuse, an obscure grape from the Savoie region of France, would be delicious. Recently, I had an excellent version from California.
— Eric Asimov, New York Times