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Sunday, August 16, 2009

Muse in a Jar

We received a muse the other day from Dawn’s mother in the form of homemade plum jelly. Her cousin had picked the plums from her own tree and preserved them and gave them to her. The memories that I have stored in Mason jars are incredible since I grew up in the south and watched and ate my great grandmother, grandmother, and mother’s preserves, jams, and other concoctions, ranging from all varieties of jams to pickled pig’s feet.

So, when we received the jelly, I had an idea about how to use it in an Asian inspired sauce over my version of tempura fried chicken. By my version of tempura chicken, I simply dredge the one-eighth inch slices of chicken in cornstarch with salt and pepper to taste before frying. Oftentimes when working with such fresh ingredients as the plums it is best to keep it simple and let the natural flavors shine instead of muddling the stars of the show beyond recognition. An essential element to pan frying the chicken, even if there is only one-half inch of oil in a large skillet or sauté pan, you must allow the vegetable oil to just begin smoking or use a thermometer to make sure it is three hundred-fifty degrees so that the chicken is not greasy. The chicken’s unmistakable juicy crunch all in one bite is the ultimate payoff.

For the sauce, I wanted some balancing agents to slightly offset the sweetness of the plum jelly while still allowing it to stand forefront, so I added a bit of Asian chili paste and a hint of lime juice. The sauce simmered on low for about ten minutes while I was frying my chicken. Also, I added one garlic clove finely chopped and one grind of salt and pepper.

There is something magical about a rice cooker if you are in the habit of using one. Instead of rice that is drenched or dried, the steamer takes the guesswork out giving you rice that is like an excellent al dente pasta. I like to add a hint of sesame oil and a splash of soy to invigorate the taste of nutty long grain white rice.

Broccoli has become a welcome staple for our weeknight dinners now that Worthington Farmer’s Market has giant crisp heads for a dollar that last us a couple meals during the week. I refrained from using a wok to stir fry the broccoli because our miniature kitchen is already filled to the brim with kitchen gadgets and also because it requires more oil than I prefer when cooking fresh veggies. A large skillet will do for stir frying, with enough vegetable or sesame oil to cover the bottom of the pan along with a dash of soy sauce, (I know, it is as essential to my Asian cooking as a good aged balsamic or a first press olive oil is to fine Italian cuisine).

The tempura fried chicken with plum sauce, sticky rice, and stir fried broccoli was created on a whim as many creations are. It will save you a trip to the Chinese take out and make you feel satisfied like a child with a bowl full of ice cream.

Tempura Chicken

1 pound boneless skinless chicken breasts
1 ½ C. Corn Starch
2 t. salt
1 t. pepper
¾ to 1 C. Sesame or Vegetable Oil

Combine corn starch, salt, and pepper on pan or plate and dredge rinsed chicken until thoroughly coated. Heat oil in pan until oil begins smoking or thermometer reads 350 degrees then add 1/8 inch thick slices dredged chicken in batches to oil and cook for approximately three minutes or until chicken is golden brown. Transfer to plate covered in paper towels to dry.

Spicy Plum Glaze
¾ C homemade plum jelly or store bought if unavailable
2 tsp. chili sauce
2 tsp. soy sauce

Combine in small saucepan and cook on low until flavors are well incorporated and pour over chicken while glaze is still warm.

Stir Fried Broccoli
Half Head Broccoli (Approximately 4 C.)
¾ C. Yellow or Spanish Onion
4 Garlic cloves minced
4 T. Sesame or Vegetable Oil
Soy sauce added to taste

Heat pan until very hot or oil shimmers then add broccoli, onions, garlic, and a few dashes of soy sauce. Stir ingredients until broccoli is softened but still crisp- three to five minutes.

Variations: Broccoli, onions, garlic, and soy can be combined in a plastic bag and allowed to marinate for an hour before cooking. Also, fish sauce can be added to add another dimension to the flavor of the soy sauce.


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