If you asked me about what eating out during childhood years meant, I would have nothing vivid to recollect about fine dining and celebratory dinners. Except for may be the street foods which we gorged on every other evening at Arun Chaat Bhandar, a tiny one room eatery which had been around ever since I have known,the restaurant trips were rare. More so because my grandmother and mother had this undying wish to recreate all kinds of food in their kitchen and less because eating out was not as big part of the indian culture during the 1980s as it is now-a-days. You can gauge that from the fact that whenever I tell my mother about anything non indian food that my daughter likes her play school, she asks me to look up the recipe on internet and cook it for her. ‘Ghar par hi bana do, accha rahega“, cook at home, it will be far better in taste, she tells me. Well, we will keep it for another day as to how I go about her suggestions (wink!) but coming back to my chidlhood days, other than the chaat corner, the other place that me and my siblings looked forward to was indo chinese food at ‘Sabus‘, a neon red-painted food van permanently situated at the front of the back wall of an old housing complex, itched with graffiti of an indian comic character, Sabu, a monstrous alien from planet Jupiter, huge & strong, bald and muscular,always wearing gumboots. It would be slightly untrue to state that we loved eating at that van just because of the noodles, there was more fun in the form of free stickers, liquid filled transparent chopsticks and cheap stamps if you placed a large order. Unlike the food trucks in the States, that red van without tyres was a lot dilapidated, with a much tamed down kitchen as far as cooking facilities & techniques available, but the food from there made sure that the street infront always smelled of soy & spices. You know that burnt, fermented savory ‘stink’?, when the soy bubbles & splutters when as soon as it hits the hot as volcano wok, that! As I write this, I can still remember the taste of food there from some 20 years ago, of the greasy chowmein and the scarlet colored chilli chicken. “It’s all in the wok”, the little Nepalese guy with golden hair and wrinkly forehead replied whenever questioned about his recipes or where he got his condiments.
My mom has been making this hot and sour chicken for so many years, the only difference being that she serves it with a runny sauce than what we ate at Sabus. I follow her recipe mostly except that I do not deep fry the chicken, rather lightly sear it before proceeding to make the sauce.This recipe is more of for an appetizer or starter course than the mains, however the husband insists on combining it some steamed jasmine rice each time. Any which way, the way that garlic & hot chili laced sauce with hints of tomato, soy and fresh cracked black pepper combines with vinegar soaked succulent morsels of chicken is just too delicious. Try it!
A tangy fusion dish of vinegar soaked chicken stirred with garlic – chili paste, soy and spices.
- 1 lb boneless chicken thighs,skinless
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic
- 1/2 teaspoon red chilli powder (adjust to taste)
- 1/2 tbsp dark soya sauce ((I use Ching’s brand)
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 teaspoon black pepper, fresh cracked
- 1.5 tablespoon white vinegar
- 2-3 tablespoon of oil (for skillet frying)
- Use tofu, paneer and assorted vegetables for a vegetarian version of this recipe.
- If you would like to deep fry the chicken before adding to the sauce, mix 4 tablespoons all-purpose flour and 1 tablespoon corn starch when you marinate.
For the Sauce
- 6 fresh garlic pods
- 2 whole fresh Fresno chillies (or any hot chili pepper, adjust to tolerance, de seed if you like )
- 2 teaspoon dark soya sauce (I use Ching’s brand)
- 2 tablespoon chilli tomato sauce (I use Maggi Hot & sweet, substitute with Sriracha & 1/2 teaspoon cayenne, or use 1.5 – 2 tablespoons Sambal oelek )
- 1.5 tsp honey (or brown sugar, adjust to taste)
- 1 tablespoon fresh ginger, finely chopped
- 1 teaspoon pure, untoasted sesame oil (optional but recommended)
- 1 teaspoon corn starch
- 1/2 cup chicken/vegetable stock or water
- 3-4 tbsp oil (I used sunflower, use any neutral oil)
- 5 scallion stalks, white & green cut separately
- 1/2 cup red onion, finely chopped
- 1/2 cup fresh tomatoes, finely chopped
- 3/4 tsp red pepper flakes (adjust to tolerance)
- Salt to taste
- 1.5 – 2 tbsp white vinegar (adjust to taste, or use a few dashes of balsamic vinegar)
- For Garnish – chopped scallions(green parts)
Clean the chicken, pat it dry. Cut the cleaned chicken into bite size pieces. Rub it with garlic, chili, soy sauce, salt & pepper, vinegar and let sit for about 25-30 minutes.
While the chicken is marinating, using your mortar and pestle or mini processor, crush the garlic and Fresno chillies to tiny bits.You could use some water if required for blending.
In a small bowl, mix up the soy sauce, chili tomato sauce, honey and sesame oil(if using). In another bowl, mix the cornstarch with the stock and set aside.
In a wide skillet (I used my 12″), heat up 2-3 tbsp of oil on high. Pick up the marinated chicken pieces, shake to release vinegar and layer on the skillet and let sear on both sides, flipping in between. Make sure that the chicken pieces cook all the way through. This may take about 7-8 minutes or more depending on the size of pieces.
Once done, transfer the chicken pieces to a plate and reserve the drippings in the skillet itself.
Add the 3 tbsp oil into the same skillet and heat it up on medium. Add the crushed garlic chili paste and fry up these for 20-30 second or so till you smell the aroma. Be careful that the garlic does not burn (else it will be bitter). Next add the chopped onions and scallions (white parts) and cook on medium high for 3-4 minutes or till light brown in color. Add the tomatoes next and let cook till they begin to soften. Next, add the ginger along with the soy sauce mix made earlier, let cook for 3-4 minutes till everything starts looking glossy or till you see bubbles on the sides. Next, add the cornstarch mix to the skillet. Reduce the heat to low and let everything simmer for another 2-3 minutes till the sauce thickens slightly.
Next, taste & adjust the salt in the sauce. Sprinkle the red chili flakes & vinegar to the skillet and stir everything well. Add the chicken & toss so that the pieces are evenly coated.
Garnish with chopped green scallions & serve immediately.