From Scratch: Afraid to fry? Stir up your menu


I think most people like to eat. When I taught ESL classes, I incorporated this idea in an English Through Cooking class.

Each week, a different group of students would prepare a dish from their country and explain its preparation to the class. This all took place in a regular classroom using a hotplate. The students loved the class. All went well until a Japanese group was making tempura. They got distracted, and a big wok filled with oil began to smoke and was about to catch fire. Quickly, one of the students trained as a chef ran over and poured in more oil to cool it down and the day was saved.

Fortunately, the Chinese recipe for today does not require vast amounts of oil, and if you are good with a knife, it can be made in 15 minutes or less. For the Chinese ingredients, try the Asian Foodmart next to the Market and Penn Street Farmers Market (at the corner of Penn and West Market streets). The owners are very helpful and the store has everything you will need at half the price of the supermarket.

To begin, prepare the following ingredients:

1 pound chicken cutlets

1 tablespoon cornstarch

1 tablespoon Chinese rice wine or dry sherry

1 tablespoon soy sauce

Vegetable oil for frying

1 red or green bell pepper

6 water chestnuts

1/4 pound fresh mushrooms

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons hoisin sauce

1/4 cup slivered almonds

Cut the chicken cutlets into 1-inch strips and then cut the strips into 1-inch pieces. Place them in a small bowl. Toss the pieces with the cornstarch and then stir in the rice wine and soy sauce. Set aside.

Seed and de-rib the pepper and cut it into 1/2-inch pieces. Do the same with the mushrooms and water chestnuts. At this point you can take a break. Once the ingredients are prepped, the actual cooking time takes only a few minutes.

About 10 minutes before dinnertime, heat a 10-inch cast iron skillet or wok over moderately high heat.

When the skillet is hot, add the almonds. Moving them around with a spatula, cook until lightly browned. This happens quickly, so take care. Remove the almonds and place them in a small dish.

Raise the heat and add 1 tablespoon of oil to the skillet. Swirl it around until the bottom is coated. Add the chicken and stir fry until it is firm and white. Remove the chicken and add another tablespoon of oil.

Immediately add the vegetables and stir fry them for 2 or 3 minutes, adding the 1/2 teaspoon salt. Return the chicken to the skillet and add the hoisin sauce. Mix well.

Cook for another minute or so until heated. Add the almonds and toss again. Serve immediately.

— Julie Falsetti, a York native, comes from a long line of good cooks. Her column, From Scratch, runs twice monthly in The York Dispatch food section.