Ginger, garlic, and fermented black beans add sizzle
Lunar New Year arrives on February 16. So how about some Chinese-inspired stir-fry?
Asian cooking can look complicated to Westerners, but it’s actually pretty simple. It’s all about the prep – the cooking takes very little time.
So fetch some flavor for the Year of the Dog.
Recipe: Chicken and Celery Stir-Fry
This recipe combines stir-frying with braising. In the West, most of us don’t have stovetops with intensely high heat (required for traditional stir-fry). So this combo method is easier for most home cooks. The texture of the dish will be a bit different from true stir-fry, but the flavor is excellent.
Celery works well in Chinese dishes, as does chicken. But flavor-wise, these ingredients aren’t actually the stars of the show. That distinction goes to the ginger-and-garlic sauce that permeates the dish. Fermented black beans (see Notes) add extra zip. Can’t find fermented black beans? No worries – just leave them out (but see Notes).
Prep time for this dish is about 20 minutes (and you can do most of it ahead of time). Cooking time is short – only 10 minutes or so. (But you’ll also need to cook the accompanying rice. Allow 20 to 30 minutes for that, depending on package directions.)
This recipe yields about 3 main-course servings. Or twice that number if you use the dish as just one of many in a traditional Chinese meal (see Notes).
Leftovers keep for a couple of days if refrigerated in an airtight container.
- ~10 ounces boneless chicken (thigh meat works best, but breast works too)
- 2 teaspoons Shaoxing rice wine or dry sherry
- 2 teaspoons soy sauce
- 1 medium onion
- 3 to 4 ribs celery (about 2 cups when chopped)
- 1 bell pepper or a handful of mini sweet bell peppers (see Notes)
- 4 garlic cloves
- 1-inch piece of ginger
- 2 tablespoons Chinese fermented black beans (may leave out if unavailable; see Notes)
- 2 tablespoons cooking oil (may need to add more oil during the cooking process)
- 2 teaspoons Asian chili paste (or ginger/chili paste, or sriracha)
- ~½ cup chicken or vegetable stock, or water
- additional 1 tablespoon Shaoxing rice wine or dry sherry
- additional 1 tablespoon soy sauce (or more; to taste)
- 1 to 2 handfuls of frozen green peas (optional)
- 1 tablespoon corn starch, dissolved in 2 tablespoons cold water (optional; see Notes)
- cooked rice as an accompaniment (cook according to package directions, and time to finish when the stir-fry is done)
- scallion greens or sriracha for garnish (very optional)
- Cut the chicken into pieces of about 1 inch. Place the chicken pieces in a mixing bowl and add 2 teaspoons each of rice wine or sherry and soy sauce (may add more if necessary). Toss the chicken with the liquid, then allow it to marinate as you prep the vegetables.
- Peel the onion. Cut it in half through the equator, then cut it into thin slices. Set aside.
- Wash and dry the celery, then remove the strings. Cutting on the bias (at an angle), slice the celery into pieces of about ¼ inch (or a bit larger). Set aside.
- Wash and dry the bell pepper. Core the pepper, then cut it into dice of about ½ inch. If using mini sweet bell peppers: Wash and dry the peppers, then cut them into rounds (we usually don’t core these). Set aside.
- Peel the garlic and chop it roughly. Add the chopped garlic to a mini food processor. Peel the ginger and chop it roughly. Add the pieces to the mini food processor. Whirl the food processor until the ingredients are finely chopped. Remove the garlic-and-ginger mixture from the processor and set aside.
- Rinse the fermented black beans with water, then set them aside.
- Place a large frying pan (cast iron works best; see Notes) or a wok over medium stovetop heat. Let the pan heat for 3 minutes. Raise the heat, then add 2 tablespoons of cooking oil. Add the chicken pieces (including marinade) to the pan. With tongs or chopsticks, quickly cook the chicken pieces on all sides until they begin to brown. Remove the chicken pieces from the pan and let then drain on a plate covered with paper towels.
- Bring the cooking pan back up to heat, then add more oil if necessary. Add the chopped onions to the pan. Stir-fry for a minute, then add the chopped celery and peppers. Stir-fry about 3 minutes (until the ingredients are cooked but still crispy). Move the ingredients to the side of the frying pan and add the ginger/garlic mixture. Stir-fry for a minute.
- Add the cooked chicken pieces back to the frying pan. Add the fermented black beans and chili paste. Stir-fry for about 30 seconds, then add the chicken stock and about 1 tablespoon each of rice wine or sherry and soy sauce (or more to taste). Stir the contents of the pan to combine, then lower the heat and cover the pan. Cook for 5 minutes.
- Uncover the pan and add the green peas. Cook for a minute or two. In the meantime, combine the corn starch (if using) with water. After the peas have cooked, remove the frying pan from the heat and stir in as much of the corn starch mixture as you need to thicken the sauce (we generally use about half of it, but we make more than we think we need just in case).
- Serve the stir-fry with cooked rice. Garnish with scallion greens or sriracha sauce, if desired.
- Most frying pans aren’t constructed to be used on the highest stovetop heat setting. In fact, overheating can ruin nonstick pans. And some fancy stainless brands can warp. So don’t turn the heat past medium-high if you’re using one of these. That’s why we recommend using cast iron (it can take higher heat.)
- Woks, however, are designed for high heat. So if you have one, use it for this recipe.
- Cooked rice is the traditional accompaniment for Chinese dishes, and it’s a good one. But you could try grits or polenta too.
- Fermented black beans can be found in any Chinese food store and are available online (Amazon carries them). They’re not really “black beans” – rather, they are soy beans that are fermented and heavily salted. They look a bit unattractive (OK, more than a bit) but they pack lots of flavor. So you don’t need to use too many at a time.
- In fact, think of fermented black beans as an extremely flavorful garnish. They work the same way as a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese on a plate of pasta – they garnish it while adding flavor.
- Some cooks don’t rinse or rehydrate fermented black beans, but we always do. If we’re adding the beans toward the middle or end of a recipe (as we do in this dish), we just rinse them off and then toss them in with the other ingredients. If we add the beans at the beginning of a dish, we generally soak them in water for about 5 minutes, then drain them and add them to the dish.
- Fermented black beans keep for a long time. We usually refrigerate them (although you probably don’t have to) and they stay usable for a year or more.
- Can’t find fermented black beans? You could substitute black bean sauce, which is made from them (use a teaspoon or two). But black bean sauce also contains a lot of other flavors, and not all brands taste good to us. So if you can’t find fermented black beans, we would recommend just skipping them.
- Shaoxing rice wine is traditional in Chinese cooking, but we usually use dry sherry. Why? Because the flavors of the two are very, very similar. As in, almost identical. And we usually have dry sherry on hand, whereas we only have rice wine on hand if we’re doing a lot of Chinese cooking.
- For this recipe, we used the mini sweet bell peppers that you can often find in packages of about 5 ounces in the produce section of your grocery. They look as though they should be spicy, but they’re not. A regular bell pepper works just as well.
- Feel free to use more chicken than we specify. Or substitute different veggies for the ones we use.
- Corn starch is a traditional thickener in Chinese dishes. We sometimes add it, sometimes don’t, depending on our mood. We added a bit to the dish that we photographed for this post (mainly because we like the gloss it gives food). Skip the corn starch if you want – the sauce will be a bit thinner, but the flavor will not be affected.
- Traditionally, a Chinese meal consists of several dishes that everyone shares. There’s usually no “main” dish. When we have a crowd, that’s how we like to serve a Chinese dinner. But when it’s just the two of us, we usually prepare only one dish and call it a day.
- Lunar New Year (also called Chinese New Year or Spring Festival) varies in calendar date from year to year. That’s because it’s based on the cycles of the moon, rather than those of the sun (which guides our official calendar).
“It’s been ages since we’ve made Chinese,” said Mrs. Kitchen Riffs. “Glad we’re starting the Lunar New Year right.”
“Yup, it’s been many moons since we made stir-fry,” I agreed, trying to pick up a piece of chicken with my chopsticks.
“Well, I’m over the moon now,” said Mrs K R, applying her chopsticks deftly. “Wonderful flavor.”
“If I can’t get these chopsticks to work, I’m going to be barking at the moon,” I muttered, dropping globs of stir-fry through my crossed sticks.
“Appropriate for the Year of the Dog, I suppose,” said Mrs K R.
“Arf, arf,” I said as a green pea went flying.
“That was a moon shot,” said Mrs K R, handing me a fork. “Why don’t you try this? Don’t want to see you turn into a werewolf.”
You may also enjoy reading about:
Vegetable Stir-Fry with Pork
Hot and Sour Soup
Vegan Mapo Tofu
Red-Braised Beef with Sweet Potatoes
Red-Braised Beans and Sweet Potatoes
Or check out the index for more