Sunday, 10 June 2012

Velvet Chicken and The Wrong Peas


We all make mistakes. I make a lot of mistakes. I'm one the clumsiest, most muddle-headed person you can know, so much so that my family and friends have stopped responding with shock and concern when I trip over myself or lose my keys and cards or split open my finger. I'm not even slightly offended because I've learnt to accept the facts and laugh at myself. What follows is yet another cause for self-annoyance/ amusement/ resignation.

I had never been a fan of peas. In fact, I was the most meticulous child you could find, painstakingly picking out all the offensive peas from her plate of fried rice before tucking in. For the life of me, I could not understand why the cook would bother throwing these wrinkly green blobs into an otherwise perfect dish, just to be carefully discarded by all the kids (it wasn't just me).   Funnily, the English pea season is now one I look forward to, even more so than the asparagus one (don't give me that look). A pea, fresh out of its pod in summer, is a beautifully formed green pearl bursting with sweetness. Fresh onions, some lettuce and herbs, butter of course, a bit of stock to braise, ah.


But even while I was still a pea-hater, I loved its cousin, the sugar snap pea. Sweet, but also juicy and crunchy, and best of all, with edible pods. I don't mind working for my food, heck I often very happily stupidly find myself in sweaty situations/ crying even, just to satisfy my greed, but the sugar snap pea satisfies both  greed and laziness. The sugar snap pea apparently, is a cross between the English garden pea and a Chinese snow pea, the best of both worlds-- sweetness and, hmm convenience. I know now because I very daftly assumed that the sugar snap pea was just an early-season tender garden pea. I bought a load of them fresh from the market when I saw them at Ted's stall, eagerly tossed them straight into the wok with some velveted chicken thighs-- only to find the pods tough and fibrous and pretty much inedible. 

The peas inside were great though.

To soothe my feelings of disappointment and betrayal, I redid the dish with the right peas right the day after. I'm stubborn that way. The right recipe follows.

Stir-fried Velvet Chicken and Sugar Snap Peas
serves 1-2 as a side with rice
Ingredients
300g happy free-range chicken thighs, skinless and boneless and cut into equal bite-sized pieces
1  large handfuls of sugar snap peas
1 tbsp minced ginger
1 tbsp minced garlic
2 tbsp groundnut oil

For marinade/velveting
1 tbsp egg white, lightly beaten
2 tsp tapioca starch/ cornstarch (I prefer tapioca)
1 tsp chinese shaoxing rice wine
unrefined sea salt
1 tsp groundnut oil

For sauce
2 tsp rice wine
1 tbsp homemade chicken stock
1/4 tsp tapioca starch/cornstarch
sea salt and white pepper, to taste

Method
1. Combine chicken with the marinade, stir well till there are no cornstarch clumps. Stir in the oil last of all, then set it aside in the fridge for 20-30 min, while you mince your ginger and garlic and combine your sauce ingredients.
2. Bring about 4 cups of water to a boil over high heat and add 1 tbsp of oil. Reduce the heat and when the water is barely simmering, carefully add the chicken, gently stirring it so the pieces do not clump together. Poach for 1 minute or until it just turns opaque but is not cooked through. Drain and set aside.
3. Heat a wok over very high heat. Add 1 tbsp of oil, and when hot, add the ginger garlic, stir-fry till aromatic. Add the sugar snap peas with a pinch of salt, and fry for about a min or until crisp tender but still bright green. Return the chicken. Re-stir the sauce mixture, swirl into the work and stir-fry for less than a min until the chicken is just cooked through and the sauce lightly thickens. Serve hot immediately with a boring bowl of perfect plain rice.




Velveting chicken is a way to get that impressively, well, velvety succulence out of your chicken. The flavours here are mild, no intense oyster sauce or chilli bean pastes, and not even anything vaguely dark, so that the textures of the main ingredients can shine. The chicken is silky smooth, juicy and so so tender, while the sugar snap peas are crisp and just bursting with natural sweetness.. A light sauce flavoured by the broth just barely clings to the chicken and peas;  nothing is drowning in a thick and gloopy pool. Now, just make sure you try this with the right peas.


See  Peppers and Cashew Chicken for a more intense and darker sort of stir-fry, and The Secrets to a Chinese Stir-fry for more tips and a photo of me with my wok on fire.

32 comments:

  1. I can almost take a piece of chicken from that plate, Yum!

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  2. velvet chicken, mmmmmm, what a lovely way to describe the result of that type of preparation - one of the best kitchen tricks I brought back from Singapore!

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  3. I love the combination of velvet chicken with anything crunchy, the crusting texture makes them one of the best comforting food ever....with lots of rice of course!

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  4. I love both peas and snow peas and I admit I have thought for a very long time, just like you, that snow peas were the younger version of peas... I use snow peas very often in stir fries. Your dish looks gorgeous and the chicken thigh is beautifully light (I have it very rarely, so maybe that is why I'm surprised at the colour so close to a breast).

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    1. Ah, it's good to know I'm not the only one. Chicken thigh can be beautifully light too, and best of all, more silkily tender than breast!

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  5. I didn't know that the sugar snap peas was a cross between the english garden pea and the chinese snow pea so I've definitely learnt something new today! Great dish with textures that compliments each other!

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    1. Thanks sylvia! Yea, I only just found out too :( We all learn..

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  6. I didn't know that fact about the peas - that they're a hybrid of the two. I bet the dish would be really delicious using any peas!

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  7. I didn't know that about peas! This looks and sounds delicious. I like your blog and am now following.

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  8. This looks like a yummy dish my son will eat! Look forward to trying out the velvet technique.

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  9. Brilliant! I love the sugar snap peas :) But I really don't like loose green peas in any dish, added or alone....yuck. I love your delicious stir fry recipes and now I've turned my hubby on to your site, so when he makes his dishes, he can come here for some reference too!!

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    1. I used to hate it too until I tried a fresh summer pea. It's so sweet and crisp! Have you tried one before? Aw, I'm chuffed you turned your hubby on to my site too! The 2 of you are so sweet (my dad has never done any of the cooking at home..)

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  10. Oh dear - I can imagine feeling pretty disappointed chomping down on a lovely dish of green awesomeness, just to find the peas shells inedible :( - glad you were able to have a bowl of it "the right way" the next day!

    I don't think I've ever had Chinese snow peas... I'll have to look them up. To be honest I've gone off sugarsnap peas a bit (they're the same as "mangetout", right?) - They all come from Kenya around here and they have the most horrible "artificial", slightly chemically flavour, no matter how much washing you do.

    I don't know if it's a result of some pesticide they use or just the natural flavour of the things...

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    1. I felt utterly betrayed. Hah.

      Chinese snow peas are flat. Sugar snap peas are fat. Mange tout apparently can refer to either. Oh, that sounds horrible. I would give that a miss too! Is it not possible to get any local ones?

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  11. That's what I love about the blogging world ... you learn the neatest things just by touching base with each other! The velvet chicken looks perfect! Smooth and tender! Yum!

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  12. munaty: Thanks!

    littlemacaroon: FUnnily, it wasn't something I picked up while in Singapore! Stir-fries are usually simpler affairs back home!

    J: I love the contrast too, silky smooth vs crunchy crisp. yum yum.

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  13. Ruth: I learnt from experience in this case.. Oh well we all learn!

    All that I'm eating: Thanks! Hope to see you more!

    Natali: Do try, and check out the other stir fry tips too!

    Susan: Thanks susan! That;s what I love too, I learn so much just from reading other blogs (:

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  14. I like this light and refreshing chicken dish. i've been doing a lot of light and simple cooking lately so this recipe fits the bill very well. Thanks for sharing it!

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  15. i adore your illustrations, they're so creative.

    and i had no idea that the sugar snap peas were a cross btwn english garden peas & chinese snow peas. i guess it makes sense..

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  16. Delish! I have always had a problem with peas but am very happy with sugar snaps, must be really amazing people who think that way... great recipe and as always, beautiful illustrations!

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  17. I love peas of all sorts (except those that come in a can). Lovely post.

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  18. yi: thanks! I'm doing a lot of light cooking these days too(:

    angry asian: aw thanks! yup, I didn't know until then either.

    the little dinner lady: thank you! I know, there's something about sugar snaps that's so much more likeable. the crunch?

    michelle: thank you! not many things come good in a can.

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  19. "Velveting the chicken", sounds so poetic! And delicious too, my son hasn't tried the sugar snaps yet, so I'll have adapt this recipe for him for sure! Beautiful photography also. Thanks for checking out and commenting on my blog, it led me back to yours, and I look forward to following it! :-)

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    1. Thanks so much! I love your blog really! Hah it may sound poetic but it really is the proper term for it, I'm not being romantic.

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  20. does this serve one person? would you eat that whole bowl of rice?

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    1. I ate everything that was in the photograph.. which is half the recipe for the chicken, but yes that whole bowl of rice :D

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  21. So what was wrong the first time? What peas did you use? Also what's the difference between tapioca flour and corn flour? I have only really used corn flour. Good to discover that sugar snap peas are a cross between the chinese snow pea and english garden pea. I learnt something new today!

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    1. I used the english garden pea the first time, which had pods that were pretty much inedible :(

      I watch a lot of taiwanese cooking vids and the chef uses tapioca. I've taken to using it because I feel it has a smoother mouthfeel and slightly stronger thickening properties. Plus it's grain-free which is an issue for some people!

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  22. I love the edible pods of the sugar snap peas - I also thought that they were just a younger version of regular peas, I actually had no idea that they were a cross between the two sorts. The dish looks beautiful, very elegant photos.

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  23. Hahhaa that's so funny! I used to do the same thing with the peas in my fried rice too....! I actually couldn't stand eating veg for the longest time, thankfully for me (and my parents) I came around and love em now. Hey, that velveting chicken method is a dandy trick, thanks for sharing...! I love how this dish is a complete meal on its own, with lots of protein and veg. YUUM

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  24. I love this chicken and peas dish!
    I love peas, any kind! When I run out of vegetables and need a quick instant noodle fix, I never let go my peas!

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  25. kat: thanks! hah it seems my mistake has helped a lot of other people learn new things about peas so I'm glad I blogged about it ;)

    winston: haha omg did you do that scoop out spring onions from noodle soup thing too? Yup, do try out the velveting technique, the chicken becomes real luscious!

    mycookinghut: good for you, I only came to love it very recently!

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