Does life slow down as you get older? The past year left me reeling to be honest. In both good ways and bad ways as these things tend to go. If each year of my life is this chaotic I'll be burnt out before I'm 30.
Let's recap 2016 shall we?
- I took Techniques of Cooking II
- I graduated college
- Started a new job
- Moved to LA from Boston and moved in with my boyfriend
The list is short, but they're pretty 'big' items.
I thought transitioning from college to the 'real world' wouldn't be so drastic for me. After all at Northeastern I spent over a year working full time jobs as part of its co-op program.
Turns out that's not the case. Working full time...is hard. Relying solely on yourself financially is also hard. Life is hard! I don't want to dedicate this whole post to complaining about life, but since I moved out to Los Angeles l've been incredibly up and down. I love my boyfriend, I love living with him, I love Los Angeles, I don't regret moving here what so ever.
But I also don't have any close friends out here. I didn't like my job. I had this whole new routine that left me low key depressed. It's hard to cook when you're depressed, it's hard to do anything.
As cheesy as this sounds, 2017 brings fresh hope, new challenges, new motivation. Yeah I agree, the difference between December 31st and January 1st is arbitrary. Every day is what you make of it. But I'm a sucker for these things, so while I realize there's no real difference, I feel like my slate is wiped at least somewhat clean.
So what have I been up to in the Kitchen?
To be frank, not much. Again, this was a pretty tough year and I let it drag me down more than once. I did attempt a few more 'difficult' recipes from my cooking classes and when those failed miserably I pretty much 'tossed in the towel'.
But, but, BUT I did get some motivation back! Not only have I been taking strides to practice more 'self-care' but I FINALLY cooked something I'm insanely proud of.
The Crispy Drunken Chicken Bahn Mi
Adapted from the Bahn Mi Handbook by Andrea Nguyen
Ingredients (for 5-6 sandwiches)
- Soft Bahn Mi bread (or soft rolls in general)
- Mayo (Preferably Kew Pie Mayo)
- 1 1/4 pounds of boneless, skinless Chicken Thighs
- 1/4 teaspoon of salt
- 3 tablespoons plus 2/3 cup of cornstarch
- 1 tablespoon of canola (plus more for deep frying)
- 1 teaspoon plus 2 tablespoons of regular soy sauce
- 3 1/2 tablespoons of Shaoxing Rice Wine or dry sherry or marsala cooking wine
- 3 cloves of Garlic, smashed
- A 1 inch section of unpeeled ginger, slice and smashed
- 3 tablespoons of sugar
- 1 1/2 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar + 1 1/2 tablespoons of cider vinegar (or 3 tablespoons of Chinkiang vinegar)
- 6 tablespoons of water
For the Meat
- Trim off the big chunks of fat from the chicken thighs, if they're large or super uneven, butterfly the meat
- Cut the chicken into cubes/nuggets, around 1 1/2 inches
- In a bowl, combine the salt, 3 tablespoons of cornstarch, 1 teaspoon of soy sauce, 2 tablespoons or rice wine (or marsala wine, or dry sherry), and 1 tablespoon of oil. Add the chicken to the bowl, mix it all together so the chicken is all evenly coated, and let it marinate in the fridge for a minimum of 15 minutes
For the sauce
- In a 1 quart saucepan, combine the 2 tablespoons of soy sauce, and 1 1/2 tablespoons of rice wine with garlic*, ginger*, sugar, vinegar (either the mix of balsamic, cider vinegar, or the Chinkiang vinegar), and the water
- Create a slurry with the cornstarch (you do this by dissolving the 2 teaspoons of cornstarch in 2 tablespoons of water)
- Bring the sauce to a simmer over medium heat, then lower the heat a little for 1 to 2 minutes (until you can smell the garlic and ginger)
- Add the cornstarch slurry to the sauce and increase the heat a little
- After adding the cornstarch let the sauce heat until it is nearly boiling and thick (this should take a little less than a minute), remove it from heat.
- Let the sauce cool down for around 5 minutes, then strain it with a sieve.
- Set the sauce aside to cool down
- Heat up a wok or a deep skillet with 1 inch of Canola Oil (or vegetable oil, any tasteless oil with a high smoke point should do)
- Let the oil reach 350 degrees F. You can monitor its heat with a deep fry/candy thermometer, or do the chopstick method (Andrea Nguyen in her book says to stick a chopstick in the hot oil- if bubbles rise immediately to the surface, the oil should be hot enough)
- Fill a bowl with cornstarch, and cover each piece of chicken in the cornstarch
- Fry the chicken in batches (make sure it's not overcrowded) for 2-3 minutes (you may have to turn over the chicken often if using exactly 1 inch of oil- I used more so that it had room to float and I didn't need to turn it over)
- Drain the chicken on a rack and let it cool
Note: If you have leftovers, or want to deep fry in advance, you can re-heat the chicken by placing it in a pre heated oven at 450 degrees F for 8 minutes until it crisps up again (flip it halfway if you're not using a rack)
Assembling the Sandwich
- Cut into the roll or bahn mi bun (not fully, we want to be able to stuff it but don't want it to leak)
- Add Kew Pie mayo (or regular mayo) and Sriracha on either one or both sides of the bun and mix it together with a finger or knife
- Add the lettuce (not too much or you won't be able to fit the chicken)
- You can either coat the chicken in the sauce, or put the sauce onto the sandwich after it's assembled
- Tear up a bunch of cilantro and tuck it/put it on the sandwich
- Eat immediately!
*Note: You can smash the garlic and ginger with the side of your knife or (what I personally do) smash it with a meat hammer
Normally Bahn Mi has pickled vegetables on it, but this sauce is tart enough that you don't need it! In this case Andrea Nguyen suggests keeping the 'extras' light as the sauce is bold enough. You don't necessarily need pickled vegetables (though you can certainly add them if you want), you don't need Maggi sauce.