Kitchen hack: peanut sauce from poaching liquid

The “hack,” as we’ve come to know it, implies that life is a series of chores to tackle inelegantly but effectively, eliminating yet another stumbling block in our way.

I never used to view cooking as a hurdle or pitfall, that is until I had kids. Four years in, the relentless cycle of maximizing the calories filling little tummies while minimizing food spilled or thrown on the floor has managed to suck the joy out of preparing a meal. And don’t get any parent started on the task of preparing wholesome foods that won’t be wholly rejected on the merits of their bright colors and flavors.

So beige food shows up on the plate more often than I could have ever anticipated. Recently, the plate was so monochromatic that I doubted even my skeptical kids would go for it. But the poached chicken, brown rice and peanut sauce was one of our biggest hits to date that didn’t incorporate now ubiquitous cheese.

A previous post mentioned poaching boneless, skinless chicken breasts for my kids’ inexperienced palates. But I didn’t share my latest kitchen hack: whipping up a quick peanut sauce right in the skillet from the poaching liquid. Who needs broth, after all, when you’ve just infused ½ cup water with chicken, lemon and garlic?

After removing all but the liquid from the pan, I simply stirred in about 2 tablespoons all-natural peanut butter with 1 tablespoon brown sugar, a teaspoon each tamari sauce and rice-wine vinegar and a dash of fish sauce. This was a perfect accent to slices of the poached chicken. I enjoyed mine with a bit of chili-garlic paste on the side.

Indeed, simple sauces, featured in last week’s A la Carte, can take any lightly seasoned meat, essentially a blank canvas, in myriad directions, while breathing life into leftovers. Here’s another variation that brings to mind my skillet-poached chicken and almost instant sauce.

Tribune News Service photo

Hacked Chicken

2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breast

1 whole clove garlic

1 chunk (1 inch long) fresh ginger, plus 1/4 cup fresh ginger matchsticks

2 teaspoons kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon whole peppercorns

2 teaspoons sesame oil

4 scallions, white and green portions sliced into very thin, 4-inch lengths

1/4 cup peanut oil

2 tablespoons soy sauce

1 tablespoon sherry

2 teaspoons sugar

Settle the chicken into a pot in a single layer. Fill with cold water to cover chicken by 1 inch. Add the garlic, ginger chunk, salt and peppercorns. Bring to a simmer; simmer for 5 minutes. Cover pot, pull off heat and let rest until warm, for about 1 hour.

Pull chicken out of poaching liquid, rinse and pat dry. Hack or shred into fine strips. Toss with the sesame oil. Heap chicken onto a serving platter.

Set a strainer over a small bowl. In a small saucepan, heat the peanut oil over medium-high heat. Add the scallions and ginger matchsticks. Cook, stirring, until bright and fragrant, for 30 seconds. Pour through strainer. Scatter ginger and scallions over chicken.

Return oil to saucepan. Add remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil. Pour this sauce over chicken. Serve at room temperature.

Makes 6 servings.

Recipe adapted by the Chicago Tribune from “The Chinese Cookbook,” by Craig Claiborne and Virginia Lee.

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