Indo-Chinese. A cuisine that makes me go weak in my knees.
Visions of oodles of noodles getting tossed with vegetables in the huge woks in make shift stoves on the street sides makes my tummy rumble. I can see a winding string of hungry people lined around the stall. Handwritten menu on a poster board stands on the street side, scribbled in misaligned harmony.
Sensations of warm and smoky fragrance of chili, ginger, scallions, garlic, vinegar and soy swirls around the tables of “Chinese” restaurants.
The restaurant offer the formal menu card which makes it difficult for the hungry and the deprived like me (who had been craving all of it for the past decade) to decide on just a few. The tantalizing appetizers to the Sweet Corn Soup and the Chili Chicken, Chicken Lollipop, Sweet and Sour Prawn, Gobi Manchurian and Hakka Noodles… (too many more to say). For the first time I felt what a child feels like when let free in a candy shop. The flavors mesmerize and I want to stuff in more and more, try out everything even if to just make sure that everything still tastes the same.
I had gone back to the restaurant that had introduced us to the Indo-Chinese many many years back for the very first time. The tables are set in the exact same way as it was then. The menu is pretty much the same too with a few extras added. I was glad to see that I could place an order from my memories, without having to glance at the menu.
A few new but popular restaurants disappointed us. I am so glad that this old one in my small town have not changed one bit. the narrow flight of stairs lead to the main floor. The floor that holds many memories. It was soothing to feel the air condition running this time; something we did not have back them. The man that had started the restaurant, and would sit with a dark rimmed spectacle at the counter, still sits at the exact same spot.
My home town has changed beyond my recognition. It was comforting to see that there are few delicate places that time has not been able to lay its fingers on. Most importantly the quality of food remains the same.
This is Chinese cuisine to me. Far far away from China or even any of its influence, except soy sauce and scallions. The cuisine which the Chinese immigrants brought in with them many years ago when a handful of them moved their homes to Kolkata. A cuisine which is pretty much has a league of its own now, some Indian, some Chinese, but mostly by itself – offering equal pleasure to the generations of Indians and Chinese residing in the same streets and corners.
Indo Chinese happens to be one of our favorite cuisine. We miss it. We crave it and seek it . Only there are no place here where we can walk in to satiate the desires.
So once in a while, we give it a try at home. This time it was a sort of “Chili Chicken”, with less of pepper but an extra load of ginger… warm, zesty ginger.
Ginger, Chilli Chicken
Ingredients: (serves 2-4 as side)
- 1 lb chicken (1.5 chicken breast ) cube them in 3/4 -1 inch
- 1 tablespoon vinegar
- 1 teaspoon red chili powder/or cayenne
- 1.5 tablespoon ginger paste
- 3/4 tablespoon garlic paste (or chili garlic paste)
- 1.5 teaspoon dark soy sauce
- 2 – 3 tablespoon all purpose flour
- 4-5 tablespoon corn starch/flour + 1 tablespoon corn starch/flour
- enough oil to deep fry the chicken
For the sauce:
- 3 tablespoon oil
- 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
- 3/4 cup chopped onion
- 4-6 green hot chili pepper, some sliced and some finely chopped
- 3 tablespoon very finely chopped fresh ginger (first julienne them and then chop)
- 4-6 stalks of green onion, finely chopped
- 2 tablespoon tomato ketchup (or 1 tablespoon canned tomato paste + 1/2 tablespoon chili garlic paste) + 4 tablespoon of Sriracha/or Sambal Oelek or any similar hot sauce
- 1 tablespoon dark soy sauce
- salt to taste
- 1.5 teaspoon toasted sesame oil (the Asian kind) - Optional
(The chicken once added to the sauce will slowly lose the crispiness. So add the fried chicken to the sauce only when ready to serve. The chicken may be fried and the sauce prepared a few hours before putting them together.)
Cut each chicken breast in half crosswise; then slice in strips and chop in 3/4 – 1 inch pieces. Wash and pat dry chicken pieces. Add vinegar, some salt and the red chili powder in a non reactive bowl or a ziploc bag and add the chicken to it. Toss for the vinegar and chili powder to coat the chicken and allow it to it for about 15 – 30 minutes.
Add the ginger and garlic paste, and soy sauce to the chicken and let it marinate for about 3 hours. Overnight is good.
If the chicken was refrigerated, allow it to come to room temperature. When ready to cook, add the flour and the corn starch/flout to the chicken and toss for the flour to combine all the chicken pieces as evenly as possible. The liquid from the marinade should be enough to make paste like coating, but if there is still some dry powder left, feel free to add a splash of water, just enough to make a paste like coating.
Heat oil in a wok/kadai. When the oil shimmers, add the chicken pieces in batches (in a single layer), and cook in medium to high heat until the chicken is golden brown. Since the pieces are small in size they will be cooked through. If you have the chicken in bigger pieces. they will take longer to cook.
Remove cooked chicken and drain on paper towels. Complete cooking the rest of the chicken in the same way.
Remove crumbs from the oil if any, and remove all oil but 3 tablespoon. (or you may discard this oil and use fresh oil to cook the sauce).
Add crushed pepper to the oil and then add a teaspoon of chopped ginger and allow the oil to heat up. As the oil heats up, it will be flavored with the ginger. Now add the chopped onions and the sliced green chili peppers. Cook until the onions soften – about 3-4 minutes.
Combine ketcup, hot sauce and soy sauce in a bowl. Whisk until smooth. Add it to the pan. Add salt and toss everything together. Cook at high heat for a minute and then add all the chicken pieces. Stir fry quickly for all the sauce to coat the chicken pieces.
In another bowl, combine one tablespoon of corn flour/starch with a few tablespoon of cold water. Add to the pan and cook for a minute or two until the amount reduces enough to just coat the chicken.
Switch off the heat. Add the finely chopped ginger and green onions (both green and the white parts). Add the sesame oil (if using) and toss. Serve immediately.
Serve as a side or as appetizer.
Preparation Time: 30 minutes or less
Cooking Time: 30 – 40 minutes
Difficulty Level: Intermediate
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