If you grew up in the nineties and routinely ordered from a certain kind of Chinese restaurant, you could be forgiven for thinking it was all MSG-laden bright orange sugary sauces and mystery meat. Even now, and even in London, those places still exist and I avoid them as much as possible; but there is the other side of Chinese food that I adore: the side with Xinjiang lamb and cumin skewers, with Sichuan peppercorn-spiked twice cooked pork and fluffy bao with sticky pork belly and loads of chilli.
I’m also a sucker for those dishes whose names give little away about what they actually are. For example, who knew that Silk Road‘s ‘home style aubergine’ would be the best aubergine dish I’ve ever eaten? Slippery sweet aubergine flavoured with a little bit of chilli and a lot of garlic. Being the unfussy eater as I am, taking a punt on a dish that has no real description is part of the fun of eating out. I even once ordered ‘saliva chicken’ to the tune of some rather appalled looks from my fellow diners, only to discover that the translation is that it is mouth-watering, rather than containing spit, and was, naturally, delicious.
Even though seeing ‘chicken and broccoli’ on a page will leave you under no illusions about what the dish contains, it seems somewhat simplistic as it really is so much more than that. It’s not really a common dish in the UK, although I have seen it on menus once or twice, but it was in America that I first fell in love with it. It may have been because it came in one of those cardboard boxes with a ton of noodles and some red chopsticks, and I ate it on the street, ticking another one of my American food cliché boxes, who knows, but since I have been back I have made it many times. According to my husband, it is the most comforting food ever and he always asks me to make it for him when he is ill, of course in his favourite noodle bowl with the extra hot sriracha on the side.
Whilst being far from an expert on the vast subject of Chinese cookery, this dish always seems like an anomaly amongst Chinese stir-fry dishes as the flavour is pure savoury, without any sweetness or spiciness at all; which is why my husband, a chilli fiend, always adds the sriracha. Yes, it may be somewhat inauthentic, and it’s origins could be more Chinatown than China, but there is something about its simplicity that keeps me going back to it again and again. When it comes to choosing between this dish and ringing for a takeaway, this wins every time. It takes about half the time that a delivery does and there is no bright orange sauce anywhere to be seen.
Chicken and Broccoli
3 chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch pieces
3 tbsp vegetable oil
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp granulated sugar
2 tsp cornflour
1 tbsp dark soy sauce
1 large broccoli, cut into florets
75ml light soy sauce
2 tbsp dark brown sugar
4 cloves garlic, crushed
2 tbsp plain flour
1 tbsp rice vinegar
Place the chicken breasts in a large shallow bowl. In a separate bowl, mix together 2 tbsp of the vegetable oil, bicarbonate of soda, granulated sugar, cornflour, dark soy sauce and 1 tbsp water, and pour over the chicken. Leave to marinate for half an hour.
Steam the broccoli for three minutes and set aside. Meanwhile, mix together the light soy sauce, dark brown sugar, garlic cloves, plain flour, rice vinegar and 2 tbsp water to make a sauce.
Heat the remaining oil in a wok and add the chicken with its marinade and a quarter of the sauce. Saute until the chicken is golden and cooked through. Add the remaining sauce and stir in the broccoli. Cook for another couple of minutes.
Top with sesame seeds and serve with rice or noodles.