Better than takeout — Chicken Szechwan and Peanuts

4 Aug

The finished project

Can you call something a secret family recipe if before being “secret” or becoming part of a family’s repertoire it was first published in a newspaper?  I ask, because if you can, what follows can best be described as a secret family recipe.  If you can’t, it’s just old and obscure.  Either way, unlike David Blaine, I’m about to reveal to you  the secrets of a recipe that is delicious, and as a result of that deliciousness, has become a staple in my family.

This recipe was clipped from a food column in either the Baltimore Sun, the Chicago Daily News, or the Chicago Sun Times while people still did such things, long before newspapers began their inexorable decline. (My parents can’t decide which paper it actually came from. They sometimes disagree about things.) The paper is yellowed and brittle, its frailty obvious from the first touch.  It calls out to be handled with the care of an archivist, and yet, it is regularly called into service, age taking a back seat to matters of taste.

Known only in my family as “chicken and peanuts,” some have suggested that it is a recipe for Kung Pao Chicken.  Perhaps on some level it is.  But I can tell you this: It tastes like no Kung Pao Chicken I’ve ever eaten.

This is probably the point where I’m supposed to fill you in on the secrets, the tricks that make this recipe work.  But really, they are few.  This is as easy to make as it is delicious.  The only really aspect of the recipe that admits variability comes in matters of heat.  When cooking the red peppers in sesame oil, the obvious relationship of more peppers = greater heat applies.

Peppers cooking in sesame oil. Add as many as you want to reach the desired level of heat. These will eventually turn black–that’s when you add the rest of the ingredients.

There is one other secret.  And it’s both unrelated to the following recipe and vitally important to its success.  That secret is this: buy a rice cooker.  In fact, if you don’t already have one, drop everything you’re doing and go buy one. Right. Now.  It doesn’t have to be fancy or expensive, the cheapest possible one will do.  But the simple fact that you own a rice cooker will make life infinitely easier on you.  I’m not normally one to advocate for single-use kitchen gadgets, however, the rice cooker is a notable exception.  Every batch of rice will turn out perfectly.  Which, incidentally, is the exact opposite result you will obtain if you follow the cooking instructions on the back of a bag of rice.  Everyone else has noticed that, right? That the rice-bag instructions are actually wrong, and that that’s NOT HOW TO COOK RICE?!  Someday I’d really like to know if those instructions are just a massive practical joke perpetrated on the unsuspecting public.  Perhaps a nefarious scheme on the part of the rice-cooker industry.  If so, it’s working. Just buy one and be done with it.

Anyway, without further ado, here’s the recipe that will set you down the path to culinary enlightenment.

Chicken Szechwan and Peanuts

roughly 1 lb. chicken breasts
1 egg white
2 tbsp. cornstarch
3 tbsp. soy sauce
1 tbsp sherry
½ tsp salt
3 tbsp sugar
1 clove garlic, mashed
1 tbsp vinegar
1 tbsp molasses
1/3 cup water
2 bunches green onions
1 tbsp sesame oil
3 dried red peppers (can add more to taste depending on how hot you like things)
2 oz. dry roasted peanuts (or, just eyeball it until you’re satisfied)

Deconstructed (or yet to be constructed) Chicken and Peanuts.

  1. Cut breasts into square pieces about ¾ to 1 inch.
  2. Beat egg white with 1 tbsp cornstarch, 1 tbsp soy sauce, and sherry until mixture is frothy. Marinate chicken in this mixture for at least 30 minutes, turning occasionally so that chicken is well coated
  3. In a small bowl combine salt, sugar, garlic, vinegar, molasses, water and remaining cornstarch and soy sauce. Blend until smooth then add green onions.
  4. Heat chicken in hot oil, remove to absorbent paper.
  5. Heat sesame oil over medium heat. Add red peppers, cook until they turn black. Add chicken, and vinegar-molasses-onion mixture. Mix well and cook for 2 to 3 minutes. Add peanuts.

And the prestige–the finished product.


6 Responses to “Better than takeout — Chicken Szechwan and Peanuts”


  1. Columbus Events August 9-15 « - August 8, 2012

    […] Pie Are Round: Chicken Szechwan and Peanuts Recipe […]

  2. Asian Adventure — Touring Chinatown « Pie are Round - August 12, 2012

    […] hot.  Take a look at the picture below. These are the same chilies that were featured in my Chicken and Peanuts recipe.  I used four.  I didn’t even bother to count the number in this dish, but it’s pretty […]

  3. Christmas Treat — Lebkuchen Christmas Cookies « Pie are Round - December 9, 2012

    […] of my family traditions involve food. (See this earlier post about Chicken Szechwan and Peanuts.)  This food-focused sense of tradition is especially true around the holidays.  Christmas cookie […]

  4. A Baking Tradition — Swedish Rye Bread « Pie are Round - December 23, 2012

    […] Once or twice over the course of this blog’s short existence I’ve written about some of my traditional family recipes.  If there was an urtext that was the ultimate and prototypical family recipe growing up, then it was the recipe for Swedish Rye Bread.  My mother’s family is 100% German and my father’s is correspondingly 100% Swedish.  So, one might naturally think that it was my father responsible for introducing and making this bread. […]

  5. Breakfast Rising — Apple Pancake or Puff Pancake or Dutch Baby « Pie are Round - January 10, 2013

    […] my relationship to my family food traditions and Tania’s relationship to hers is simple: I have recipes. (And recipes and recipes.)  So when we decided to make the apple pancake ourselves, we were […]

  6. Real Deep Dish — Now THIS is Chicago-style Pizza | Pie are Round - June 16, 2013

    […] family has had on my cooking and eating preferences has been no big secret.  As I’ve already established here on the blog, family recipes make up a significant portion of my go-to cooking […]

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