Cindy’s Thai Chicken

This recipe traveled a long way to arrive in New Richmond, Wisconsin. It was brought here from southwest Asia by Cindy Pearson a few years ago, when her sister, Cathy, was serving as pastor of our church. Cindy was visiting her family in Wisconsin between academic terms at Charis Bible College in Hong Kong where she serves as director.

For many years Cindy has worked in China, teaching and caring for orphans before accepting her current position as a teacher and the director at the college. One Sunday she delivered a message during the worship service about her experiences in China. Following the service, she gave a slideshow about her work and life in Hong Kong. As good churchgoers, we ended the morning with a potluck.

Cindy brought a large platter of chicken and broccoli to the potluck. It was delicious, and when I asked for the recipe, she was gracious enough to email it to me. She called it Thai chicken and said that it was a popular dish with her friends in China. Chicken and broccoli are seasoned with a peanut sauce and broiled in the oven. It is actually a version of satay.

Food historians believe that satay was invented on the island of Java in Indonesia. Meat is skewered on palm frond ribs or bamboo skewers, cooked quickly over hot coals and served with peanut sauce. When we visited Surabaya, Indonesia, we saw many street vendors cooking satay. Rather than making this delicacy at home, people buy it from their favorite vendor and take it home to enjoy with rice.

In Cindy’s version, the chicken is dipped in the sauce and arranged on a baking sheet. Broccoli florets are scattered over the chicken and the remaining sauce is dribbled over the food in the pan.

Many years ago I hesitated to try any food cooked with peanuts (except for peanut brittle of course). However, once I was persuaded to do so by a college girlfriend who led me to a Chinese restaurant, I realized that I had been missing some delicious flavors. Be sure to use natural peanut butter for this recipe. Check the label before you buy a jar. The ingredients listed should be only peanuts and salt.

As you can see from the photo, , my first attempt at this dish resulted in what I thought was a bit too much charring, but as it turned out that just made the dish taste like it had been broiled over charcoal. Nothing tasted burned, the chicken was moist and tender, and everything was perfectly seasoned. You could lower the pan a little farther from the broiler if you wish, but we liked the dish just as it turned out.

Serve it with white rice and a little salad, and you will have a dinner low in carbohydrates and calories for guests careful about their diets.

INGREDIENTS:
2 chicken breasts (about 1 lb.)
1 bunch broccoli (about 1 lb.)
¼ cup + 2T creamy natural peanut butter
¼ cup low sodium soy sauce
1 T packed brown sugar
1 T sesame oil
1 T lime juice
½ T Sriracha sauce
½ T rice vinegar
1/8 cup warm water

PROCEDURE:

Start by making the sauce in a quart mixing bowl. Use a fork to blend the peanut butter, soy sauce, brown sugar, sesame oil, lime juice, Siracha sauce and vinegar. Add the warm water sparingly, beating the sauce until it is the consistency of rather thick gravy.

Line a shallow baking pan with aluminum foil or parchment paper and start the oven broiler. Pat the chicken breasts dry and cut them into pieces no thicker than one inch. Dip the chicken pieces into the sauce and lay them out on the pan.

If you plan to serve the chicken immediately, this is a good time to start cooking the rice.

Wash and break or cut the broccoli into florets about the same size as the pieces of chicken. Distribute the broccoli between the chicken pieces and dribble any leftover peanut sauce over the meat and broccoli. Put the pan under the broiler for six to eight minutes. Turn the meat and broccoli and broil another six to eight minutes or until the meat is done.

Serve hot with rice.

NOTES: Cindy suggests that Thai chicken is just as good refrigerated and reheated in your microwave to serve later and that you can make four batches as easily as one.

If you don’t have any Sriracha sauce in your pantry, you can substitute any other good hot sauce, though the flavor may change a little.

James Barber’s Pork Chop Sate

It was not my fault that no one had checked to make sure we had popcorn oil to fry the fish.  Gordy and I were responsible for catching and cleaning them, and we had done our job.

Eight nice bass fillets were ready for the popper when the cook discovered his oversight.  It was a Sunday evening in 1963 in Madison, Wisconsin.  Stores near the campus were closed and no one home in Tripp Hall had any oil.

You might be wondering why four students in a men’s residence hall (a.k.a. dormitory) where cooking equipment was not allowed were planning to fry fresh fish for supper.

The explanation is quite simple.  Though the dining hall fed us twenty meals every week, we had to fend for ourselves Sunday evenings.  Cooking was forbidden in the hall, but popcorn poppers were allowed.  Lake Mendota was a hundred yards away and filled with bass.  And once you learn how, you can fry bass fillets to a delicate golden brown in a popcorn popper.  With an appropriate beverage, they are delicious between slices of cheap white bread.

Our chef found a jar of peanut butter.  Pointing to the oil on top of the contents he assured us that peanut butter would work.  It did, sort of.  We ate blackened bass fillets with plenty of salt and pepper and made the cook scrub out the popcorn popper.  He bought a large bottle of popcorn oil the next day.

That Sunday supper is why I avoided peanut sauce for nearly forty years.  However, once I was persuaded to taste it, I became an immediate convert.  Maybe if we had had some curry powder and lemon juice that evening it wouldn’t have taken so long for me to discover the joys of peanut sauce, but we were just poor students trying to save a dollar on a Sunday night.  Our spices were limited to salt and pepper shakers borrowed from the dining hall.

By which circuitous route I come to James Barber’s Pork Chop Sate.  Sate or satay is a Javanese delicacy that has spread across southeast Asia.  It is basically meat which is marinated, grilled on skewers and served with a sauce.  A spicy peanut sauce is the most common through much of Indonesia.

Barber’s recipe eliminates the skewers and the separate sauce but produces a delicious dinner in less than thirty minutes.  The recipe comes from Fear of Frying, one of three small cookbooks in a boxed set that my sister Patsy gave me for my birthday a few years ago. The books are filled with good simple recipes, many with wonderful titles like “Spaghetti anda Stuff,” “Mrs. Marco Polo’s Homecoming Stew” or “Slightly Pretentious Pork Chops.”

Here is James Barber’s recipe for Pork Chop Sate.

INGREDIENTS:

2 pork chops
2 T vegetable oil
1 small onion (2 – 2 1/2 inch diameter)
1 medium tomato (3 inch diameter)
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. curry powder
Big pinch of cayenne
1/2 cup water
1 T lemon juice
2 T (heaped) peanut butter

PROCEDURE:

Peel and slice the onion very thin.  Wash, remove the stem scar and quarter the tomato.  Heat the oil to very hot in a skillet.  Fry the pork chops about one minute or a little longer on each side until golden brown.  Push the chops to one side of the pan, add the onion and tomato.  Stir and continue frying until the onion is translucent and tomato is beginning to lose its juices.  Turn the heat down to medium.

Stir in the curry powder, cayenne, water, juice and peanut butter.  Stir well to mix all the ingredients.  Cook five minutes over medium heat while stirring to keep the sauce from sticking.  Turn the chops a couple of times to coat them with the sauce.  Reduce heat to low and simmer for 15 minutes, stirring often.

Serve with rice and bread.

NOTES: Use a natural peanut butter with no hydrogenated oils, sugar, etc.  You can double this recipe if guests are expected.  A simple fruit salad goes well with satay.