Batter is a Dishing Best Wished by Others
by Patrick Clapp
Batter is a dishing best wished by others. This simple statement has been with me for years. I first found it at the Lake View Chinese Restaurant; the "third" Chinese place in the greater Olean area. The first two slots were taken by well-established, long running businesses that seemed to dominate whoever tried to fill the need for a "third" spot. That was years ago, however, as Lake View demonstrated such superior quality that the other two soon closed their doors. But I am drifting afield, I was trying to relate a story about a dishing and its best wishedness.
The profound text is located on the menu of the Lake View Chinese Restaurant as the descriptor for General Tso's Chicken. Everyone eventually notices it, because eventually everyone (or someone with everyone) orders this staple of American Chinese food. Don't get me wrong, as profound as the statement appears to be, it is also absolutely true. The General Tso's at Lake View is fantastic. It is not a far stretch of the imagination to consider the batter to be such a wished dishing. Perhaps even the best wished dishing.
As I found this mental contortion of translation at a young age, I have had many years to attempt to replicate General Tso's Chicken. That particular style of Szechwan cooking was said to be linked to a Chinese General who was the served chicken after a famous battle (or perhaps was invented in the 1970's in New York).
Well, I had my wok and I had my heated oil, and for several years I experimented with the General's Chicken. Not all the time, of course. I did cook other dishes, but hey, it is a dishing best wished by others, so I usually found myself returning to it often enough. My main stumbling block was the batter. Certainly no one wished this dishing. My batter was thin and had poor adhesion to the meat below. Making it involved creating a terrible mess in my kitchen The end result was ok, but I wanted better than ok, I wanted a wished dishing.
Recently I helped a friend work on his house. It involved replacing the wiring for a fan and scraping his ceiling so it could be painted. I scraped, but as we already had two engineers working on the fan, I decided that we didn't need a third and I would retreat to his kitchen to cook dinner. Earlier in the day we availed ourselves of his orange trees and, as a result, there was a small pile of peels next to his sink. That set the wheels spinning in my mind.
"Hey, would you guys like me to cook up an orange peel chicken for dinner?"
[-stunned-(you-can-do-that??)-silence-] "Uh, yeah."
"Ok." And I got to work. I wanted to double check how and when to add the orange peels, so I did a quick search on the internet. Low and behold, PF Chang's Orange Peel Chicken solved my batter quandary once and for all.
See, when you want to batter chicken for a wok, it typically involves some combination of egg and flour. I had tried several different combinations and procedures over the years. But this is what finally worked:
Egg with milk.
That's right! I had never mixed milk in with my egg to do it. Low and behold, and hallelujah. You can do it with three bowls and a couple sheets of waxed paper. Bowl #1 - Flour, Bowl #2 - one egg, one cup of milk, Bowl #3 - Flour. Cut your chicken into 1 inch pieces, dip them into bowl 1, dip them into bowl 2, and dip them into bowl 3. Place the coated piece on the waxed paper and proceed to the next one. After you have all the pieces coated, you are ready to put them in the wok.
It worked. It was amazing (the meal) and everyone (even me) was stunned at the quality of the results. So that is my latest revelation for anyone that is still reading; it is possible to make a batter that is a dishing best wished by others. You just need to answer yes to one question: Got Milk?
(for those that want to try it, here is the recipe)
1 tablespoon vegetable oil, 2 tablespoons minced garlic, 4 green onions (sliced), 1 cup tomato sauce, 1/2 cup water, 1/4 cup granulated sugar, 2 tablespoons chili garlic sauce, 1 tablespoon soy sauce
1/2 cup vegetable oil, 4 chicken breast fillets, 1 egg (beaten), 1 cup milk, 1 cup flour, peel from 1/4 orange (julienne - cut into 1/8-inch thick strips)
1. Prepare sauce by heating 1 tablespoon of oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add minced garlic and sliced green onions. Add tomato sauce and water quickly before the garlic burns. Add sugar, chili garlic sauce and soy sauce and bring to a boil. Simmer 5 to 6 minutes or until sauce thickens, then turn off the heat. (I let this simmer for a long time while I did the rest - the garlic chili sauce is critical.)
2. Prepare the chicken by heating 1/2 cup oil in a wok over medium heat. Slice chicken breast fillets into bite-size pieces. Combine beaten egg with milk in a medium bowl. Pour the flour into another medium bowl. Coat chicken pieces by dropping them into the flour a few at a time, then into the egg/milk mixture and back into the flour. Arrange coated chicken on a plate until all chicken is coated. When oil in the wok is hot, add about half of the chicken to the oil and cook for a couple minutes or until brown on one side, then flip the chicken over. When chicken is golden brown, remove the pieces to a rack or paper towels to drain. Repeat with the remaining chicken. (Check your chicken!! Cut the first piece in two and look at the center, don't hesitate to cook it longer.) When all of the chicken is cooked empty the hot oil into a metal can (like the tomato sauce can), place the wok back on the stove, and add 1 tablespoon of oil and heat it back up.
3. When wok is hot again add julienne orange peel and chicken. Heat for 20 to 30 seconds or so, stirring gently. Add sauce to the pan and cook for about 2 minutes. Stir dish a couple times but do it gently so you
don't knock the coating off the chicken. Cook until the sauce thickens then serve up the dish with white or brown rice on the side.