Do you remember those tiny little dorm fridges everyone used to have in college?
I don't know about you, but every single person in my hall during college had one of those mini-fridges.
They kept food just fine, but they never had a real freezer. At most, the tiny little compartment in the top corner of the fridge would hold a couple pints of ice cream. And it never kept it that cold.
Imagine my surprise when I walked into Bryan's dorm room and found a full size freezer. The freezer itself was bigger than my entire dorm fridge.
Turns out, his mother periodically cooked all his favorite Chinese dishes, pack them up in individual portions over rice, and shipped them all the way from California to MIT, packed in dry ice.
Thus the huge freezer.
It was always a huge treat whenever he was willing to share his mom's precious cooking with me. My favorite dish had 5-spice tofu, peanuts, and stir-fried Chinese vegetables.
When Glad FreezerWare asked Foodbuzz Tastemakers to design a "freezer-friendly recipe" to try out with these nifty new freezer-friendly containers, I immediately thought back to the scrumptious Chinese meals Bryan and I used to enjoy in his dorm room, compliments of his mom and the wonders of modern technology.
Knowing that simple home-cooked Chinese food freezes exceptionally well, I decided to make Three Cup Chicken, a fragrant and intensely flavorful Taiwanese classic that goes insanely well with rice.
Three Cup Chicken is a chicken dish where chicken is stewed in "three cups" of sesame oil, soy sauce, and rice wine (plus tons of aromatics). Of course, depending on how much chicken you're making, you may not necessarily actually need three whole cups.
I think it's a dish with a huge bang for its buck. The ingredients are inexpensive, the preparation is relatively short and easy, and the end product is so, so flavorful.
There is one catch, I guess.
You have to cut up chicken bones.
Sure, you could technically make this dish with boneless chicken breast, but it won't be nearly as good. There's something about the bone marrow infusing into the sauce, the fat in the chicken skin, and the tenderness of dark meat that make this dish much better with chicken leg pieces (or a whole chicken, for that matter).
I've found that you need a really, really sharp cleaver and you have to be really purposeful when you chop. We're not talking about a gentle chop. We're talking about a "hai-ya!" chop.
It takes a bit of practice. In the beginning I was just too timid, and thus I was unable to fully chop the bone in half. It's much better to aim once, swing hard, and (hopefully) make one clean break.
Be careful, though! You could still get small bone shards flying around.
Once the bone is broken, you can go back and gently cut the meat up into ~2-inch wide pieces.
Once you've chopped all your aromatics, the cooking part is actually pretty straightforward.
You can either brown the chicken first (gives a better char), or (if you're short on time or equipment), do it all in one pot. Since I was short on time, I decided to cook it in one pot.
Over medium high heat, stir fry garlic, ginger, and scallions (optional) in half of the sesame oil until everything smells gorgeously fragrant. Add chicken pieces and cook until they are no longer pink. Add rice wine, soy sauce, remaining sesame oil, and sugar. Bring to a boil and then simmer (uncovered) for about 15 minutes, slowly reducing most of the liquid.
Periodically check the flavor. If it's not salty enough, just reduce it some more. You can always add more sugar, soy sauce, wine, etc. depending on your preference.
At the end, add basil leaves and quickly stir until wilted.
And then serve! It's that simple!
I had cooked some other dishes on the side the same night, such as Yellow Chives with 5-Spice Bean Curd and Soy Sheets with Edamame and Mustard Greens. I'll post about those soon.
To make my freezer-friendly lunches, I lined the bottom of my container with a bed of rice. I then added my veggies on one side and my meat on the other. I poured some 3-Cup Chicken sauce over the entire thing.
Into the freezer they go!
The next day, I brought one of the containers to work for lunch. It was cool knowing that my other two containers would keep for awhile in the freezer, and I wouldn't have to stress about trying to finish the leftovers within a couple days (I get tired of eating the same thing too many days in a row, so that's a good thing!).
I heated the entire container in the microwave and voila, lunch was ready. I was surprised how well everything reheated. Aside from the 5-spice bean curd being just a bit drier, overall everything tasted just like it did the night before.
Because the lunch was frozen, I didn't have to fight for communal company fridge space when I got to work. Instead, I just kept it in my office until lunchtime.
It worked out well. I saved a bit of lunch money, and arguably ate a healthier lunch.
Now if only I could get that exact recipe from Bryan's mom so I can re-make that dish I loved in college.
Or maybe I could convince her to ship me some directly in dry-ice?
3-Cup Chicken (San Bei Ji)
derived from various sources
serves 4 | 25 minutes
¼ cup sesame oil*
3-inch segment of ginger, sliced
10-15 cloves garlic
2-3 stalks of scallions, cut into 1-2 inch pieces
4 chicken drumsticks, cut up into pieces (other bone-in chicken works too)
¼ cup rice wine
¼ cup dark soy sauce (I used double black, but black should work fine too)
2 tablespoons sugar
1-2 cups Thai basil leaves
Over medium high heat in a pot that comfortably hold all the chicken pieces, stir fry garlic, ginger, and scallions (optional) in half of the sesame oil until everything smells gorgeously fragrant. Add chicken pieces and cook until they are no longer pink. Add rice wine, soy sauce, remaining sesame oil, and sugar. Bring to a boil and then simmer (uncovered) for about 15 minutes, slowly reducing most of the liquid.
Periodically check the flavor and turn the chicken pieces if they are not all submerged. If it's not salty enough, just reduce it some more. You can always add more sugar, soy sauce, wine, etc. depending on your preference.
At the end, add basil leaves and quickly stir until wilted.
Serve! Preferably with rice.
Although this dish is traditionally made with equal parts sesame oil, rice wine, and soy sauce, I personally found the dish to be a bit oily for my preference. I think I would reduce the oil by half (⅛ cup) the next time I make it. I'm sure it would still turn out fine.
I also think I did not reduce the dish quite enough. The liquid should be almost gone, saucy instead of soupy. Next time I will cook it uncovered and monitor it carefully (as opposed to trying to cook two more new dishes at the same time!)
As part of the Foodbuzz Tastemakers Program, I received free Glad Containers as well as a stipend to cover the cost of the ingredients.
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[…] often includes a subset of the following dishes: Taiwanese Meat Sauce over rice, Beef Noodle Soup, Three Cup Chicken, Tea Eggs, Chinese Chives + 5-spice Tofu, and stir fried Baby Bok Choy. This past week, I signed […]