Archive for the 'Chinese' Category

Beef with Cumin

Beef with Cumin

My mother-in-law was getting concerned that we weren’t eating because there was a gap in my posting here.  But we’ve mainly been eating either things that were already posted (roast chicken , smoked chicken, pork chops, or corn pasta) or we’ve been eating things that it seems a bit silly to post (steak frites, quick pastas). But every once in-a-while I make something that is both good and
worth posting.

We’ve been enjoying the bounty of the local farmer’s markets too much over the past summer and early fall.  The quality of the ingredients is so high that it seems like sacrilege to do anything more than just prepare the ingredients, whether meat or vegetable, as simply as possible.  However, there are only so many roast chickens and steaks one can eat before they feel they need a little elaboration on the topic.

Which brings me to Beef with Cumin.  I had seen reference to it online and, the pictures combined with the recipe intrigued me. In fact, it made me purchase flank steak especially to make it. However, flank steak is attractive enough to me that the first half of it went towards the aforementioned steak frites.

I was, however, determined to actually make the Beef with Cumin.  And make it I did.  Too many Sin0-American recipes are focused on hiding the flavor of the underlying ingredient, where meat, in particular, is interchangeable based on the dietary preferences of the diner  (Sweet-and-Sour Chicken is a prime example).  This is not one of those recipes.  Beef is the predominant flavor.  The cumin, the ginger, and the garlic all seek to complement the flavor of the beef.  It is beef with cumin, not cumin with beef.

Ingredients for Beef with Cumin

Beef with Cumin
Adapted from Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook: Recipes from Hunan Province

12 oz. flank steak
2 tsp finely chopped ginger
1 tbsp finely chopped garlic
2 fresh red chilies, seeds removed and diced
2-4 tsp dried red chili pepper
2 tsp ground cumin
salt
2 spring onions, green part only, sliced
1 tsp sesame oil
1 cup peanut oil

Marinade:
1 tbsp Shaoxing wine
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp light soy sauce
1 tsp dark soy sauce
1 tbsp cornstarch
1 tbsp water

  1. Slice the beef across the grain into thin, bite-sized strips.  Add the marinade ingredients and mix well.  Allow to marinade for at least 30 minutes.
  2. Heat the peanut oil in a wok to 275°F.
  3. Fry the beef in the peanut oil, stirring regularly, for one minute.  Remove the beef from the oil and drain well.
  4. Pour off all but 3 tbsp of oil from the wok.
  5. Over high heat, stir fry the ginger, garlic, fresh chilies, dried red chili pepper, and cumin for 1 minute.  Return the beef to the wok, reheat the beef, and then remove from the heat.
  6. Drain off any excess oil from the beef.
  7. Stir in the spring onions and sesame oil.
  8. Serve with steamed rice.

Serves 2-3.

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Zuo Zong Tang Ji (General Tso’s Chicken, Taiwan Version)

Zuo Zong Tang Ji (General Tso's Chicken, Taiwan Version)

One of the very first posts I made to this blog was a version of General Tso’s Chicken.  That version was from Changsha in Hunan province and is fairly close to the version served in America (and, strangely, rarely in Hunan province).  Now, well over a year later, I tried my hand at the Taiwanese version (and succeeded in not gassing myself out of the kitchen this time).

Apparently, this is closer to the original General Tso’s Chicken which was developed in the 1950’s in Taiwan by a Hunanese chef, Peng Chang-Kuei.  He’s also responsible for the other style of General Tso’s Chicken, which is hot and sweetand was developed in New York City.  This version is hot and sour, without the sweetness of the more American version.  Despite the fact that this was not developed in Hunan itself, this version is more Hunanese as it doesn’t have the sweetness.

Of course, the unspoken issue is which is the more authentic version.  I do appreciate authenticity in cooking but I don’t think it matters in this case.  The supposed canonical example of Hunanese cuisine isn’t Hunanese at all.  I don’t think there can even be an authentic version of this dish.

Frying Chili Peppers for General Tso's Chicken

So if authenticity doesn’t matter, which is better?  It’s really hard to say (not the least because of the time delay between the two).  I remember liking the Changsha version a lot despite the high spiciness.  The Taiwanese version is much more challenging to my taste buds.  I’m simply not particularly used to food that is hot and sour.  Angela enjoyed the Taiwanese version a lot; she was already asking when I could make it again.

So my advice is simple.  Make both this version and the Changsha version and see which you like better.  Or realize that they’re different enough that you can enjoy both.

Frying chicken for General Tso's Chicken

Zuo Zong Tang Ji (General Tso’s Chicken, Taiwan Version)
Adapted from Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook: Recipes from Hunan Province

4 boneless, skinless chicken, thighs
6-10 oz. dried red chilies
2 tsp finely diced ginger
2 tsp finely diced garlic
2 tsp sesame oil
peanut oil for frying

Marinade:
2 tsp light soy sauce
1/2 tsp dark soy sauce
1 egg yolk
2 tsp potato flour or corn starch
2 tsp peanut oil

Sauce:
1 tbsp tomato paste mixed with 1 tbsp water
1/2 tsp potato flour or corn starch
1/2 tsp dark soy sauce
1 1/2 tsp light soy sauce
1 tbsp clear rice vinegar
3 tbsp chicken stock

  1. Cut the chicken thighs into similiarly sized, bite size pieces.
  2. For the marinade, combine the soy sauces and egg yolk with the chicken and mix well.  Then stir in the potato flour.  Finally, stir in the potato flour or corn starch.  Set aside to marinate for 30 minutes.
  3. Combine the sauce ingredients in a bowl.
  4. Cut the chilies into 3/4″ pieces and discard the seeds.
  5. Heat enough oil to deep fry the chicken in a wok until it reaches 350ºF.  Add the chicken and deep fry until the chicken becomes crisp and golden.  Remove the chicken and drain on paper towels.  Pour the oil from the wok into a heat proof container.
  6. Return the wok over high heat and add 2-3 tbsp of the peanut oil.  Add the dried chilies and stir fry until they start to turn brown.
  7. Add the ginger and garlic and stir fry for several seconds.
  8. Add the sauce and stir regularly until it thickens.
  9. Return the chicken to the sauce and stir to coat the pieces in the sauce.  Remove from the heat.
  10. Stir in the sesame oil.
  11. Serve immediately over white rice.

Serves 4.

Spicy Beef with Vegetables

Spicy Beef with Vegetables Cooking

Just in time for the Beijing Olympics (I’m actually watching the women’s gymnastics competition while writing this), here is a Chinese beef recipe.  Of course, I made this with no regards to the Olympics whatsoever last week.  I did, however, wonder how many people ordered Chinese takeout to watch the opening ceremonies on Friday.

Part of the reason I decided to make this recipe was that I had finally tracked down mo-er mushrooms at 99 Ranch Market the last time I was there. I wasn’t entirely sure I had purchased the correct thing until I compared the glossary in the cookbook to the mushroom packaging and could match up two of the three Chinese characters (there were two listed in the cookbook, there were three on the packaging). I took a picture of them to help you find them.

Mo-er Mushrooms

This is prepared in a very similar fashion to Chili-Pepper Beef but the flavor is quite a bit different. The Spicy Beef, oddly enough, isn’t as spicy as the Chili-Pepper Beef. However, the vegetables work much better in the Spicy Beef. In some ways, I prefer the Chili-Pepper Beef but this is also good, in a different way.

Spicy Beef with Vegetables

Spicy Beef with Vegetables
Adapted from The Key to Chinese Cooking

1/2 lbs. flank steak, shredded
1 tbsp dried mo-er mushrooms
1 1/2 cups shredded celery
1 cup shredded carrots
1 garlic clove, minced
2 quarter-sized slices peeled ginger, minced
1/2 tsp salt

Marinade:
1 tsp light soy sauce
2 tsp cornstarch dissolved in 1 tbsp water
1 tsp oil

Sauce:
1 tbsp black bean paste
1 tsp chili sauce
1 tsp light soy sauce
1 tbsp Shaoxing wine
1 1/2 tsp Chenkong vinegar
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp cornstarch dissolved in 2 tsp water
2 tsp seasame oil

  1. Combine the marinade ingredients and toss with the steak.  Allow the meat to sit, refrigerated, for 30 minutes or more.
  2. Soak the mo-er mushrooms for 30 minutes in warm water.  Rinse and discard the hard “eyes.”  Then, shred them.
  3. Heat a wok over high heat until very hot.  Add 1 cup of oil.  When the oil is 375ºF, add the beef and toss rapidly for 10 seconds.  Remove from the heat and pour the meat and oil into a strainer over a bowl.  Allow the oil to drain off the meat.
  4. Return 3 tbsp oil to the pan and heat over high heat until hot.  Add the garlic and ginger, stir a few times, then immediately add the celery, carrots, and mushrooms.  Cook, stirring regularly, until the vegetables are softened, several minutes.
  5. Add the beef and cook for 1 minute more, stirring regularly.
  6. Add the sauce, stirring to combine, and cook for 5 to 10 seconds.
  7. Serve immediately with white rice.

Serves 2.

Mao Shi Hong Shao Rou (Chairman Mao’s Red-Braised Pork)

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There’s something about this dish that just seems, well, un-American. First of all, it’s Chinese. But even more so, it’s associated with that despicable character Chairman Mao. And it’s red-braised pork. It’s even Communist in the name!

Luckily, I’m not actually Joe McCarthy and I don’t care about those things. What I do care about is whether or not it tastes good.

This is one of those foods that can only be described as tasting interesting. Interesting can be code for both good and bad but in this case it just means different. Caramelized sugar isn’t frequently encountered in savory dishes in the west. Neither is cinnamon. I’m also not particularly used to meat that’s quite as fatty as pork belly.

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None of these things make the dish bad, just different. And, in this case, different really is good. I don’t like it as much as Chairman Mao did but I wouldn’t mind having it on occasion.

I was intrigued by the texture difference between the fat and meat but Angela wasn’t such a big fan of that. I’d probably consider making it with pork butt in the future simply to alleviate her concerns. I’d also consider thickening the sauce at the end with a corn starch-water slurry as it never really became thickened and I think that the sauce might be better that way. It probably wouldn’t be authentic but I think I’m okay with that.

I also noticed a lot of scum coming to the surface as it was braising. I think the first simmering is supposed to remove the scum from the meat but didn’t for whatever reason. I just skimmed the surface of the scum and went on with it.

This pairs quite well with plain white rice as well as a stir-fried vegetable. I did button mushrooms with a bit of ginger which was good if not particularly Chinese.

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Mao Shi Hong Shao Rou (Chairman Mao’s Red-Braised Pork)
Adapted from Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook: Recipes from Hunan Province

1 lb. pork belly, skinless
2 tbsp vegetable oil
2 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp Shaoxing wine
a 3/4″ piece of ginger, skin left on, sliced
1 star anise
2 dried red chilies
1 small cinnamon stick
light soy sauce
salt
sugar
scallion greens from 2 scallions, sliced

  1. Bring a pan filled with enough water to cover the pork belly to the boil. Plunge the pork belly into the water and simmer for 3 to 4 minutes. Remove the pork belly from the water and discard the water.
  2. When the pork belly has cooled enough to handle, cut the pork belly into bite-sized pieces.
  3. Heat the oil with the sugar in a wok over medium-low heat until the sugar melts. Raise the heat and stir regularly into the sugar caramelizes.
  4. Add the pork and Shaoxing wine. Add enough water to cover the pork and add the ginger, star anise, chilies, and cinnamon stick. Simmer for 40 to 50 minutes, skimming any scum off the surface.
  5. At the end of the cooking period, increase the heat to reduce the sauce. Season the sauce to taste with the light soy sauce, salt, and sugar.
  6. Serve the pork covered with the sauce and sprinkled with the scallion greens.

Serves 4.

Sweet and Sour Pineapple Pork

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The first Chinese dish (outside of fried rice) that I really decided that I like was sweet and sour chicken. Given my upbringing, this was at one of the ubiquitous “Chinese” fast-food restaurants at a mall. Given I was child at the time, I can’t really blame myself for it.

Sweet and sour chicken has to be one of the least offensive “foreign” foods ever (I’m guessing it’s about as American as apple pie but it’s still somewhat exotic for middle-America). It’s chicken (outside of Peta members, is there anyone who finds chicken objectionable?) which has been deep-fried (which has to be the most all-American way of cooking something) served in a sweet sauce (and where would Americans be without sugar corn syrup). So it’s not particularly surprising that I liked it.

And I’ve actually had good renditions of it. It’s just usually overly thick and overly sweet. And there’s more breading than chicken. And the pieces are too big to be edible with chop sticks. And it just ends up dissappointing.

I’ve even tried to make it myself (with a variety of recipes). And I’ve never come up with something that I can actually say is good. Sure, the chicken is alright but the sauce never works out.

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When I came across this recipe, I was naturally skeptical. How good could any Chinese recipe be that included ketchup? (Of course, the Chinese may have invented ketchup.) And there’s a lot of sugar in it. And given my previous attempts, why won’t the sauce be overly thick or sweet?

I figured I’d give it a shot. And it was good. Very good. The pork actually has flavor as opposed to simply providing a vehicle to eat the sauce. And the sauce wasn’t too thick. It coated the pork well without being too thick. And it was actually sweet and sour. It was much better than any fast food Chinese.

But I still have a place in my heat for sweet and sour chicken.

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Sweet and Sour Pineapple Pork
Adapted from The Key to Chinese Cooking

1 lbs pork tenderloin
4 cups oil
1/4 cup cornstarch mixed 1/4 cup all purpose flour

Marinade:
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp light soy sauce
1 tsp sesame oil
1 tbsp cornstarch dissolved in 1 tbsp water
1 egg yolk, beaten

Sauce:
5 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
4 tbsp white vinegar
3 tbsp light soy sauce
2 tbsp Shaoxing wine
3 tbsp ketchup
2 tbsp oil
1 garlic clove, crushed and peeled
1 tbsp cornstarch dissolved in 3 tbsp water
1 tbsp sesame oil
1/2 cup water
1 cup canned cubed pineapple

  1. Trim the meat of excess fat and any silver skin. Pound the meat with a meat tenderizer to separate the muscle fibers. Cut it lengthwise into 1 inch wide stripes and then crosswise into 1 inch cubes.
  2. Combine the marinade ingredients together and mix well. Place the pork in the marinade, stir well, and allow to marinade for at least 30 minutes.
  3. Mix together the sugar, salt, white vinegar, soy sauce, wine, and ketchup for the sauce.
  4. In a sauce pan, heat 2 tbsp oil over high heat until hot. Add the garlic and cook briefly, turning the garlic several times.
  5. Add the mixed sauce ingredients and stir until it comes to a boil.
  6. Reduce the heat to low and add in the cornstarch mixture stirring until it begins to thicken.
  7. Add the water and stir until the sauce becomes smooth and thickened. Remove from heat and discard the garlic.
  8. Heat the oil in a wok until hot, about 350ºF.
  9. Dredge the pork in the cornstarch-flour mixture and shake off any excess flour.
  10. Place the pork in the oil and cook for 3 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove the pork from the oil and drain on paper towels.
  11. Return the oil to 350ºF. Return the pork to the oil and cook for 2 minutes until the pork is crisp and browned.
  12. Return the sauce to a simmer and add the pineapple. Simmer for 30 seconds.
  13. Remove the pork from the oil and place in the sauce after draining briefly.
  14. Place the sauce over high heat and stir until the pork is well coated.
  15. Serve immediately with white rice.

Serves 2-3.

Chili-Pepper Beef

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It’s unusual for me to cook Asian cuisines. It’s not a lack of respect or interest in them. In fact, it’s more the opposite: it’s not part of my culinary culture and I don’t feel I have a good grounding in the techniques.

I’ve been pretty happy with take-out Chinese and it’s Americanized tastes. I actually enjoy most Sweet-and-Sour Chickens with their overly thick, overly sweet sauce (not to say there aren’t bad versions out there). I knew there was more to Chinese food than that but it’s hard for a westerner to know what is “authentic” and what isn’t. Or would I even want to eat something that is authentic?

I decided that it was about time that I actually learn about Chinese cuisine. I’ve made stir fry’s in the past but I was either improvising which yielded mediocre results or I was simply following a recipe without really understanding the underlying techniques.

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The techniques seem to be a bit different but also the same to what I’m used to. Marinating is common in western cuisine as are the making of sauces; however, the ingredients are quite different. The cooking steps are a bit different in Chinese cooking but not radically so. Even in western cooking, multiple cooking steps are common. Most meat is browned and then cooked fully to develop flavor. The same is true in Chinese cooking.

This recipe was, for me, a good place to start, not least for the fact that I had flank steak that I needed to use. It’s also a pretty simple recipe to make. The first cooking of the beef is referred to as “slippery-coating” in the cookbook. Obviously that’s a translation from the Chinese but I’m not entirely sure what it means. The meat does obtain a somewhat liquid texture after the first cooking but I’m still not entirely clear on what this does to the meat.

I did substitute in sugar snap peas because I had them and like them. The original recipe called for bamboo shoots. I’m not sure I’d recommend the sugar snap peas as they didn’t cook completely. They weren’t bad but perhaps not the best choice in this recipe. You may want to revert it back to the original.

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Chili-Pepper Beef
Adapted from The Key to Chinese Cooking

1/2 lbs. flank steak
4 dried red chili peppers
2 quarter-sized slices of peeled ginger, shredded
1 garlic clove, peeled and diced
1 1/2 cups shredded celery, in 1 1/2″ long pieces
1/2 cup sugar snap peas

Marinade:
1 tsp dark soy sauce
1 1/2 tsp cornstarch dissolved in 2 tsp water
1 1/2 tsp oil

Sauce:
2 tbsp dark soy sauce
1 tbsp Shaoxing wine
2 tsp rice vinegar
1/2 tsp ground Szechuan peppercorns
1 tsp cornstarch dissolved in 2 tsp water
2 tsp sesame oil

  1. Cut the steak along the grain into 2″ strips. Cut against the grain into 1/8″ slices. Combine the beef with the marinade ingredients and mix well. Allow to marinade for at least 30 minutes.
  2. Mix the sauce ingredients together.
  3. Heat 1 cup of oil in a wok over high heat until it reaches about 350°F. Add the meat and stir it 5 to 6 times in a circle. Immediately remove from the heat and drain the meat from the oil.
  4. Return 2 tbsp oil to the wok and heat over low heat. Add the chili peppers and cook them until they are black, about 3 minutes.
  5. Increase the heat to medium and add the ginger and garlic to the wok. Stir fry until it begins to brown.
  6. Increase the heat to high and add the sugar snap peas and celery. Stir fry for 1 1/2 minutes to allow the vegetables to soften.
  7. Add the beef and stir fry for 1 to 2 minutes.
  8. Pour the sauce ingredients into the wok and simmer until the sauce has thickened.
  9. Serve with white rice.

Serves 2.

General Tso’s Chicken or How to Create Pepper Spray in Your Own Kitchen

Apparently, if you cook chilies in more oil than necessary, then add liquid, you will create your very own homemade pepper spray. As I was cooking the General Tso’s Chicken, I was suddenly overcome by a combination hacking and sneezing fit (in retrospect it’s not something that I thought would be physiologically possible but I often manage to surprise myself with my own abilities). By the time my wife noticed my predicament, the toxic cloud had drifted the few feet to her and she was overcome. And now I understand how pepper spray works.

Now, I don’t normally cook Chinese food (let alone any Asian cuisine). It’s not that I don’t like it, it’s just that it’s culinarily 180 degrees from my comfort zone. I usually stick to Italian or French dishes, occasionally adding in other European fare or the Americanized versions thereof (thereof is a seriously underrated word in the English language). In my mind, Asian food is something you go out to eat (speaking of which, why are there a dearth of reasonably good Chinese places in Long Beach?)

Chinese and other Asian foods are different from my American (and by extension European) culinary tradition (well don’t I sound pompous; perhaps I should refer to food tradition). The techniques are just significantly different. While thinking about the differences, I realized I’m not even qualified to comment on what the differences are: that is my level of understanding of Asian cuisine. I’ve made a few successful stir fries (and I highly recommend this tutorial) but they were rather Americanized affairs.

Despite this lack of knowledge, I had heard rumors that Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook: Recipes from Hunan Province was a good cookbook. I also have happened to find that the library has an online request system (somehow with regards to libraries I’m stuck in mid-1980’s; I’m still skeptical of using anything that isn’t a real card catalog). Of course the combination of a cookbook to reconnoiter and an automagical book request system meant that I got a copy of the book into my grubby little hands (their much grubbier when I make bread but that’s another story, or would that be blog post?).

Being a good American, I immediately thought that many of the recipes would not be the first on my list to try. I mean, many of them even had vegetables in them. While that’s not really what I thought, I did think that some of the ingredients I had not heard of before and would be a bit harder to come by and that my vegetable-hating wife (well, maybe not all vegetables) would not like them.

So what was probably one of the only recipes in the entire cookbook I had heard of (not counting the spring rolls; is it just me or do spring rolls seem to be entirely too time consuming to actually make? all those who make them have my respect) was General Tso’s Chicken. In the cookbook, two different versions are listed: one from Taiwan (where the dish was invented) and one from Hunan (which is the style in which it is made). Not surprising to me was the fact that it’s virtual unheard of in China (that would be the People’s Republic of, it’s actually found in Taiwan). Contrary to rumors I heard, however, there was actually a General Tso at some point in the past (and I figured he was just made up).

As to the recipe itself, the first item to note is that it is spicy. Very spicy. Now, I can’t claim to like my food flaming hot, but I do like my food a bit spicy. This was a bit spicier than I’d like and my wife gave up eating it after awhile due to its heat. So if you don’t like it hot, add less chilies. In retrospect, seasoning the chicken with salt and pepper before mixing in the marinade would make a better dish (to my Anglo-Saxon mind). The original recipe specified potato flour but it’s not in my pantry, so I substituted corn starch and there didn’t seem to be any ill-effects from it. The recipe also specified Shaioking vinegar which, according to the book, is a dark rice wine vinegar, so I substituted that (which is still a pain to find; I eventually had to go to Little Saigon to find it). My final substitution was replacing peanut oil with canola oil because Costco stopped selling it. While Changsha version is supposed to be closer to American versions of General Tso’s Chicken, it’s really not. There’s a vague resemblance but it’s really a different dish.

General Tso’s Chicken (Changsha Version)
Adapted from Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook: Recipes from Hunan Province

12 oz. chicken (preferably thigh or leg meat)
6 small dried chilies, cut into 3/4″ lengths, seeds removed
3/4 in of fresh ginger, thinly sliced
1 tbsp tomato paste
3 scallions, green parts only, thinly slice
1 tsp sesame oil peanut oil

For the marinade:
2 tsp light soy sauce
1/2 tsp dark soy sauce
1 egg yolk
4 tsp corn starch

For the sauce:
1/2 tsp corn starch
2 tsp sugar
2 tsp black rice vinegar
1/4 tsp dark soy sauce

  1. Cut the chicken into bit-sized pieces. Don’t be like me. Make them actually bite-sized. There’s few things more annoying (this would the textbook definition of hyperbole) than eating food with chopsticks that are too big for one bite.
  2. In a bowl, mix the marinade soy sauce, egg yolk, and chicken. Then mix in the corn starch. The mixture will become very sticky.
  3. In a small bowl, mix the sauce ingredients.
  4. Combine the tomato paste with 1 tbsp of water.
  5. In a wok, add enough oil to come up about 3 to 4 inches (depending on the size of your chicken). Heat oil to between 350° F to 400° F. Deep fry chicken pieces, in several batches, until it is golden brown. Remove chicken to a bowl after deep frying.
  6. Pour all but1 tbsp of oil into a heat proof container. Turn your vent fan onto maximum (you’re about to pepper spray yourself). Turn burner to high. Working quickly, add the dried chilies, then add the garlic, then add the tomato paste. Cook until tomato paste becomes burnt orange. Add the sauce mixture and stand back (this is the pepper spray creation moment). Once the sauce stops boiling with the oil, stir as the sauce thickens.
  7. Once the sauce thickens satisfactorily (you want it relatively thick), add the chicken to the mixture and coat thoroughly.
  8. Off heat, add the scallions and sesame oil.

Serves 2.