I am, understandably (or so I tell myself) picky about my Chinese food.
Having lived in Taiwan and China for a combined total of 2 years, I feel like I have a pretty good sense for authentic Chinese food. As most Americans are no doubt aware, Chinese food in America is, for the most part, a completely different animal than its long lost relative back in the Middle Kingdom (aka 中国, aka China).
One of my greatest complaints with American Chinese food is that it is, generally speaking, extremely greasy and therefore quite heavy. In China, I don't feel like the stir-fried dishes I eat are drenched in oil. In fact, for the most part, what I love about authentic Chinese food is that I rarely feel weighed down after a meal.
Now, it is possible to find good, authentic Chinese restaurants here in the good ole U.S. of A. But it can be a little bit complicated. It helps to have a friend or two in the know. I've been introduced to most of my favorite Chinese restaurants by Chinese friends.
However, I do indeed have a confession to share with you today. My favorite Chinese restaurant here in the States is none other than P.F. Changs. Scandalous! I know. Its slightly embarrassing to admit this in a public forum. My Chinese food credibility is, like, out the window.
This is how I explain my infatuation with P.F. Changs: while their style of preparing Chinese dishes is generally not authentic, the flavors, in my opinion, are. As an added bonus, their food is not overwhelmingly greasy. So while the final dish may not look much like what I would order in China, the flavors inevitably take me back to meals I've had there.
One of my close friends in Virginia introduced me to one of my favorite dishes at PF Changs: Ground Chicken with Eggplant. Then, in a somewhat serendipitous turn of events, last year around Chinese New Year I stumbled on an Australian cooking magazine at Barnes and Noble which has quickly become a favored source for new Chinese cooking ideas. To my great excitement the magazine had a recipe for eggplant with minced pork in a spicy Szechuan sauce. I couldn't help but have an "aha!" moment, thinking that this might be my opportunity to recreate the PF Changs' dish at home. Unfortunately, as often happens, I never got around to trying the recipe.
Then 2 weeks ago, before life took an expected, but still decidedly sad turn (we can discuss that in a blog post to come), I had my friend Krista over for a belated birthday dinner and I finally made the eggplant dish. I should not have waited a year. It's fantastic. Not quite the same as the one at PF Changs, but who cares when it tastes this good.
Eggplant with Minced Chicken in Szechuan Sauce
Adapted from delicious. (volume 5 issue 2)
2 t. corn starch
1 lb. ground chicken (if you can't find ground chicken, substitute ground turkey)
2 lg. eggplants, peeled
1 1/2 T. peanut oil
1" chunk ginger, grated
1 T. finely chopped green onion
1/2 T. chili paste (I used Sambal Oelek)
1 1/4 c. chicken stock
1 T. light soy sauce
2 T. sugar
1 1/2 T. apple cider vinegar
1 T. Chinese rice wine (shaohsing)
1 t. salt
Mix all sauce ingredients in a bowl and set aside.
Cut the eggplant into strips about 2" long by 1/2" thick. Place the eggplant in a colander and set the colander inside a bowl. Sprinkle the eggplant with salt, toss gently, and let sit for 1 hour. Pour off any water that has accumulated in the bowl.
Meanwhile, mix 1 t. corn starch in a bowl with 1/4 t. salt and 2 1/2 T. water. Mix in the chicken. Set aside.
Heat oil in a wok or pan over medium-high heat. Add the ginger and onion and stir for 15 seconds or until starting to color. Add the chili paste and toss for 30 seconds until fragrant. Add the chicken and stir-fry until almost cooked, about a minute or two. Add the eggplant and stir-fry for about 2 minutes, until beginning to soften. Add sauce, cover and cook on medium-high heat for 10 minutes, tossing 2-3 times, until the eggplant is cooked and almost all liquid has been absorbed.
Stir remaining 1 t. corn starch with 1 T. water. Stir into the eggplant mixture, and then allow to bubble for 1-2 minutes until thickened. Serve with rice.