Hungry Hubby loves a Chinese. By that I mean a takeaway Chinese meal from the local chip shop. Now we all know by now I’m much more partial to an Indian but I’ll not kick a crispy chilli beef or chicken broccoli off my plate (with boiled rice and a few, wait for it, chips too – OMG she didn’t just say chips with her Chinese did she???!). Well, this sort of meal is a rare treat and I defy anyone to tell me dipping a crisp chip with a fluffy middle into one of the main course’s sauces isn’t a little mouthful of heaven. Go on, I defy you!
Of course, we also k ow I’m trying to lose weight these days – as is Hungry Hubby. We’ve revamped our eating habits, added in a hefty amount of exercise and thankfully the scales are everso slowly tipping away from the “put the chips down” mark. What? Your bathroom scales don’t have this mark? ;). So, some thinking outside the box is needed to give us a little of what we fancy without the negative impact on our newly acquired healthier living. Enter Ching He Huang’s book China Modern, to save us from the desolation of knowing the next “real” takeaway is a few months off with a significantly less naughty if not *actually* completely virtuous and self-righteous sweet and sour chicken dish.
What we have here is a deconstructed version of the takeaway favourite sweet and sour chicken. You still have a salty, sweet, sour and tangy sauce (but not luridly neon in colour) but here is it served as a dipping sauce rather than drenching the meat, fruit and veg. You could have a more saucy (oh hello 😉 ) version simply by adding more water or even the reserved pineapple juice to stretch it further. What I really love is that without trying, you produce a dish which looks dinner party ready (and I have certainly served them to friends coming for dinner or as nibbles buffet style before now) by virtue of the colourful kebab arrangement. The best part of course is the taste, which you’ll be very glad to know is surprisingly easy to recreate at home! Oh how I love reproducing artifice at home! As long as you have a store cupboard and spice rack with a few simple condiments no more fancy than soy sauce and rice wine vinegar as well as some ground cinnamon and cumin, you are good to go people!
See, I told you – nowt fancy nor requiring a Chinese phrase book to decipher the recipe with! Just bags of colour, and the reassurance of having full control over how much of each sweet, salty or oily ingredient you chose to use. As for me, the essence of healthy living is home cooking and home cooking gives you utter control. Don’t want to use so much sweet stuff? Reduce the sugar, omit the hunny. Watching your salt intact? Get a reduced salt soy sauce or just limit how much you put in. Taste, taste and adjust to your heart’s content! That’s what I did – I’m still convinced there was a typo in Ching’s original recipe as she quotes 150ml oil for the marinade – rest assured my version only has 15ml or one tablespoon, be still your fibrillating hearts!
We really don’t like green peppers but looking at this photo, I can see how visually appealing adding in a piece on each “kebab” would give a pleasing “traffic light” appearance to them, lol! the cooking time is only 15 minutes and the sauce cooks with 5 of those so as long as you get your rice on just before you pop the chicken in the oven, a takeaway treat is only 20 minutes away! Just enough time to rummage for some chopsticks in your third drawer down 😉
To bump up the vegetable quotient of this meal, I love to stir fry some extra veg to serve alongside the chicken. Again, these take moments to cook as long as your frying pan (or wok if you’re more authentic than I am!) is super hot. I won’t deny there is a serious amount of chopping required for this meal but I find that a fairly therapeutic kitchen job so it doesn’t bother me.
Drat, you saw my fork! Oh well, in my defence, eating a kebab with a chopstick is taking things a touch too far! However you eat it, all you need to know is that for those nights when you think only something glowing in a foil container (perhaps with a paper bag of chips) will hit the spot, stop and have a go of this recipe. Hungry Hubby gives it his seal of approval and that man knows a thing or too about a good takeaway 😉
- 1/2 tbsp ground cinnamon
- 1/2 tbsp ground cumin
- 1/2 tsp black peppercorns finely ground
- 1 tbsp rapeseed or peanut oil
- 1 tbsp soy sauce
- 1/2 tbsp soft brown sugar
- 400 g small chicken breasts or mini fillets
- 1 red pepper cut into 1 inch cubes
- 1 orange pepper cut into 1 inch cubes
- 1 onion cut into 1 inch cubes red or white
- 1 small can of pineapple chunks drained, juice reserved for the sauce
- 1 tsp sesame oil
- 1 garlic clove minced
- 1 tbsp minced fresh ginger
- 1 tbsp soy sauce
- 1 tbsp white wine or cider vinegar
- 2 tsp rice wine vinegar Shaosing
- 1 tbsp ketchup
- 60 ml pineapple juice from can
- 1 tbsp brown sugar
- 1 tbsp runny honey
- Chilli sauce to taste
- Cornflour slurry as necessary 1 tbsp cornflour blended thoroughly with 2 tbsp cold water
If not already sliced into goujons, do so with the chicken - about 1 inch by about 5 inches long each Mix all the marinade ingredients together then add the chicken - cover and refrigerate for at least 20 mins but upto over night if best.
Soak 8-10 bamboo skewers in cold water as prepare all the other ingredients.
Thread a strip of chicken onto a skewer, followed by a piece each of both peppers, a chunk of onion then a pineapple chunk.
Repeat until all the chicken is used up and place on an oiled baking tray.
Cook in a preheated oven (200˚C) for approximately 15 minutes until the chicken is thoroughly cooked and firm to touch.
Heat the sesame oil in a small saucepan then add the garlic and ginger - soften but don't colour them.
Next, stir in all the other ingredients apart from the cornflour slurry (I tend to measure them all out into a jug before I cook the garlic and ginger so these don't burn as you prepare these ingredients).
Bring just to the boil then cook for a few minutes to ensure everything is well blended.
At this point decide whether you want a thick or a more liquid sauce and add cornflour blended with water for a thick one or more water if you'd like it saucier.
Also, you can add the remaining pineapple chunks to the sauce for a more traditional takeaway dish if you wish.
As for the leftover veg, I stir fry the remaining peppers and onions in some oil and a teeny knob of butter with garlic, ginger and chilli as you only need 8-10 pieces of each.
I add whatever veg else I have in - like mange tout, baby corn, sliced carrots, broccoli florets, spring onions etc and cook only until al dente to serve alongside the main dish.
Serve with sticky rice.
Adapted from China Modern by Ching He-Huang
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