Szechwan Chicken-Pasta Salad
When my husband and I were both in grad school (i.e. virtually broke), we seldomly ate out. When we did, we loved to go to a small, Thai restaurant that was short on ambiance and hospitality but BIG on flavor and serving size. Luckily, it was also “short” on menu prices!
Other than some pretty bland stir-fry, I really hadn’t experimented with Asian cooking at home. For Christmas one year, I mentioned to my husband that a basic cookbook (one that wouldn’t require a lot of hard-to-find ingredients … this was the early 90’s in central Iowa) would be something I would like. He picked the “Better Homes and Gardens Wok Cuisine” cookbook for me.
Trustworthy and reliable, Better Homes and Gardens (a Des Moines-based company by the way), is a great place to start, and their magazines decorate our coffee table. Their recipes have been served at our dining table. Pictures of garden ideas have been cut out and referenced in later plantings (this is pre-pinterest, folks). I always said I would work for free if I could just be a part of their test kitchen and/or photography sessions! I’m sure I’m not the only one.
I’ve made many recipes out of this book, but the one that has really been a staple at our table is this “salad”. We love it hot from the stove, and we love it cold the next day for lunch. It is light and healthy. I have reduced the amount of noodles and bumped up the veggies. Reduced-sodium soy sauce substitutes for regular soy sauce in an effort to cut the sodium.
This is not a very spicy recipe. There is a little heat from the chili oil and the crushed red pepper. Use less of these ingredients if you are at all concerned about the spice level. Use more if you want a little mouth-burn.
This recipe makes 4 adult servings. It is perfectly fine to double it if you want to serve more people or have more leftovers. The key is to cook the chicken pieces in small batches and avoid “crowding” as the recipe says. One pound of boneless chicken breast should be cooked in two batches in a large skillet. Doubling the recipe will require three or four batches, depending on the size of the pan. This will result in nicely browned pieces that are not overcooked.
Szechwan Chicken-Pasta Salad
1/4 cup reduced-sodium soy sauce
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1 teaspoon chili oil
1 teaspoon oyster sauce (optional)
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast
2-3 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
1-2 tablespoon sesame oil, divided
Salt & Pepper
6 ounces medium egg noodles
1 medium onion, radial sliced
4-8 ounces button mushrooms, halved and thinly sliced
1 red bell pepper, diced
1-2 cups fresh pea pods, cut diagonally into 1/2 inch pieces
green onions, thinly sliced
Combine soy sauce, vinegar, chili oil, oyster sauce (if using), crushed red pepper and one minced garlic clove in a small bowl. Whisk to combine. Set aside.
Cook pasta in salted, boiling water as directed on package. Check pasta 1-2 minutes before instructed time to avoid over-cooking. Reserve one cup of pasta water and then drain pasta.
Pat chicken pieces dry with paper towels and cut into 1/2-3/4 inch pieces. Heat one tablespoon each of vegetable and sesame oils in large skillet over medium heat. Add one clove of minced garlic and half the chicken (do not crowd the pieces) to the pan, distributing the chicken so the pieces do not touch. Sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper. Cook two minutes; turn pieces over and cook two more minutes or until pieces are just cooked through. Remove pieces from pan to a bowl and set aside. If there is no oil left in the skillet, add a bit more and heat again. Add remaining chicken pieces and repeat cooking process. Remove from pan and add to bowl.
Return skillet to heat and add a little more vegetable/sesame oil if needed. Add onions and mushrooms, sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes or until they begin to brown. Add red peppers and continue cooking/stirring for 2 more minutes. Add pea pods and cook/stir for 2 more minutes. Return chicken to pan and gently stir into veggies for a minute or two. Add noodles and sauce to pan and gently stir to distribute evenly. Remove from heat. Serve with sliced green onions.
Today, I have access to Asian grocery stores and pretty extensive Asian food sections at my local grocers. I enjoy experimenting with ingredients, seasonings and techniques that used to intimidate/confuse me. If I can ever figure out how to make a reasonable substitute for hot-and-sour soup, I won’t need to stop at our favorite local Chinese/Thai restaurants for take-out!
I won’t need to … but you know I will!
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