For over 30 years, The Great Wall takeaway in Blackrock has been a small but constant part of south Dublin nightlife. Generations of us have stumbled in their aluminium and reinforced glass front door to order our post-pints feed. The after-pub crowd would generally be well-behaved if not a bit disrespectful towards the long-suffering Orientals behind the counter.
Once, I asked our server the meaning of the Chinese writing on a wall painting beside the lengthy menu. As he handed us our bags of deep-fried Sweet and Sour Chicken, he told me, with a grin; “You come in, you laugh at us. You leave with the food, we laugh at you.” We all guffawed but something stuck with me and has stayed since.
The Sweet and Sour Chicken sold in Irish takeaways is generally imported, low-grade chicken, cooked in huge balls of aerated batter. The sweet and sour element is a sticky, day-glow sauce served in a polystyrene cup. Like so much of takeaway around the world, this has nothing to do with real Chinese cuisine. The fast food industry tends to sell what people want rather than to strive for authenticity. This has, over time built a Great Wall between the perception of the masses and the reality of this great cuisine. To prove it, and to celebrate the Chinese New Year, I am attempting Cantonese Sweet and Sour Chicken with boiled Thai Fragrant Rice, so I can do my bit to break down this Great Wall.
Here’s what you will need to feed six hungry punters.
The Main Ingredients
- 4 free range chicken breasts
- Peppers – Red, yellow and green
- Onions – 2 white, 2 red
- A pineapple
- Fresh ginger
- 4 tablespoons of cider vinegar
- 2 tablespoons of soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons of tomato sauce
- 2 tablespoons of tomato puree
- 4 tablespoons of orange juice
- 3 tablespoons of sugar
- 2 tablespoons of corn flour diluted in 5 tablespoons of water
- 2 tablespoons of self-raising flour
- 2 tablespoons of corn flour (corn starch)
- An egg
- Water to thin it out
- You will also need some flour to dust the chicken before putting it into the batter.
Enough to feed 6. I favour Thai Fragrant Rice. Buy a big bag in your nearest Oriental supermarket. Great value and great rice. Buy the better brands, it’s worth it. I am not going to tell you how to boil rice. It is really easy. It is easy to get it wrong too. Once you get it right, you’ll get it right every time for the rest of your life! It’s worth the effort. I cook mine in an enamel pot we got from my mother-in-law over 20 years ago. She had it for 20 years before that. That makes 40+ years service. It is great as the lid rattles when it boils. Then I turn it down to low and time it for 12 minutes. Perfect rice every time. Damn! I said I wasn’t going to tell you how to boil rice.
Here’s a small aside to the main action. How to cut up a pineapple, in pictures:
Cut the onions into quarters. Cut the peppers into bite size pieces.
Peel, crush and chop the ginger.
Trim and chop the chicken into bite size pieces. The beauty of doing it in this order is you only need to wash the chopping board once. If you are employing this efficiency be sure to leave the chicken to last.
Now the part where the timing is critical. Cook the rice. It will be fine sitting undisturbed in the pot while you do the time critical stuff in the wok. First, get organised or organized if you are in America (the spell check is in American and highlights these to me). Heat the oven to 100 degrees C. Put six serving bowls in the oven. Leave space for a big plate. Put some kitchen paper on a big plate. Add oil for frying to your wok. The amount will depend on the size of the wok. Mine is big and I used about 500 ml (half pint). Dust the chicken in flour and drop it into the batter. Fry in batches in medium-hot oil (not smoking).
As they cook, take the out, roll them on the kitchen paper and put them on more kitchen paper on the big plate. Keep warm in the oven. When you are done with the chicken, pour off most of the oil, leaving about a tablespoon or so. Add the onions, peppers and chopped ginger. Stir fry until they are al denté.
Then add about half the pineapple and stir and stir and stir until the pineapple is warm and your arm is sore. Add the sauce (at this stage it is a nasty colour like the paint in your spare bedroom).
When it cooks, it turns a lovely red/brown colour and becomes translucent. All that is left to do is to serve it with the rice, using the bowls you have heating in the oven.
The recipe is adapted and modified from a few different ones that make up my 2+ yards of cook books. I am not claiming it as my own.Those who ate it all agree that this dish goes a long way to breaking down the Great Wall of trans-continental culinary ignorance. Give it a go. It really is spectacularly good and will fix your misconceptions, if you have them in the first place.