Shiitake Chicken and Vegetables

Shiitake Chicken & Vegetables

Shiitake Chicken and Vegetables

Have you been rummaging deep in the back of your freezer, with depressing results? Got some old chicken breasts slowly turning to wood?  How about a packet of frozen vegetables that is more ice than not?  Try my Shiitake Chicken, and watch as we once more snatch mild success (defined as "I ate it, and I'm still alive") from the jaws of total defeat.

What do I need?

  • Deep-frozen chicken breasts ~600g
  • Similarly frozen vegetables (whatever you've got handy) 500g
  • Some sort of soy or fish sauce, or worcestershire if you prefer.
  • Arborio rice, 100-150g
  • Chicken stock, 1L
  • Shiitake mushrooms, 1 punnet, fresh.  (Totally optional!)
  • Assorted contents of your spice rack.
  • Pepper and salt to taste.

What do I do?

  1. First you want to thaw your chicken breasts.  You could do this by leaving them in the fridge for 12-24 hours, but if you're like me, you've just pulled them out of the freezer and they're your only option.  Set your microwave to defrost, and give them 20 minutes.
    • You may want to check them after 10 or 15 minutes, since 20 minutes left them mostly cooked -- but that just reduces the stir-fry cooking time.
    • If you are concerned that whatever few remaining toxic chemicals in the packaging -- those that haven't already permeated the meat after two years in the freezer -- might be a danger, feel free to remove the breasts from the plastic tray before you nuke them.
    • At this point, you should also remove your frozen vegetables from the freezer to give them the faintest hope of defrosting.  Feel free to pound the bag against the counter a few times in an attempt to shatter the iceberg within.
  2. Slice your nice fresh shiitake mushrooms into smallish pieces, and put to one side.
    • If you are feeling particularly adventurous or efficient, you could actually perform this task while your chicken is being defrosted.  Award yourself a pat on the back for doing two things at once.
    • For bonus points, use this time for other preparatory tasks, such as digging your large frying pan out from under the pile of dirty plates where you left it three days ago and giving it a quick (but thorough) clean under hot water.
  3. Slice your chicken breasts into bite-sized chunks.  This can be cubes, slices, or some hybrid thereof; the size is more important than the shape.  At this point, if your meat is pink, semi-translucent, and has the consistency of firm jelly, all is going well.  If your meat is white and it seems to flake or "string" easily -- what we in the profession like to refer to as "cooked" -- then that is fine too.  Just take note to reduce the defrosting time a little the next time you make this dish, since the cooked stuff will tend to come out a little tougher than is ideal.  (But still perfectly edible!)
  4. Heat your pan over a high ring -- you can even have it warming up while you slice the chicken -- and then, once it has had a minute or two to get hot, toss in your chopped chicken.  If it is not already cooked, give it a minute or so to sizzle before stirring around a bit; you want to brown (or at least whiten) the outsides of the chicken chunks.
  5. Add some sauce to your chicken as it cooks.  I used a thick, dark soy sauce and a generous splosh of fish sauce -- the asian flavours seemed a good match for my chosen vegetables -- but you can use a little of whatever you've got handy.  Stir the chicken into the sauce, liberally coating it.  You want the pan to have some moisture in it, but not too much.
    • Next time I would probably skip the fish sauce -- or at least be a little less generous with it.  Honestly, I'm really not sure why I buy that stuff.  The end result was a little too salty!
  6. Add the rice.  The suggested amount is enough to add bulk and texture to the meal, but not enough to outgrow the chicken and become a risotto.  Stir it in for a couple of minutes.
  7. Add one quarter (3/12) of the chicken stock.  Give everything a good stir.  While the contents of the pan is attempting to boil, empty the packet of vegetables into the mix.  Spend a couple of minutes turning the frozen lump of vegetables over in the hot liquid, taking every chance to prod and poke at the heated side in an attempt to break up the ice and free the vegetable goodness trapped within.  Once the vegeberg is broken up, give another good stir and then leave it for five minutes or so to allow the stock to boil down.
    • Don't worry if your vegetables are looking a little dried out and unappetising under all that ice.  They'll soon absorb some of the stock and take on the rosy sheen of life once more.  Feel free to shout Iiitt's ALIIIVE! during this phase of the cooking process if that'll make you feel better!
    • I used Birds Eye Malaysian Stir Fry for this meal -- yellow beans, broccoli, water chestnut slices, red capsicum, etc -- but like I said, you can use whatever you have available.  Try to match the veges to the sauce for bonus points! :-)
  8. Add roughly one third (4/12) of the stock, stir everything thoroughly, and leave for another 8 minutes or so.
  9. Add the remainder (5/12 if you're keeping track) of the stock, and stir.  Reduce the heat to about 3/4.
  10. After 5 minutes, you can start poking through your spice tray to see what's handy.  Feel free to experiment, or stick with your old favourites.  For those playing along at home, I used the following:
    • A generous scattering of caraway seeds
    • A generous scattering of dried thyme
    • A good shake of ground (mild) paprika
    • A sprinkling, for heat, of ground (extra hot) cayenne pepper
  11. Stir all the spices in, and reduce the heat to about 1/2.  At this point, you can also toss in the sliced shiitake mushrooms -- you hadn't forgotten them, had you?  No.  I didn't forget them either -- and give it another four or five minutes.  It is worth keeping an eye on it during this final phase, because you want to reduce the liquid until it is quite thick, but not leave the pan completely dry.  Make sure to stir it occasionally to prevent it from burning onto the bottom -- but don't worry if it does burn a little; scrape it off and stir it in.  That's extra flavour.
  12. Taste a little of the rice to be sure it is cooked to your liking -- if not, you may need to add a little more liquid (try water, wine, or more sauce, as desired.)  Add salt and pepper to taste -- although I doubt you'll need any more salt if you used the fish sauce.  That stuff is potent!
  13. Serve one plateful for your dinner, and the remainder will make lunches for three or four days.  This actually freezes fairly well, but don't leave it longer than a week or two.

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