Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Ancient Chinese Secret!

Braising, from the French word "braiser," is a combination of dry heat cooking (searing to create a flavorful crust and appealing color) and moist heat (by adding liquid, covering, and cooking gently over low heat). Usually, the resulting liquid is then boiled down to create a luxurious sauce. It is one of the best techniques to create delicious moist meat. Braising is especially well suited for pieces of chicken, which can be difficult to cook without drying out.

This recipe for "Lacquered Chicken" is a fabulous example! The chicken is marinated in a combination of Chinese five-spice powder and soy sauce, then seared and braised. Finally, a combination of honey, sugar, and balsamic vinegar is added to create a syrupy sweet-and-sour sauce that is unique and delicious! Chinese five-spice powder is usually a blend of ground fennel seeds, cloves, star anise, cinnamon, and Szechuan pepper corns, although other variations may include ginger, nutmeg, white pepper, and turmeric. Chinese five-spice powder compliments the five principal tastes (sweet, sour, bitter, pungent, and salty) and is designed to provide the perfect balance of yin and yang. After endless research, I was unable to pinpoint any history regarding the creation of this wonder powder, so for now, it remains a mystery. 

Lacquered Chicken

Serves 4


8 chicken thighs, excess skin trimmed
6 tablespoons soy sauce, preferably low sodium
2 tablespoons Chinese five-spice powder
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1/2 plus 1/4 cup water
2 sliced scallions, for garnish


Place the chicken thighs in a dish large enough to hold them snugly. Combine the soy sauce and five-spice powder and pour over the chicken, turning to evenly coat. Leave to marinate on the counter for 30 minutes to an hour, turning occasionally.

Heat the oil over high heat in a large saute pan with a lid. Brown the chicken thighs on all sides. Pour over the 1/2 cup water, cover, lower the heat to low, and braise, turning often, until the meat is tender, about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, dissolve the sugar and honey in the 1/4 cup water. Uncover the pan and pour it over the chicken thighs. Raise the temperature to high and boil, without the lid, to reduce the sauce to a syrupy consistency, turning the chicken to lacquer them in the sauce. Add the balsamic vinegar, mixing well. Serve with white rice, garnished with the scallions, and extra sauce on the side. Yum! 

Recipe adapted from French Food at Home, by Laura Calder.

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