Szechuan chicken: $1.44/serving

I have a complicated relationship with this dish, which originally came out of an old Jeff Smith “Frugal Gourmet” paperback (I couldn’t tell you which one; I threw out the book long ago and kept only this page) that belonged to my mom. Though she wrote on this very recipe (“great!”) and I remember eating it growing up, she denies ever having made it. I started cooking it myself about a decade ago simply because it was easy, but B. is, has been, and probably always will be completely obsessed with it. He can eat an entire pan by himself, and for some reason never tires of what, to me, is a depressingly rudimentary flavor profile of pepper, soy sauce, and sherry. That said, it is a simple, tasty, cheap weeknight meal that can be used as a template for whatever you have on hand—feel free to add greens, vegetables, garlic, ginger…whatever strikes your fancy. Or keep to the original recipe, in all its original glory. It just might become an unexpected favorite in your house as well.

Recipe adapted from “Frugal Gourmet” Jeff Smith. As below it makes about 2 servings. (Don’t worry; they’re larger than what’s in the picture above.)

• 1 lb. chicken breasts or thighs, cut into small pieces: $1.69
• 6 small dried red peppers, seeded and minced: 10 cents
• 2 T peanut oil (I usually don’t use peanut oil because it’s so expensive, but this dish benefits from the flavor): 20 cents
• 1/2 bunch green onions, sliced (garden): $0
• 1/4 cup peanuts, chopped (optional; I didn’t have any this time)
• 1 1/2 cups dry rice: 20 cents

For the chicken marinade:
• 2 T soy sauce (low-sodium works best for this): 10 cents
• 1 T dry sherry: 5 cents
• 2 T cornstarch: 10 cents

For the sauce:
• 2 T dry sherry: 10 cents
• 2 T soy sauce: 10 cents
• 1 T sesame oil: 10 cents
• 1 T cornstarch: 5 cents
• 2 tsp brown sugar: 5 cents
• 1 tsp worcestershire sauce: 3 cents

TOTAL: $2.87/2 = $1.44/serving

Cook the rice however you normally cook rice (I use a ratio of 2x water to rice in a rice cooker).

Whisk together the marinade ingredients. Add the chicken pieces and turn to coat well. It doesn’t need to sit very long; tossing it with the cornstarch mixture is a Chinese technique called “velveting”; so long as it’s coated, the chicken will come out silky, juicy and flavorful.

Whisk together the sauce ingredients in a separate bowl.

In a wok (a real wok, on a gas stove) or 12-inch or larger cast-iron or other heavy skillet, heat the oil over high heat. Add the pepper pieces and stir for about 30 seconds to flavor the oil.

Add the chicken, marinade and all, and cook until no longer pink, stirring often. Add the sauce (I also added some of the green onions since I grabbed too many from the yard) and cook, stirring often, until thickened.

Serve over steamed rice, garnished with chopped peanuts (if you have them) and green onions.

3 responses to “Szechuan chicken: $1.44/serving

  1. I really like what seems to become a series of Chinese (take out style) dishes and will try some soon!

  2. I might try this tomorrow although I have to find the sherry. Cheers Mr.CBB

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