Wednesday, April 19, 2006

And you thought loofahs were just for bathing.


Active time: 30 min Start to finish: 35 min

1/2 lb skinless boneless chicken breast, cut across grain into 1/8-inch-thick slices
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 1/4 teaspoons Asian sesame oil
2 tablespoons oyster sauce
1 tablespoon light soy sauce
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 cup chicken stock or low-sodium chicken broth
1/2 lb fresh angled loofah* (about 12 inches long)
1 cup peanut oil
3 small fresh shiitakes, stems discarded and caps sliced 1/8 inch thick
1 teaspoon Chinese fermented black beans**
5 small (2-inch) fresh red chiles such as Thai, seeded and cut into fine julienne (2 teaspoons)
2 teaspoons finely chopped garlic
2 teaspoons finely chopped peeled fresh ginger
2 teaspoons cornstarch mixed with 2 tablespoons water

Accompaniment: cooked white rice
Special equipment: a deep-fat thermometer

Stir together chicken, cornstarch, and 1 teaspoon sesame oil in a small bowl.

Stir together oyster sauce, soy sauce, sugar, and stock in another bowl until sugar is dissolved.

Remove ridges from loofah with a vegetable peeler, then scrape skin lightly with a sharp small knife (a little green skin should remain). Cut loofah lengthwise into 2- by 1/2-inch sticks.

Heat peanut oil in a wok over moderate heat until it registers 350°F on thermometer, then cook chicken, stirring, just until no longer pink, about 11/2 minutes. Transfer to a bowl with a slotted spoon, then pour oil into a heatproof container and reserve.

Heat wok over high heat until a bead of water dropped onto cooking surface evaporates immediately. Add 3 tablespoons reserved peanut oil, swirling wok to coat evenly, and heat until it just begins to smoke. Stir-fry mushrooms until lightly browned and tender, 1 to 2 minutes. Add beans, chiles, garlic, and ginger and stir-fry until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

Add loofah and toss until well coated.

Add stock mixture and bring to a boil. Add chicken and return sauce to a boil. Stir cornstarch mixture and add to sauce, then boil, stirring, until sauce thickens slightly and becomes translucent.

Serve drizzled with remaining 1/4 teaspoon sesame oil.

* Also known as "ridged gourd" and "Chinese okra."
** Available at Asian markets and by mail order from Uwajimaya (800-889-1928).

Makes 2 to 4 main-course servings.

March 2002

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