ANN BAILEY: Cooking, chemistry have a lot in commonBack when I was in college, a friend, upon hearing that I struggled with chemistry class, told me she found that surprising because I was a good cook, and cooking was a form of chemistry.
Back when I was in college, a friend, upon hearing that I struggled with chemistry class, told me she found that surprising because I was a good cook, and cooking was a form of chemistry.
I hadn’t looked at cooking in that light, but after thinking about it, I realized that she had a point. Making a recipe, which involves measuring ingredients and following directions, is similar to doing a chemistry experiment. Meanwhile, there is chemistry involved in the way food changes from one form to another during baking.
I was thinking about the chemistry of cooking the other night when I was making old-fashioned tapioca pudding, using eggs, milk, sugar and tapioca beads. After whisking together the ingredients, it sits for five minutes, and then boils for a minute, and after cooling for 20 minutes, voila, there’s tapioca pudding ready for dessert.
The pudding is supposed to serve six but in our family, it serves three. Two of our children don’t like it, so Brian and I each have one serving and our son Brendan, who is a big fan of the pudding, eats the rest.
Because Brendan likes the pudding so much and wants to have it more often than I want to make it, I taught him to make the pudding. It wasn’t too difficult because he does science experiments at school and knows the importance of closely following directions.
On a recent Sunday, Brendan made tapioca pudding and I made the main course, which was sesame chicken with broccoli stir fry. It was the second time I made the recipe. I won’t go into detail about the first time I made it, but just note that my cooking was derailed when I found unwanted ingredients in the bottom of the pan, courtesy of a mouse. The stir fry went into the dumpster, not on my family’s plates that night.
This time, cooking the stir fry went smoothly and the tasty and aromatic stir fry was a big hit with my family. I guess that further supports my friend’s observation that cooking is like chemistry. Just as a chemistry experiment can go awry one time and be successful the second time, so can cooking a meal.
Because I wrote about my stir fry catastrophe in an earlier column, I wanted to readers to know about my success — and share the sesame chicken with broccoli stir fry recipe — in this column. There are a lot of steps to the recipe, but it’s not difficult and the delicious outcome definitely is worth the time it takes to make.
Here it is:
Sesame Chicken with Broccoli Stir Fry
5 tablespoons reduced-sodium soy sauce, divided
2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil, divided
5 teaspoons honey, divided
1¼ pounds skinless, boneless chicken breasts, cut in 1-inch chunks
2 tablespoons canola oil, divided
2 green onions white parts thinly sliced and green tops reserved
1 tablespoon fresh ginger
3 cloves garlic, minced
1½ cups low-sodium chicken broth
4 teaspoons corn starch
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1 teaspoon chili paste
1 small head broccoli, cut into florets and steamed until crisp-tender
3 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds
Hot, cooked brown rice (optional)
1) In a medium bowl, whisk together 3 tablespoons soy sauce, 1 teaspoon sesame oil and 2 teaspoons honey. Add cut-up chicken and toss to coat, then marinate for 20 minutes. Remove chicken from marinade with a slotted spoon. Discard marinade.
2) In a large nonstick skillet or wok, heat 2 teaspoons of canola oil over medium-high heat. Cook half of the chicken at a time for 6 minutes until browned and cooked through, turning once or twice. Transfer to a large serving plate. Add 2 teaspoons canola oil and cook the other half of the chicken and transfer it to the serving plate.
3) In the same skillet, heat the remaining 2 teaspoons of the canola oil over medium-high heat. Add the white parts of the onions, ginger and garlic and stir fry for one to two minutes, until fragrant. For sesame sauce, in a small bowl, whisk together broth, remaining soy sauce, remaining honey, the cornstarch, vinegar and chili paste until corn starch and honey are incorporated. Add sauce to the skillet. Cook and stir for two to three minutes until thickened and darkened in color. Stir in remaining 1 teaspoon sesame oil.
4) To serve, pour sauce over chicken. Surround chicken with steamed broccoli. Sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds and green onion tops. Serve with brown rice, if desired. Makes four servings.