I’m BACK! Again. Oh what a week it’s been. My computer crashed AGAIN, so I drove the hour-or-so up to the Apple Store, and had them take one more look at it. After they saw that I had exhausted all other options (I purchased a new hard drive, wiped my computer and abstained from downloading Chrome, etc etc) over the past four visits, they offered to send it to the Apple repair quarters for a free motherboard repair. Naturally I took them up on it so now, a week later, I basically have a brand new computer. Apple customer care > any other customer care.
So I went to town taking photos of recipes I had developed over the week–pumpkin-cinnamon chip scones, some amazing hummus… and this. Unfortunately, as I went to take photos this final meal, I discovered I at some point lost my memory card (and all those photos…). So, things may be a little sketchy for a while until I can buy a new one and retake those photos. But luckily, as you can see in the photos below, the iPhone’s a pretty decent stand-by camera!
So anyway, enough excuses.. About this recipe.
I’ve long been a huge fan of Panda Express’s Sweet Fire Chicken–I get it almost every time I go to Panda Express. Actually, who am I kidding, I make special trips there to get that meal. There’s so much going on in that dish– sweet, spicy, crunchy, soft… I just can’t. mmmm!
So when I was at Kroger and I saw that they sold the Panda Express sauce, I just about lost. my. shiitake mushrooms. Mind BLOWN! And thus was born this recipe.
- 1 lb chicken breast (boneless and skinless)
- ½ cup flour
- 2 eggs
- vegetable oil
- 1 Red Bell Pepper, diced
- ½ Red Onion, diced
- 1 cup pineapple chunks
- ½ cup Sweet Chili Sauce (or more!!)
- Start the rice!
- Dice the red onion and bell pepper, and prepare the pineapple (drain if necessary)
- Place flour in a small bowl, and eggs (beaten) in another.
- Cut chicken into small, bite sized chunks.
- Pour about a ¼ of an inch of vegetable oil in a large iron skillet and heat on medium high.
- Dredge the chicken in the flour, then eggs, and then the flour again, and place in the hot vegetable oil.
- Fry, flipping sides. Don't over crowd the plan! Place chicken on a paper-towel lined plate once cooked.
- Drain the skillet once done frying.
- Put the produce in and stir-fry for about 3 minutes. Add the chicken and the Sweet Fire Sauce, and stir until warmed through.
- Serve over rice
After I drain the skillet, I will generally use a folded up paper towel to quickly get rid of the flour residue leftover from the chicken. Be careful it's thick enough that you don't burn anything.
Poco a poco
A while back, I wrote a post about how to deep fry panko chicken nuggets. The method here is pretty similar, but rather than deep frying them, I’ve elected to use about a 1/4 inch of vegetable oil instead… so I suppose that’s ‘shallow frying’ them? haha!
Setting the chicken aside, drain the oil and stir-fry the add-ins for about 3 minutes.
Put the chicken back into the pan, and pour about 1/2 cup of the sweet chili sauce, or until everything is coated.
During my sophomore year, my theory professor showed us the first act of Puccini’s Turandot. It was my first exposure to Puccini’s soaring melodies, brilliant orchestration, and the pure emotion that can exist in opera. Much like Panda Express, Puccini made a lot of money by milking the audience’s desire for “exoticism.” Here, he takes a Middle Eastern Story, and sets it in a violent Asia. The composition borrows heavily from Chinese melodies and folk songs–you can hear the signature pentatonic scale throughout the opera– but the opera remains distinctively western right down to the Italian lyrics.
In that way, this was the work that first came to mind when I made this dish– Sweet Fire Chicken is distinctively American (does anyone really think that Panda Express is authentically Asian?), but has elements of many cultures within the dish.
“Signore, ascolta,” an aria sung by Liu who has a not-very-secret crush on her master’s son, Calif. In it, Liu pleads to him to not pursue the Empress because every previous suitor had been executed for failing her riddles.
Unfortunately, Youtube has taken down the full performance of the 1988 Metropolitan performance (with subtitles!), but a few short clips remain. When my class heard this aria in the original context, we collectively had an aesthetic moment. Here, in the midst of a series of overwhelmingly huge chorus numbers and solos with grandiose orchestration, this quiet little vulnerable plea is what captivated our attention. Without that sudden contrast, the aria doesn’t have quite the same pull, but I think you’ll appreciate it all the same.
Because there are no subtitles, here is the rough translation, as found over at Opera in English.
Sir, listen! Ah, sir, listen! Liu can bear no more!
Her heart is breaking!
My, how long I’ve walked
With your name in my soul
With your name on these lips!
But if your destiny Tomorrow, will be decided,
We will die on the road of exile.
He’ll lose his son
I, the shadow of a smile.
Liù can bear no more! Ah! Ah!
I’m also including the aria that follows this, where Calif basically says thanks but no thanks… carry on for the sake of that smile. It’s beautiful, also. It just doesn’t have that emotional pull that “Signore, ascolta” has for me!