Stir-Fried Chicken with Black Beans and Thai Basil

Amanda asked: I’ve exhausted my repertoire of weeknight chicken recipes. Any suggestions? As a point of information, I swoon for stir-fries.

Tony’s take: Thanks for the question, Amanda! I’m with you on the stir-fry love.  I’m also always tinkering with some sort of chicken  method. My latest fixation  involves using a food processor to dice up boneless thighs for stir-fries and sautes. This coarse grind, when cooked quickly (with high heat), has a wonderful texture that’s very different from the insipid ground chicken you find at the market. Pair it with an intense mix of black beans, sauteed shiitakes, and Thai basil and you get an easy dinner that is definitely swoon-worthy. Here’s how:

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– The chicken: Cutting chicken thighs by hand is a slippery, squirmy endeavor. Also, I generally avoid chicken thighs in stir-fries because the fatty patches don’t cook through in time. But a food processor changes both scenarios. It makes easy work of the thighs, pulsing the meat into a coarse dice that cooks quickly in stir-fries; the fatty patches melt away.  To “grind” the chicken in a food processor, cut boneless thighs into 1-inch pieces and freeze for 15 minutes, so the chicken firms up (so it “grinds” easier). Using the pulse button and working in batches, pulse the chicken 8 times or so, or until it’s coarsely chopped.

– The method: The rest of this stir-fry is relatively straight-forward. The sauce is a light mix of shaoxing wine (use dry sherry as a substitute), black bean sauce, and sesame oil. A sprinkling of Thai basil gives the stir-fry an exotic edge (regular basil is fine). And shiitakes and shallots offer depth. While you have it out, use the food processor to prep the latter (after washing the work bowl well). Following a similar technique (minus the freezing), finely pullse the shallots and shiitakes and a jalapeno by pulsing in the food processor.

The Recipe: Serves 4.

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1. “Grind” the chicken. Trim 1 1/2 lb. boneless skinless chicken thighs of any excess fat. Cut into 1-inch pieces, set on a large plate and transfer to the freezer to firm up (ie: semi-freeze) for 10 min.  Add half of the chicken to a food processor and pulse until the chicken is finely diced, about 8 pulses. Transfer to a large bowl and dice the remaining chicken. Toss the chopped chicken with 1 Tbs. soy sauce, 1 Tbs. shaoxing wine (or dry sherry), 1 Tbs. toasted sesame oil, and 1 tsp. kosher salt.

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2.. Chop the vegetables: Stem 7 oz. shiitakes and add to a food processor. Pulse until the mushrooms are finely chopped, about 8 pulses.  Add 2 shallots (peeled and quartered) and 1 jalapeno (cored and quartered) to food processor and pulse until chopped.

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3. Stir-fry the chicken: Set a large heavy-based skillet over medium-high heat for 1 1/2 min. Add 1 1/2 Tbs. peanut oil (or canola oil) and, once it’s shimmering hot, add the chicken in a flat, uniform layer. Cook, undisturbed, until the chicken starts to brown and easily releases when you flip pieces with a spatula, about 2 min. Cook, now chopping and breaking up the chicken with the spatula, until it loses all of its raw color and is mostly cooked through, 2 to 3 more min. Transfer the chicken to a large plate.

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4. Stir-fry the vegetables: Add another 1 Tbs. peanut oil to the pan (still set over medium-high heat) and the diced shallot-jalapeno mixture. Sprinkle with 1/4 tsp. kosher salt and cook, stirring, until the shallot softens and browns lightly, 1 to 2 min. Add the chopped shiitakes, sprinkle with another 1/4 tsp. kosher salt, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms soften completely, about 2 min.

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5. Toss and sauce: In a small bowl, whisk together 2 Tbs. soy sauce, 1 Tbs. shaoxing wine (or dry sherry), 1 Tbs. sesame oil, 1 Tbs. black bean sauce, and 2 tsp. granulated sugar. Return the chicken to the pan along with this soy mixture and 10 Thai basil leaves (or conventional basil leaves; coarsely chopped). Cook, tossing, until the sauce coats the chicken and the chicken cooks through completely, 2 to 3 min. Serve immediately.

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