Oh yes, I was a vegetarian of greater or lesser principle for any number of years (OK, sixteen years exactly). But now I've crossed over to the dark side, to the horror of those who belong to PETA, ASCAP, and other organizations that like to ask, "Did your food have a face?"
Last night for dinner I made chicken with black bean sauce. This was surprising easy, and since it is one of my girlfriend's favorite dishes from her childhood, my efforts were well rewarded. I will share this recipe with you momentarily, but first, let me tell you about a less successful experiment in the kitchen.
Everyone raves about the fish available at the Saturday farmer's markets at Prospect Park and at Ft. Greene Park. Being a new omnivore, I thought I'd get some scallops and make a nice little pasta dish. Easy enough. But the line was so long, and the customers around ordering their fish were so intense about their whole fishes and their tuna steaks and their cuts of this, that and the other sea creature, that when it was my turn I accidentally ordered not only scallops, but also a pound of mussels.
I took them right home and opened the bag so they could breathe. I didn't really look at them. I went straight to the internet, where I studied for hours the proper methods for cooking mussels. I also went back out to get the requisite white wine that I learned I needed. I resolutely ignored all webpages teaching me how to clean and de-beard the mussels. SUrely, I thought to myself, surely these mussels are already clean and beard-free.
Come cooking time I soon realized that they were not. Yikes! Back to the internet. Pull the beards off sharply and toward the hinge to avoid killing the mussel.
The mussels were less than cooperative. As I reached into their slimy temporary abode they wiggled and waved at me. They fell over one another in their efforts not to be chosen next for de-bearding. Bless my formerly vegetarian heart, but what else could I do with such a thing...I screamed like a little girl and ran out of the kitchen.
My poor girlfriend had to do the de-bearding, scrubbing, poking and discarding. I tried to stand by her as she worked, but she occasionally wrenched one, which caused it to let out a little puff of air, which made a little noise, which sounded like a small scream to me. Like most of my culinary efforts since I've moved in with her, this was to be an attempt to impress my beautiful lover. Alas, as I cowered on the couch watching her de-beard the mussles one by one with my hands over my ears, I felt less than impressive.
I think I made it up with this chicken and black bean sauce. Fermented black beans are easy to get if you live in NYC. I went to the large Dynasty market on Elizabeth St. as Hester St. in Chinatown. In the aisle with all the sauces (and there were millions!) I found little jars clearly labelled: "Fermented Black Beans." This recipe is adapted from one I found on cooks.com.
In a bowl, stir together 1 teaspoon each of cornstarch, soy sauce, water and sherry. Cut up your nice, skinless boneless chicken into chunks and mix it up with this sauce. Then stir in 1 1/2 teaspoons of oil (I used sesame oil to be fancy) and let it sit for 15 minutes while you do the other parts.
Prepare Cooking Sauce: stir together 1 tablespoon each soy sauce and cornstarch, 1/4 teaspoon sugar and 1/2 cup regular strength chicken broth. set aside. Seed bell peppers and cut into 1" squares. I also threw in a little minced garlic and a handful of mushrooms--all different types. I got them at Dynasty, too.
In a wok or frying pan add 2 tablespoons of oil. When oil begins to heat, add 2 teaspoonfuls of fermented black beans and garlic; stir once. I then stir-fried all my veggies a little and then added chicken mixture and stir fried until meat was no longer pink in center; cut to test (about 3 minutes). Stir in your pre-prepared Cooking Sauce, and stir until sauce boils and thickens. Serve with rice
This was enough for both of us for dinner, and my girl took the leftovers to work the next day. (She really liked it!)