Thursday, August 24, 2006

A Great, Cheap, Quick, Chicken Dish for Students

When a student friend who enjoyed assisting but could not really cook went off to grad school some years ago and realized he would be poor, busy, and away from home cooking, he asked me for a couple of simple recipes to save him from Ramen noodles. He now has his doctorate, is working and married, but told me he still sometimes makes this chicken dish. Maybe he was lying to be nice, and maybe I can’t remember quite what I wrote out for him. But to the best of my recall, and when I tested it just now, it tastes like what I aimed for back then.

This is quick because it is stir-fried from boneless, skinless chicken breast. It is also cheap if you get chicken breasts when they are on sale and freeze the breasts individually in zip-lock plastic bags. Then thaw out what you need overnight in the fridge, or carefully in the microwave just before you cook. But even if you get the chicken fresh at full price, a meal is still less expensive than a good commercial sandwich, and you can serve a friend as well as yourself plus have leftovers. You can judge whether it’s great or not. It is, however, quite healthy.

Middle Eastern Chicken Strips Tim (serves 2-4)
2 large chicken breast halves, boneless and skinless (about 1 pound); 1 medium-small red or green bell pepper; 1/2 medium onion; 2 tablespoons olive oil for frying. Marinade for chicken: juice of 1 medium lemon, 1 clove garlic, minced, 1 teaspoon cornstarch, 3/4 teaspoon oregano, 1/2 teaspoon paprika, 1/8 teaspoon black pepper, 3/4 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon sugar or honey, 1 tablespoon soy sauce or 3/8 teaspoon extra salt. Pita bread or toasted bread (or rice) for serving.

Trim away any tough or fatty parts of the chicken. Lay the breast on a board and slice it across about 1/8-inch thick into strips. Marinate with the listed ingredients. Stir from time to time. Cut the pepper in half lengthwise, remove the core, seeds, and pith, and slice the pepper lengthwise 1/8-inch wide. Cut the onion lengthwise through the top and stem end, peel, and slice lengthwise into 1/8-inch wide strips.

In a large frying pan or wok, heat the oil and fry the pepper and onion, stirring frequently, until the vegetables are softened and just beginning to turn golden, 3-4 minutes. Add the chicken and its marinade, and stir constantly and fry until the chicken has just turned color from raw to cooked, 2-3 minutes. Remove from the heat. Taste, and add a little salt if needed. Serve in pockets of pita bread, or on toast, or with rice. A little salad goes well with this. So does a beer.

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