In the 1970s the handy little ovens we now use to reheat leftovers and frozen dinners experienced a brief golden age, with folks employing them for cooking everything from turkeys to cheesecake. This recipe dates from the glorious reign of microwaves.
Like many of Aunt Evie's recipes, her microwaved sweet-and-sour chicken is easy, convenient and surprisingly flavorful. However, it relies on hard-to-find, annoyingly coarse-textured pickling spice and employs an unnecessary amount of margarine. For the modern incarnation we selected only certain pickling spices and ground them up, resulting in a far more evenly flavored and pleasantly textured dish.
This was an interesting experiment with the tiny oven: Microwaving, which essentially cooks meat from the inside out, didn't really yield chicken that has fully absorbed its sauce (or its savory flavor). Consequently, this recipe yields meat that is tender but bland. With that in mind, stove-top directions are at the end of the recipe. Regardless of which cooking method you use, this is a fun, easy and surprisingly tasty dish. Go, Aunt Evie!
Aunt Evie's Microwave Sweet-and-Sour Chicken
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon cold water
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 cup soy sauce
3 cloves garlic
1-inch piece of peeled, grated ginger
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 bay leaf
2 juniper berries
1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
4 allspice berries
Microwave directions: Blend all ingredients except chicken in a blender or food processor until the juniper berries, peppercorns and allspice berries are coarsely ground. Put in a 9-inch square Pyrex cooking pan and microwave on high for 1 minute. Stir and cook for another minute. Stir again. Add chicken parts, baste with sauce, cover with plastic wrap and cook for 4 minutes on high. Stir chicken, baste again and cook for 4 minutes more. Cut open a piece of chicken to make sure it is cooked through. Serve.
Stovetop directions: Blend all sauce ingredients except for cornstarch in a blender or food processor until the juniper berries, peppercorns and allspice berries are coarsely chopped. Set aside. In a skillet over medium heat, saute the chicken pieces in a tablespoon of light olive oil. Pour in the sauce ingredients, lower to medium heat and bring to a simmer. Cover and cook for 10-15 minutes, until chicken is cooked through. Remove chicken with a slotted spoon and set aside. Whisk in cornstarch and cook, stirring, until very thick. Pour sauce over chicken, mix until coated and serve.
One final note: If you use the microwave, be sure to keep an eye on the dish. Aunt Evie's recipe originally called for more than 24 minutes of cook time. Our test microwave, which is a little overpowered, cooked the meat in about 8 minutes. Regularly check the chicken; when it looks ready, cut open a piece to ensure that it is cooked all the way through.
Filed Under: Retro cookery
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