It’s not every weekend that our Son comes home to visit, because we all have such busy lives, jobs, uni, etc, but sometimes he will drive up here with his friends as a surprise, knowing that there will always be a mini feast (yes, I know – I don’t do mini, let’s just say it was more of a small banquet). I’m not sure what other parents feel like when their adult offspring come home, but for me it’s an opportunity to whip up some of his favourite foods & spoil him whilst he’s here (for my Husband, it means he can share the truckload of treats I make & I swear I can hear his waistband breathe a sigh of relief). The hardest decision the guys will have to make is what they want to eat (I try to limit them to about half a dozen options, because I want to eat before midnight). Within half an hour, the whole weekend’s main meals have been decided, along with a few breakfast requests thrown in for good measure!
Obviously, as I knew I would need to make dinner at warp speed when he arrived, I did some prep & filleted a chicken, putting everything into double bags in the fridge, then sliced all the veg in my food processor & popped that in the fridge too. By the time our Son arrived home, it was very late & a takeaway-style dinner was ready – homemade sweet & sour chicken with fluffy egg fried rice, along with a few bowls of locally bought prawn crackers (even I draw the line somewhere & the Chinese restaurant up the road makes the most lovely huge, crispy crackers, so it would be rude not to buy them).
Before we go any further, let’s talk about your cut of chicken. You can use thinly sliced chicken or turkey breast (great if you’re in a hurry), chicken legs or thighs (if you have time to cook it slower), or leave it out altogether & just have it as a vegetarian dish. It tastes just as good either with meat or without & I used to make the veggie version for packed lunches the next day (reheats in 2 minutes in a microwave & suddenly everyone wants to be your friend in the office). Ready to whip up a swift sweet & sour? Aprons on, hands washed!
What you need:
Either 2 Chicken breasts, skinned & sliced thinly or 2-4 Chicken legs (bone in, skin on)
1 each of Red & Green Peppers, deseeded & sliced finely
1 bunch of Spring Onions, washed, trimmed & sliced finely
4oz Mushrooms, wiped with a damp cloth & sliced finely
1 pack of Baby Sweetcorn, washed & sliced
4-6 Pineapple slices, chopped into chunks (fresh or tinned is fine)
3 cloves Garlic, chopped finely
1 chunk of fresh Ginger, skinned & grated (about the length of your thumb & twice as wide)
500ml bottle of Tomato Ketchup
2 tablespoons Runny Honey
Balsamic Vinegar (a good splash will suffice)
Soy Sauce (a sprinkle of this will be fine)
Olive Oil (or Sunflower Oil)
For the egg-fried rice:
2 large Free-Range Eggs
Cooked Rice (either cook dried rice, according to the instructions on the packet, or you can use microwave rice which takes 2 minutes)
1 tablespoon Olive Oil (or Sunflower Oil) – for your pan
What to do:
If you’re going to use chicken legs or thighs (skin on), fry them in a little oil to brown them on the outside & crisp up the skin, sealing the juices in, then pop them into a casserole dish with a lid on while you make the sauce – they don’t need to be cooked through at this stage, they are going to be slowly baked in the oven in the sauce. If you use the darker, thicker meat (on the bone or not), it needs to be cooked low & slow (low heat, longer time). Once cooked through, use a sharp knife or skewer to pierce the meat & if the juices run clear, then it’s cooked. I usually give it an hour at 180*C, baked in the middle of the oven, just to be sure. The meat usually falls apart, so it’s easy to tell that it’s cooked.
I sliced chicken breast thinly (so it cooks quicker) & fried the pieces in a large skillet with a little oil until opaque (white with no pink bits showing), while I started to prepare all the other ingredients – grated fresh ginger, finely chopped garlic, thinly sliced strips of multi-coloured peppers & button mushrooms, wafer thin wheels of chopped spring onions, all laid on a plate ready to be stir-fried into a beautiful, bright blend. Sometimes, I chuck in some strips of baby sweetcorn & a few slices of water chestnut, it just depends on what I’ve got in the fridge or pantry.
Everything is stir-fried in a hot skillet, before I add some smooth tomato ketchup (trust me on this), a good splodge of honey & a splash of balsamic vinegar, with a few spots of light soy sauce mixed in.
Plump pineapple chunks are sprinkled across the top, sinking into the simmering sauce like little yellow pebbles. Then everything gets tipped into a casserole dish, lid on & goes into the oven (on very low), just to keep warm while I make the egg-fried rice.
Egg fried rice is one of those really easy foods that I love making – it takes a couple of minutes in a hot pan & that’s it. Once you’ve drained your rice, heat the pan with a little oil in it (I use olive oil for everything & it tastes fine, but it’s up to you). Beat a couple of eggs in a bowl & tip into the hot pan, using tongs or chopsticks to stir fry around the pan until just cooked, then add the rice & stir well together until everything is combined. That’s it! Actually, that’s when I have to tell my boys to wait until I’ve dished up, because they’re jostling behind me with plates, ready to eat!
Once everyone has their plateful of sweet & sour chicken, with a small hillock of egg-fried rice, there’s a big bowl of prawn crackers on the table & a bottle of soy sauce to sprinkle on. All you can hear then is crunching & munching, along with “is there any more?”, before they’re dashing into the kitchen to scoop another spoonful onto their plates.
So next time you fancy a takeaway, have a go at making your own! A x