September 9, 2010

A Last-Minute Dish: Braised Chicken With Shiitake Mushrooms and Jew's Ear 香菇木耳燒雞

These days, I have to struggle to even get my butt down and start writing away on the computer. That’s simply because I’m jaded – and lazy! I wonder if it’s a sign of the blogging momentum in me waning … Yikes! And, that’s not it!

Late last week, I planned on publishing another entry here. Alas, it never happens. Well, some bug held hostage of me, which had me fall sick and gave me a throat infection. Even though it’s been close to a week, my voice hasn’t fully recovered yet. It’s cracked, but I sort of like it. Haha! Of course, I do hope it’ll be normal again soon … I miss my voice.

Initially, I planned on sharing a bake with you, which was done several weeks back. I guess the mood has sneaked away. Haha! Oh, well! Let’s just talk about what happened last Sunday evening instead before I forget about it.

Braised Chicken With Shiitake Mushrooms and  Jew's Ear 香菇木耳燜雞

Getting Stumped (Almost)

It was one of those lazy Sundays on which all I wanted was to procrastinate and slack away. It was one of my least productive weekends, I should say. I didn’t bake anything; however, I did cook up three dishes, and one of which was a last-minute and fairly “random” dish that I threw together.

My family has been very busy with the relocation work at our new house. Last Sunday was no exception. That left a weak Pei-Lin home. My mom gave me five half-thawed chicken legs and summoned me to whip a dish out of them for dinner – at about 3 in the afternoon, when my family’s dinner usually kicks in between 7 and 8 in the evening. Do bear in mind that I absolutely have to have my food shots taken with natural lighting. So, that left me with a deadline, in which I had to concoct somethin’ delectable with the chicken legs by 6 – before the sun set.

Like I said, the lazy bone had had me conquered that Sunday. What was worse, I was chatting away online with Wendy – when I was supposed to be beating my brains out in the kitchen. Haha! When 4 p.m. struck, I still had no clue as to what to cook with the chicken legs. Why? Most of the chicken dishes I’ve made so far required long hours of marination. And, it’s my habit to have the chicken thawed overnight, in advance, so that I can work on the meat the soonest possible for the best results. I prefer planning things ahead of time. (See, that’s why I say I’m my mom’s opposite. Are you convinced by now?)

The Synergistic Effects of Words and Visuals

Naturally, I turned to Wendy for ideas. I can’t really recall how the conversation went. She suggested making her pan-fried oyster sauce chicken (幹煎蠔油雞). Imagine a slightly panicked Pei-Lin: She didn’t have much time left to flip through pages of recipes. But, her suggestion did prompt me to browse through the first page of the chicken recipes on her blog. I was skimming through only pictures because I was getting impatient!

Funny enough, coupled with the pictures of her wontons in chicken soup (雲吞雞湯), the picture of her braised chicken with ginger (薑燜雞) suddenly lit up the light bulb in me! Instantaneously, my mind traveled down the memory lane fast … to my college days in the States, when I’d fix meals almost every day.

This familiar picture seized me right on the spot:
Simple home-cooked fare on a freezing wintery night in December 2008, when I was still studying in the States.

That was something I’d fix for myself out of laziness. A simple meal I’d tuck into on freezing wintery days: just some angel-hair spaghetti tossed in a Chinese-inspired gravy, which has sucked up all the flavors given out by the shiitake mushrooms (香菇) used during braising (燒). The pasta is also topped with dried bean curd skin (腐竹), ground pork, and sometimes, Jew’s ear (黑木耳) and/or scallions. Of course, being a veggie lover myself, I have to take my noodles with some greens. In this case, it’d be blanched romaine lettuce (油麥). To make things more wholesome, I’d sometimes prepare fried egg to go with the meal too.

What makes me crave for this kind of dish every so often is the wonderfully flavorful gravy. I’m unsure of where my idea for such dish derived from. Perhaps, it was pure randomness that came out of my experience. No wonder some of the ingredients used in Wendy’s dishes had served as prompters and reminders for me. Thank you, Wendy! Now that we know we share one commonality: We skim through pictures when we run out of ideas of what to cook. Haha!

(By the way, it was only till later that I realized Wendy has another similar dish called chicken with Chinese mushrooms [冬菇木耳雞]. Pure coincidence! Haha! But hey, great minds think alike! I’d reckon this is a rather common dish among the Chinese households in Malaysia, eh? I’m not sure about the Chinese in other regions across the world. Do enlighten me if you know anything about the dish. Thanks!)

An Impromptu Dish

In the end, I decided to incorporate that gravy idea to the chicken legs, using what we usually have on hands to whip up a dish. So, that left me with no dried bean curd sticks and scallions. No pork, too, because I was supposed to use up the chicken legs. (Duh!) And since I didn’t have the chicken legs chopped up, I made slits across the chicken legs to ensure thorough cooking of the meat. The toughest part was to recall how I prepared the dish because I didn’t really have a recipe for that in the first place! Typical of Chinese cooking, I did everything through eyeballing and estimations.

Tender chicken braised in amazingly flavorful gravy that’s enlivened by the earthy scent of shiitake mushrooms, and jazzed up with the simple touch of staple seasonings and spices in East Asian cooking. The inclusion of Jew’s ear gives the dish a rather interesting texture: somewhat soft and yet, crisp to chew on.

It was a simple home-cooked fare. Though nothing much to brag about, I was elated to see how my dad and brother enjoyed my last-minute dish. There wasn't much leftover toward the end. And I'm a happy girl.

Braised Chicken With Shiitake Mushrooms and  Jew's Ear 香菇木耳燜雞

Braised Chicken With Shiitake Mushrooms and Jew's Ear 香菇木耳燒雞

* Like most Chinese cooking, the following are recorded through eyeballing. Please feel free to adapt the recipe to your liking. *

5 medium- or large-sized (chicken) drumsticks -- with skin on

3/4 teaspoon granulated sugar
2 tsp light soy sauce 生抽
Dash of ground white pepper 白胡椒粉
2 tsp cornstarch

1-1/2 Tablespoons neutral-flavored oil
* I used regular cooking oil. *

Enough cooking oil to half-submerge the drumsticks in and for frying them later on
* I used about 3/4 cup. *

Enough cooking oil for stir-frying
* I used about 3 Tbsp. *
2 large cloves of garlic -- peeled and minced
5 (0.5 centimeter-thick) slices of fresh ginger -- julienned

4~5 large dried shiitake mushrooms 幹香菇 -- scrubbed lightly and washed to clean well; submerged in hot water for a while till softened and look "swollen," then drained well; remove and discard the tough stems; sliced into 1 cm-thick strips
* I do actually keep the stems if they turn out to be soft enough to be cooked through for consumption. *
* You can choose to reserve the water used for submerging the mushrooms in for use in step #7. If it winds up in insufficiency, just make up the rest with more water and/or chicken stock. *
2 large pieces of Jew's ear 黑木耳 -- soaked in room-temperature for a while till softened and look "swollen," then drained well; sliced into 1 cm-thick strips
Enough water for stir-frying
* Just a little will do. *

About 2 cups water
* You can utilize the water used for submerging the mushrooms in (as described above) in step #7. If it is shy from 2 cups, just make up the rest with more water and/or chicken stock. *
1/2~2/3 Tbsp hoisin sauce 海鮮醬 -- or to taste, as this is used to add sweetness
1/2 Tbsp mirin 味醂

Salt -- to taste
* I used about 3/4 tsp. *
Ground white pepper -- to taste
* I used about 1/8 tsp. *
Sesame oil 麻油 -- to taste
* I used about 1/4 tsp. *
A few drops of dark soy sauce 老抽
* Dark soy sauce is used to "darken" up the gravy slightly. *

2 tsp cornstarch
About 1/3 cup water
  1. Wash to clean the (chicken) drumsticks, then have them drained well to remove excess water. To each drumstick, cut some slits across to ensure thorough cooking of the meat later on.
  2. Combine the drumsticks and (A) together, then mix in the 1-1/2 Tbsp cooking oil to coat the drumsticks well; leave aside to marinate for 1~2 hours.
    * Mixing in the cooking oil lastly locks up the flavors of  the ingredients during marination. If you combine the oil together with the rest of the ingredients, things won't harmonize well as oil repels water. I picked up this trick LONG ago, can't remember when. *
    * Obviously, I marinated mine for 1 hour due to the lack of time. *
  3. Over high heat, heat up enough cooking oil for frying the drumsticks in a big wok. To know whether the oil is hot enough, simply submerge part of a bamboo chopstick in the hot oil. If you can see tiny "bubbles" around the chopstick that keep "swimming" upward (imagine looking into a glass of fizzy drink), the oil is hot enough for use to fry the chicken.
  4. Drain the drumsticks to get rid of as much moisture (from the marinade) as you can, then fry them in the hot oil -- turning them halfway through and later, every now and then to prevent burning -- till they look golden brown on the outside. The inside will remain half cooked, though. Beware as the oil will splatter like crazy since there's still some moisture in and on the chicken meat, especially from the marinade. (NOTE: This is not deep-frying. In Chinese, I call this "半煎炸," which literally means "to pan-fry partially and to deep-fry partially at the same time." If you may, I shall call this "to shallow-fry.") Now, dish up the half-cooked chicken and set aside.
  5. Scoop out excess cooking oil from frying the chicken, reserving only 3 Tbsp in the same wok. Over high heat, heat the reserved oil till its smoking hot. Throw in the ginger to stir-fry first, then followed by the garlic, till they are aromatic. The sequence is as such because the ginger is julienned into somewhat larger sizes when compared to the minced garlic; hence, less chances of overburning both the ingredients over extremely high heat during stir-frying.
  6. Now, stir in the mushrooms and stir-fry briefly till aromatic. Then, mix in the Jew's ear and stir-fry to cook the edible fungus for a bit. And as you stir-fry, gradually stir in some water, 1 Tbsp at a time, from the side of the wok, to the mixture within. This is to create steam in the wok, which helps to cook the fungi better. Don't overdo this step!
  7. Dump the half-cooked chicken and (B) to the mixture in the wok, then stir slightly just to combine things well; bring the mixture to a boil. Once boiling, reduce the heat to low and cover the wok to let the mixture simmer for 15~20 minutes, till the liquid within has reduced by half.
  8. Season the mixture in the wok with (C). Now, turn the heat up to high and bring the mixture to boil again. Mix (D) together to get a slurry, and gradually stir it in to the wok -- gently stirring the mixture within the wok gently at the same time, too, to blend well. Once the liquid has thickened into a gravy, let it cook for another 1 minute.
  9. Turn off the heat. Dish up and serve immediately with bowls of piping-hot steamed rice. My dad ate his with congee.
P.S. To all my Muslim friends, though I know it's awkward and weird to include this here, I'd still like to wish you a Happy Eid ul-Fitr! (In Bahasa Malaysia: Selamat Hari Raya kepada semua muslimin dan muslimat!)


jess @ j3ss kitch3n said...

what a wonderful chicken dish like you i love dishes with gravy in them and 1 of my favorite chicken dish would be braised chicken with XO liquor i go crazy for these though right now i still have not master the correct taste yet so it always has been my mum and grandma cooking this dish shall post sometime soon =)

faithy, the baker said...

dinner time soon and i would love to have some of your braised chicken dish with some rice I love mushrooms!

wendyywy @ Table for 2..... or more said...

Now that's a very good advertisement for my blog!!! hahaha!!!

You added a lot of stuff to season the dish, an opposite of me (I always like it simple), and I'm sure ur versions taste fabulous.
Nothing beats the satisfied faces of the people that eat it.

Hey, remember to cross the road and wait for me, I'm out to KL tonight, so won't be online til I'm back.

Swee San said...

If my mum threw me the pack of drumsticks, I'd probably make honey orange grilled drumstick or make a quick curry with instant paste. See .. I can not cook chinese. > <

Su-yin said...

I love jew's ear! So that's what it's called... I always just call it 'black stuff'. Lol.

I completely understand what you mean by not being able to remember how you cooked the dish - I always have the same problem! Doesn't help that I only blog about stuff months after I cook it...

Cookie said...

I love braising chicken! It makes the meat so tender and flavorful. I'll have to give Shiitake Mushrooms and Jew's Ear a try next time!

Jess @ Bakericious said...

Pei Lin, I must salute to you! If my mum did that (which she wont lah cos she know I am not good in cooking hahaha...), I can only bake the chicken legs.

Shirley @ Kokken69 said...

Great looking dish! Now you've reminded me of 3 cups chicken...I would want mine with lots of ginger!

Happy Homebaker said...

lovely chicken dish! It looks very delicious and I can eat a bowl of rice with just the gravy! If I were asked to do the task of preparing dinner for the family, I would probably go to the hawker centre to 打包 ;)

Honey Bee Sweets said...

Wah woman, I am salivating while looking at your dish eh! Nice touch with the basil leaves. ;) I love Jew's Ear too...goes really well with braised chicken, actually just made that combination last week too. BTW, met up with Reese today and had a great time catching up. I bet you and the other 2 are gonna have a blast too. have loads of fun!!

kat said...

How appetising your photo looks! I always have problems taking pictures of Chinese dishes, particularly those dark brown colored ones! :D

Is Jew's Ear same as wood/cloud ear?

For my version, I like to first saute the mushrooms slightly longer until really fragrant before adding the other ingredients. I find that if I omit that step, even if I braise it for a long time, there is still a strong raw woody taste.

babe_kl said...

I like this dish too, simple but delish

mycookinghut said...

I love the look of this dish, so hearty and I am very sure it is good!

Aimei said...

my house usually has no lack of veggies and poultry but I usually opt for the easier version when there's no food - baked chicken or sometimes I would roast some bell peppers/bake some chicken fillets to make a sandwich!

After I get married, I must really learn to be able to cook like you. :P

Angie's Recipes said...

I like your 香菇木耳燒雞! I have both fungus in the pantry...must get some chicken to try the recipe.

edith said...

wow looks really good with a fluffy bowl of rice!

Kitchen Corner said...

I like this dish very much! It looks so juicy and delicious! Chicken, mushroom and jew's ear, never go wrong :P

noobcook said...

I like savoury dishes like this. The gravy will go so well with rice :)

Bakertan said...

Hey Pei-Lin,

I like your chinese style sphagetti. sounds like chinese ramen to me. dry style with thick gravvy.

chicken and mushroom makes a very good combination. I will probably leave out the jew's ear (now i know that is what they are called) and add in roasted chestnuts. Sounds like a very good idea to make for family gatherings and special occasions.

look foward to making this soon.. darn.. i'm actually diverting my focus to cooking. haha.

pigpigscorner said...

Well done! Doesn't look like a last minute dish at all!

petite nyonya said...

Who can resist a yummy chicken dish like this! It's so homely and the sauce must be delicious! anyway is that what you call it, Jews ear? I always thought it's called cloud's ear or wood's ear. I guess it must've a couple of different names :).

Little Inbox said...

I want to try something similar to this, but hey I'm so scare after looking at your ingredients and steps. Hahaha...
By the way, I can be reached at or if you use MSN messenger, please add me

Kathryn said...

That looks so so good! I LOVE mushrooms. I recently made this portobello mushroom tower and it was so yummy!

kawa Boo! said...

I was craving for my mom's mushroom braised chicken but since I'm away I tried out your recipe instead. It turned out absolutely AMAZING! The chicken pieces (I used strips instead) just melts in my mouth! This is my first time making this dish and it is definitely the best Chinese dish I've ever made! Thank you so much for sharing! It definitely hit the spot, and made me miss home just a little less :)

Pei-Lin said...

Hey, Kara! (Did I get your name right?)

I'm so glad that I somehow managed to help you recreate something similar to your mom's braised chicken with mushrooms. Your experience here has totally brought me back to my college days in the States, how I was cooking and baking for myself then, a lot of times recreating dishes from home just to kill the homesickness. =)

I'm also very proud of you, too.

Thank you so much for leaving your words to me here. They have been very encouraging. It just makes me feel even nicer about sharing and keep blogging. You've made my day, too! =D

-- Pei-Lin

P.S. Hope you have been having a lovely Chinese New Year abroad. Different from what you get back home, but I'm sure you can make do with what you have there. =)

h.c.rådström said...

Pei-Lin, I have to take my hat off to you (although I do not have a hat right now but I hope you know what I mean). Your cooking tips, such as this partial-deep-frying technique, are amazing. The chicken came out succulent and delicious! Even the next day, after reheating. I made this dish yesterday because there were some shiitakes and chicken hanging around (but no Jew's ears though).

Thank you so much for taking the time to explain. I'd definitely pop back in again to try more of your recipes. Cheers!

Pei-Lin said...

Hi, Jessica.

Thank you for such a lovely message! Totally unexpected.

Of course I know what you mean. Glad that the dish turned out fantastic. Did you buy organic, free-range chicken for this? At the time I shared this "recipe," I did not, because I wasn't aware that food should be "slow" and be as humane as possible, if you can get what I mean. Now I do. But we're reducing our consumption of meat now. And if we do eat chicken, I'd make sure it's organic and has had a happy life.

Again, thank you for making my day.

In the meantime, I guess I ought to start blogging again. The last time I updated this site was September last year. Oh boy.

P.S. I went over to your blog -- wow, you're such an artsy, talented gal! I can't even, for the world of me, sew! MUST. Learn.

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