Stir-Fried Chicken with Broccoli or Cauliflower

Makes 4 servings, with rice
Time: 20 to 30 minutes

Here is a model recipe for making stir-fry with "hard" vegetables, those that must be parboiled before stir-frying. The extra step actually saves time-it's much faster to soften broccoli and similar vegetables with a quick poaching than by stir-frying.

2 cups broccoli or cauliflower florets and stems, cut into bite-sized pieces

2 tablespoons peanut or other oil

2 tablespoons minced garlic

1 tablespoon peeled and grated fresh ginger

1 cup sliced onion

[1/2] cup trimmed and chopped scallions, plus minced scallion greens for garnish

12 ounces boneless, skinless chicken breast, rinsed and patted dry with paper towels, cut into [1/2]- to [3/4]-inch chunks

1 teaspoon sugar (optional)

2 tablespoons soy sauce

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1 tablespoon hoisin sauce (optional; available at Asian markets)

[1/2] cup toasted cashews (optional)

1 tablespoon cornstarch (optional)

[1/4] cup store-bought chicken or vegetable stock or broth, or water

Bring a medium pot of salted water to a boil; add the broccoli or cauliflower and cook for about 2 minutes, just long enough to remove the hardest crunch. Drain and plunge into cold water to stop the cooking; drain again.

Place a wok or large, deep skillet over high heat. Add half the oil, swirl it around, and immediately add half the garlic and ginger. Cook for 15 seconds, stirring, then add the onion and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Add the broccoli or cauliflower and [1/2] cup chopped scallions and cook over high heat until the broccoli or cauliflower browns and becomes tender but not at all mushy, about 5 minutes.

Turn the heat to medium and remove the vegetables. Add the remaining oil to the pan, then the remaining garlic and ginger. Stir, then add the chicken. Raise the heat to high, stir the chicken once, then let it sit for 1 minute before stirring again. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the chicken has lost its pinkness, 3 to 5 minutes.

Return the vegetables to the pan and toss once or twice. Add the sugar, if desired, and the soy sauce, and toss again. Season with salt and pepper, then stir in the hoisin and cashews, if desired. If using, combine the cornstarch with the stock or water and add to the pan. Otherwise, just add the liquid. Raise the heat to high and cook, stirring and scraping the bottom of the pan, until the liquid is reduced slightly and you've scraped up all the bits of chicken. If you've used cornstarch, the sauce will have thickened.

Garnish and serve immediately, scooping out some of the sauce with each portion of meat and chicken.

Shopping Tip: Like soy sauce, hoisin sauce can be of high or low quality. Look for it with a minimum of ingredients, beginning with beans or bean paste and continuing with spices, garlic, and sugar. Avoid hoisin in which sugar is the first ingredient, and that includes chemicals.

Stir-Fried Chicken with Kale or Collards: In place of the broccoli or cauliflower, simmer 2 cups washed and trimmed kale or collard leaves and stems for about 2 minutes. Rinse under cold water, squeeze dry, and chop. Proceed as above.

4 Quick Additions to Stir-Fried Chicken You can add these flavor boosters alone or in combination with the basic recipe or with any of the variations. All are readily available at any Asian market and many supermarkets.
Add 1 teaspoon dark sesame oil with the soy sauce.
Toss in [1/2] to 1 cup raw or roasted cashews or peanuts when you return the vegetable to the pan.
Add [1/2] cup chopped shallots with the chicken.
Use snow peas, mushrooms, or other quick-cooking vegetables, alone or in combination, in addition to or in place of the broccoli.