Bloke in the Kitchen. Chop suey

kitchen

Taking the mystery and fear out of cooking

chop suey 1
Just because it’s foreign, that doesn’t mean it’s difficult.

As with chow mein, chop suey is a simple Chinese-style dish that can be adapted to what you happen to have in the kitchen. There is no universally-agreed recipe, but wherever I have eaten it, the common denominator has been bean sprouts, so that is what this recipe is based on.

Many Chinese recipes use monosodium glutamate, but we’re going to do without it. It is a kind of salty flavor-enhancer that occurs naturally in certain foods, but eventually some scientist made it as a powder. It’s about as traditional as chicken nuggets, so you can live without it. The Chinese did for thousands of years.

We’re using chicken, but you’ve seen a Chinese menu: you could do it with pork, beef or prawns. The chicken is pre-cooked – maybe the remains of a roast. Just pull it apart into strips a few inches long.

The way I see it, this is a light dish full of vegetables, with plenty of gravy at the bottom, the meat or seafood for protein, and rice on the side for energy and bulk.

Vegetables are mainly water, and bean sprouts particularly so. That is probably why there is that old thing about having a Chinese meal and being hungry again an hour later. If that happens, though, it just means you didn’t eat enough rice.

The water chestnuts are there purely to add to the Chineseness of the dish. If you’ve never knowingly eaten them before, they don’t have a pronounced flavor but they do have a surprising  crunchiness.

The ingredients are just suggestions. The only must-have is the bean sprouts.

INGREDIENTS

Bean sprouts

Sugar snap peas

Pak choi (chopped)

Water chestnuts (canned)

Strips of chicken (already roasted or fried)

Garlic (finely chopped or crushed)

Soy sauce

Chicken stock

METHOD

Heat a little oil in a wok or a big frying pan and quickly do the garlic, but don’t let it burn. Add half a cup of water and half a chicken stock cube,  then the sugar snap peas and the pak choi. When the vegetables have cooked down a bit, add the bean sprouts and  water chestnuts and stir well to get everything juicy with stock.

Then add the chicken and season to taste with soy sauce, salt and pepper. If you like a lot of gravy, add some more chicken stock.

Serve with boiled rice and lap up the compliments from people who think you’ve done something difficult.

COWBOY TIP

If you don’t use pak choi or sugar snap peas, just get something green in there. Savoy cabbage, celery tops, broccoli florets or spinach, maybe. You can slice some mushrooms thinly and add them early on with the garlic. If you can’t find any water chestnuts but you do see bamboo shoots, use them. You’re not slavishly following orders – you’re creating something.

 

Bloke in the Kitchen. Heidi’s German sausage and cabbage

kitchen

Taking the mystery and fear out of cooking

cabbage
It should look something like this, but you don’t have to do the wacky diagonal slicing

This is purely for the sake of making a nutritious meal quite cheaply and making it a bit different. Those of you with an analytical mind will notice that it is similar to the way we made chow mein a few weeks ago, but with sausage instead of pork, ordinary cabbage rather than pak choi and potatoes, not noodles.

So you might say it’s all different, but the principle is the same, it’s just different ingredients and the point is, if you can understand how and why this works, you’re on the way to being a capable cook.

Firstly, it contains protein (sausage), carbohydrate (potatoes) and vitamins and minerals (cabbage).

Secondly, it’s quick and easy, all in one large pan.

Thirdly, it’s tasty.

For everyday cooking, that’s the Holy Grail. You don’t have to worry too much about adding flavor, because when you cook the sausage it will release its salty juices and they will combine with the onion to give it a bit of savoury oomph.

And as a bonus, it’s healthy.

You will need a large frying pan or wok with a lid.

sausage
Yes, it’s a sausage. Nothing to be afraid of

INGREDIENTS

Cabbage (half a plain old white one will do. Savoy looks better)

Onion

Potatoes

Smoked sausage (the kind that comes wrapped and in a u-shape. Could be German, could be Polish.)

Half a chicken stock cube.

cabbage 2
And this is a cabbage. But you knew that already, didn’t you?

METHOD

Cut the sausage into bite-size chunks and fry it in a small amount of oil.

Slice an onion and add that. You don’t have to cook it too much, just until it’s soft. In this case we want it to still taste oniony rather than being savoury and mellow.

Chop the cabbage and scoop that in with your hands.

Dissolve half a chicken stock cube in half a cup of water and pour that over.

Slice a potato or two quite thin (so it will cook quickly) and arrange that in one layer on the top.

Put the lid on and let the steam from the stock cook the vegetables. The sausage is already done. Ten or 15 minutes should do it. When the potatoes are tender, it’s ready. Season with salt and pepper.

COWBOY TIP

You could throw in some carrots if you like, but make sure they’re thinly sliced or they won’t cook in time. And by all means add a splash of white vinegar if you like, but don’t go mad.