Orange Chicken with Saffron Risotto*
My much better half did a version of this dish some weeks ago and I did enjoy the sweet/sour notes it produced and was certainly in the mood for a repeat performance. Having discovered some seriously good Lebanese Naval oranges in Lama in Salmiya. i.e. oranges that were unwaxed and looked fresh of the tree, plus thanks to a generous gift of cashew nuts from Goa, it seemed like a good plan to having an orange-based week. Nothing, I hasten to add to do with a certain president of temperament or anything to do with Northern Ireland. While I am much more of a grapefruit aficionado for a breakfast fix, these oranges are seriously good. The lightly toasted cashews work very well with this dish, as does the aromatic, plump and creamy, Arborio rice. While the cashews are not essential to the dish and even a plain rice works with the dish, one has, on the one hand a more contrasting texture and indeed taste if one adds some soy to the plain rice. On the other hand, the above additions give a richer feel to the proceedings. In any case, I love cashews and they are a healthy and tasty addition, as would any other nut or indeed lightly toasted sesame seeds.
Cube boneless skinless 2 chicken breasts and/or three thighs and marinate for about 2 hours in a salt white pepper, cornstarch, egg (1), 2 tablespoons olive oil and a glass of water for a batter.
Heat a shallow frying pan with oil, fry (can be in batches) for 6 to 8 minutes. The idea is to give some colour, but not to go further as it will be cooked further later on. Drain on kitchen paper to get rid of excess oil and rest.
After heating some more olive oil, brown 3 finely chopped cloves of garlic with an inch (2.5cms) of ginger, also finely cut for about a minute, then add 3 tbs. of brown sugar then add 2 tbs. soy sauce, 2 tbs. of balsamic vinegar and 250ml freshly squeezed orange juice. Then add 1 tbs. of cornstarch, dissolved in water to make the sauce. When brought to the boil, add the chicken. And stir well to coat each piece. Test for your preferred balance of sticky/liquid depending on your taste, by adding more orange or chicken stock. Test for seasoning at this stage for the salt/pepper balance. Bring to the boil and the dish is ready to serve.
For the Risotto, soak saffron in some warm water. The quantity depends on one’s purse, but generosity is deserving, if possible and leave for some time. Cut a medium onion in fine cubes along with ½ punnet of mushrooms. If one has the equivalent of dry Porcini or Shiitake mushrooms or even truffle so much the better for taste. The dish can be as rich or plain as one wishes. This is cooking. It is a playground to celebrate if one has the elements at ones disposal as well as the taste and/or desire. Sauté in olive oil/ butter on medium heat until the onion is translucent and add the mushroom. Then add 350g. Arborio, Carnaroli or Nano rice, stirring thoroughly to combine adding 2 cups of water, if the rice absorbs the water too quickly add another ½ cup. The rice needs to be plump and creamy, but not a soup. Finally, add the saffron and its water, again, stirring gently so as to give an even colour to the body of rice. Once all the water is absorbed, the rice is ready to serve. Test the rice for tenderness, ideally it should be soft, but not collapsing or a soup. Tastes of course differ, but ½ hr. for this operation should be sufficient.
As stated at the beginning, if you prefer to use the rice varieties you are more used to this recipe is a suggestion that worked very well, but is not the tablets of Prophet Moses. Cooking is and should be a fun adventure to be enjoyed.
* The Risotto can be made to pair with other dishes, other than the Orange Chicken of course, so in a way the rice can be prepared as a stand alone dish with another combination.