Philadelphia’s Chinatown neighborhood is speckled with sights, sounds and scents appealing to both tourists and locals. Between the hidden, underground grocery store on 13th Street; Joseph “mayor of Chinatown” Poon’s informative walking tours, culinary skill, and friendly conversation; and the colorful, intricate architecture and artwork that adorns the window fronts of stores and the buildings themselves, this cultural area of our city is well worth exploring for a few hours. With Chinese New Year right around the corner, it’s an even more exciting time to visit.
Touring the streets on foot will create quite a hunger, but with restaurants that line the blocks it’s sometimes difficult to decide where to stop for a meal. Typically, I’m up for trying new things, but every now and then I “trust my gut” and go for what I know is good. The old stand-by, yet very Americanized Chinese dish of sesame chicken never fails, and most Chinatown restaurants offer some variation of it on their menu.
1 pack of boneless, skinless chicken tenders
1 Tablespoons, sesame oil
1 Tablespoons soy sauce
1 Tablespoon, fresh ginger, finely chopped
4 Tablespoons, honey
2 Tablespoons, ketchup
1 Tablespoon, rice wine vinegar
a sprinkle of ground black pepper
2 Tablespoons, raw sesame seeds
Place chicken tenders in glass baking dish with sesame oil, soy sauce and ginger and toss; cover and refrigerate for 1 hour. Mix honey, ketchup, rice wine vinegar and black pepper in a small bowl and set to the side. Cook chicken in non-stick skillet and remove to plate. In the same pan, heat honey and ketchup mixture until bubbling. Place chicken back in pan to heat in sauce. Top with sesame seeds.
Though I can guarantee tomato ketchup isn’t a traditional Chinese ingredient, it works well with the rice wine vinegar and enhances the tart properties of the sauce while giving it the typical orangey-red hue. The honey adds the sweetness and sticky consistency which, in my opinion, is the most appealing aspect of this dish. Depending on your preference, scaling back on certain items will produce a completely different taste: more sweetness calls for more honey, and a more tart, sour outcome calls for additional vinegar and ketchup.
When a recipe relies mostly on the sauce for flavor (just like this one), it can pretty much be made with any type of meat or shrimp and be just as delicious. Perfect to dress up a plain chicken dinner with rice, this dish can also be created into an hors d’oeuvres by simply cutting the cooked meat into bite sized pieces before being dressed in the sauce. Guests would definitely need more than one toothpick, though, for the snack sized version. Sounds like a great Super Bowl party dish to me.