I really love Chinese food. Like really. So much so that my AIM screen name in high school was generalgowslover (no, I’m not kidding; and yes, that’s spelled incorrectly). My friends and I would walk downtown after school to the Three Gorges Restaurant to get platters of fried rice, lo mein, and general tso’s chicken. A more than hefty afternoon snack, I often left feeling nauseous and sometimes doubting that the general tso’s was actual chicken, but I always came back for more. The sweet and spicy sauce, the fried coating – it was a greasy teenager’s dream.
Now five years later, with a metabolism half the speed and a palate somewhat more refined, my general tso’s consumption has greatly decreased. In fact, up until this past New Year’s Day I had never even eaten Chinese food in Chinatown! Hard to believe, but after living in Chinatown for a summer in college, I was pretty scarred by the constant fishy smell and little ladies yelling “handbag, handbag!” at your every step. If I wanted Chinese, I would order delivery (this is New York City after all!) to avoid my stinky, stressful memories of Chinatown. However, this New Year’s Day my friend Hayley invited me and some other friends to venture into the forbidden land. Normally, I would have been turned off by this idea, but this seemed like the perfect situation for several reasons:
- New Year’s Day = hungover = in dire need of greasy, fatty, salty food
- Chinatown is one of the few areas in NYC where you can hide your post-binge drinking shame under Uggs and sweatpants in public and not feel bad about it
- A New Year means time for new experiences!
As we walked to our destination, Shanghai Cafe on Mott Street, my memories of Chinatown quickly came back to me: shop owners yelling at each other, the smell of fish making my nose hairs curl. But I was so focused on getting to the restaurant and eating myself into a food coma, that these distractions didn’t bother me. And the trek was totally worth it. The food was insanely cheap, and the portions quite generous. We were a group of eight people and only shared about ten sentences the whole meal, as we shoveled food into our mouths, determined to kiss 2011 and the residual hangover goodbye.
Thanks to that meal, I made it out alive of my post-2011 haze; and while I can’t say that I’ll be venturing into Chinatown every time I have a craving, my initial fear of the area is now gone. So until my next adventure (or serious hangover), here’s a more healthy version of one of the dishes we shared that fateful night: orange chicken.
Orange Chicken with Broccolini (inspired by Epicurious)
makes 2-3 servings
1/2 cup orange juice
2 tbsp soy sauce
2 tsp cornstarch
1 tsp finely grated orange zest
1 tbsp canola or vegetable oil
1 small yellow onion, thinly sliced
Pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 lb boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 bunch broccolini, ends trimmed
salt & pepper
cooked brown rice
1. Whisk orange juice, soy sauce and cornstarch together in a small bowl until cornstarch is dissolved. Stir in orange zest. Set aside.
2. Heat oil over high heat in a large skillet. Add onions and red pepper flakes. Saute about a minute, until onions are fragrant.
3. Season chicken with salt and pepper. Add chicken to the skillet, stirring occasionally, letting the chicken and onions brown slightly. About 7 minutes.
4. Add the juice mixture and broccolini to the pan. Stir to coat chicken and broccolini in the sauce. Cook until the broccolini is tender, but still crisp, and the sauce thickens, about 8 minutes. Serve warm (or cold!) over brown rice.