17 July 2014

Improv Challenge: Popcorn & Peanuts

I had a lot of fun with this month's Improv Challenge ingredients. Neither popcorn nor nuts are something I eat much of anymore as they can cause terrible gastric distress. But I love how they smell and taste and the textures ... sigh. So I set out to make something I could eat that would still meet the Challenge's requirements.


Why not, I thought, literally make popcorn chicken? Served with some kind of spicy peanut butter-based sauce, like the kind you get with chicken satay? Not wanting to spend a lot of time at the grocery store, buying ingredients I might not use again, I stuck to what I already had on hand, using the ingredient lists for Annie Chung's Thai Peanut Sauce and House of Tsang's Bangkok Peanut Sauce as a guide for my sauce.
Popcorn Chicken With Spicy Peanut Butter Sauce
Serves 2 or 3 depending on appetite and sides.

Ingredients
1 lb boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut in half lengthwise
3.3 oz bag microwavable plain salted popcorn, popped
2 egg whites
2 Tbsp cornstarch
½ tsp plus ½ tsp sriracha sauce [Huy Fong Foods]
3 Tbsp creamy peanut butter [Jif Natural]
2 Tbsp honey
2 Tbsp soy sauce or coconut aminos [Coconut Secret]
2 Tbsp lime juice
Peanut oil, for frying [Whole Foods Roasted Peanut Oil]

Directions
Whisk together the peanut butter, coconut aminos, honey, lime juice and ½ tsp sriracha until well combined. Set aside until needed.

Put the popcorn in a food processor and pulverize until fine. Shake through a sieve to remove any unpopped kernels ("widows") or bits of hull. Dump sieved popcorn into a pie plate or bowl. It will be very fluffy.



Whisk the egg whites, cornstarch, and remaining ½ tsp sriracha together in a shallow bowl or pie plate.


Dip the chicken strips first into the cornstarch mixture and then into the popcorn, smooshing the popcorn bits quite firmly into the chicken to help them stick. Set chicken on a wire rack over a jelly roll pan and pop in the fridge for about 30 minutes. (I first read about "resting" the breaded uncooked chicken in an issue of Cuisine at Home and I find the breading does seem to stick better).


Heat enough peanut oil to just cover the surface of a large frying pan. Once hot, cook the chicken strips in batches for 3-4 min on each side or until beautifully golden and cooked through (use a splatter guard, if you have one, because this gets messy). Allow cooked pieces to drain on rack (not the rack that was covered it raw chicken!) as you cook the others.




Serve with spicy peanut butter sauce.
The chicken comes out very light and super crispy -- as if I'd used panko instead of popcorn -- and reminds me a bit of chicken katsu. While there isn't a lot of popcorn or peanut flavor to the chicken strips, it pairs very well with the yummy peanut sauce. Oh, the sauce! All sweet and savory at once, I want to dip so many other things in it. Like crunchy steamed broccoli or bell pepper strips ... or just a finger!