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Sunday, April 14, 2013

the guide to fortune cookie chicken {recipe}

In the small town where I grew up in Massachsuetts, there is a restaurant called The Hu Ke Lau. It is a place my grandfather referred to as 'exotic.' The fare was Polynesian and on weekend nights there were luaus with hula dancers, fire twirlers and flaming Pu Pu platters. Drinks arrived in hollowed out pineapples served by beautiful girls with long, dark, wavy hair. As a little girl I was sure this was exactly what mermaids looked like.

My mom and I lived with my grandparents and money was tight. It was only on special occasions that we went to the Hu Ke Lau. I think I enjoyed watching my conservative gruff grandfather drink from a pineapple as much as I enjoyed my Sweet & Sour Chicken. Later in high school, the Hu Ke Lau was the place you went on special dates or before the prom. The one constant was that every time I went to this restaurant I had Sweet & Sour Chicken with sauce on the side, always on the side.

Years later, on a cold, clear December night in Connecticut, it was over Sweet & Sour Chicken take-out that I fell in love with my husband. There is something intimate and lovely about candlelight and chopsticks. As we tucked into take-out that night over winter break I thought "This is someone I could fall in love with." I did, I so did.

Sweet & Sour Chicken is almost universally loved. Soft chicken tenders with a crunchy coating dipped into tangy sauce is pretty much the perfect food.  Last week I wondered if I could make this classic at home. Could I make it healthier by baking and not frying the chicken tenders? Would it have the same taste without the white take-out box?

As I shopped in the market for the ingredients I picked up a bag of fortune cookies made locally by Golden Pheasant (50 for $2.99). As I held the bag of fortune cookies in my hand I had a thought. What if instead of flour for the coating I used crushed fortune cookies? And the idea by Fortune Cookie Chicken was born.

Fortune Cookie Chicken {Recipe}

Over the past three days I have made this recipe three times and each time it has turned out perfect, with that same crunch you want without the calories from frying. The key is using good quality fortune cookies. I tried this recipe with three different brands of fortune cookies. The Golden Pheasant brand was by far the best, with a good crunch and a clean taste of vanilla and orange. (The other two brands I found in the Asian food aisle. They were fairly tasteless with a thin crunch and a bland taste.) If you can buy Golden Pheasant, do. They are inexpensive and delicious.

Ingredients for Chicken Tenders
1 pound of chicken tenders (or 1 pound of chicken breasts sliced into one inch strips)
1 cup of buttermilk
30 crushed fortune cookies
1 tablespoon of freshly grated orange peel
4 tablespoons olive oil

Ingredients for Sweet & Sour Sauce (inspired by this recipe)
1 cup of pineapple juice
1/2 cup orange marmalade
2 tablespoons ketchup
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
4 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 teaspoons soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon Tabasco sauce
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt


Preheat oven to 375. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.

Add buttermilk and chicken tenders to bowl, cover and place in refrigerator while you make the sauce.

In a saucepan add the sauce ingredients until bubbling. Stir often, lower heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool for ten minutes. Place fine mesh strainer over a bowl and slowly pour sauce through strainer. Set aside to cool.

Remove fortunes from cookies. Place cookie fragments in Cuisinart and pulse until cookies are crushed (or in a freezer bag crushed with rolling pin). Add the orange zest from one orange and pulse until incorporated. Place crumbs in a shallow bowl.

Remove chicken from refrigerator. One at a time, dip chicken tender from buttermilk into cookie crumbs until covered completely, pressing crumbs onto chicken tender. Place on cookie sheet. Repeat with the rest of the chicken.

Once all the chicken tenders have been covered in cookie crumbs and placed on baking sheet, drizzle olive oil over them. Place in oven on medium rack and cook for 20 minutes at 375 degrees.

Serve with Sweet & Sour Sauce and coconut-lime rice (brown rice cooked in coconut milk + 1 tablespoon of shredded coconut + the zest of one lime.)

Bonus! Fortune Cookie cards

With 75 fortunes in a glassybaby here on my desk I wondered what I would do with them. Then it struck me that these fortunes would be sweet on a homemade card. To a friend who is is going through challenging times, I am sending him the card above. To another friend who is doing incredible on her weight loss journey, I'll send her one saying "Your short term goal will soon be realized." 

All you need is cardstock and double sided tape. It's easy and a fun idea for someone who just needs to hear "Remember two months from this date. Good things are coming."

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