Saturday, May 13, 2017

"Harrods Cookery Book" - Chicken Breasts with Mango and Almonds - Queen Elizabeth's 91st Birthday!

Date I made this recipe:  April 21, 2017 – Queen Elizabeth II's 91st birthday!

Harrods Cookery Book by Marilyn Aslani
Published by Arbor House
ISBN: 0-87795-735-5; © 1985
Recipe:  Chicken Breasts with Mango and Almonds – p. 158

Well hip-hip, hooray, it's "HM's" Birth-day!  Yes, that's right,  Her Majesty ("HM"), the ageless Queen Elizabeth II, just turned 91.  Amazing but true!

Also "amazing, but true" is that the very famous Harrods department store is 183 years old this year.  Wow – twice as old as "HM."  As the Brits would say, that is "Smashing!"

I'm happy to say that Andy and I have been (or "bean" as the Brits say) to Harrods (in October 1994) and it was a fun place although we didn't get to spend a lot of time there.   I do recall us making a beeline for the famed Food Hall as it is possibly more famous than the store itself.  I can only imagine how the Food Hall has grown over the years because when we were there, you could pretty much get your hands on every type of food imaginable from every country imaginable though sometimes at a hefty price.  I do believe we gasped out loud when we spotted a bag of Kraft Marshmallows priced at $5.00 a bag and folks, that was in 1994!  Preposterous!

It should come as no surprise then, that we left the Food Hall sans food but all was not lost as we bought a couple of boxes of Christmas Crackers for the holidays.  Although the name certainly suggests this is a food item, it is not.  Christmas Crackers are paper "firecrackers," i.e. cardboard tubes filled with all kinds of goodies that are wrapped in bright holiday-colored paper and then twisted at each end.  The recipient then pulls on the ends to crack the package open (it actually makes a cracking noise) to reveal what is inside typically, little toys, candy and paper crowns.  The Brits love these things and so when I saw them, I knew I had to bring some back with me to share with my family at Christmas time.  The paper crowns were the best and I have several hilarious pictures of my mom, dad, and brother wearing them (such troopers) during our Christmas dinner.

This then concludes my memories of Harrods except to say we can now check this off list of "Things to see and do in London."  (For the record, we were in England on business and toured a good portion of the country, but had only a few days at our disposal to tour London.  Bummer, that.)

As to this cookbook, well...huh.  Let's just say that despite the fact that Andy and I had some very good meals (mostly pub grub) while in England, British cooking and recipes underwhelm me still, and sad to say, this cookbook and recipe was one of them.

The Table of Contents divides food into categories based on what how the food hall was laid out in 1985 when this cookbook was written:
  • The Meat Hall that includes recipes for meat, fish, and poultry and game
  • The Provisions Hall that includes recipes for cheese and dairy as well as charcuterie and variety meats
  • The Fruit and Vegetable Hall that includes recipes for vegetables and fruit (I don't know why the simplicity of that made me laugh but it did!)
  • The Bakery that includes desserts, biscuits and cakes (please remember that cookies are called biscuits in England), and breads and yeast doughs
  • The Confectionery Hall that includes sweets of all kinds
  • The Panty – you'll find your preserve recipes here
  • Special Occasions that include Christmas, Picnic Hamper, Afternoon Tea, and a Garden Party.  The last two occasions – Afternoon Tea and Garden Party – are just so "vedy" British, are they not?  Quite!

All right then, from these categories, I came up with a mere handful of recipes (so disappointing) and here's what I considered:
  • "Spinach and Ricotta Ravioli with Sage Butter" – p. 137 (from the Vegetable chapter)
  • "Scallop Pilaf" – p. 49 (from the Fish chapter)
  • "Chicken Breasts with Mango and Almonds" – p. 158 from the Fruit [and vegetable] chapter)

And the winner/not winner was....Chicken Breasts with Mango and Almonds.

Why was this dish not a "Winner, winner, chicken dinner?"  Well, I can't quite put my finger on it except to say that the dish was neither good nor bad, it just was and "was" is not an option.  To put it another way, I just don't think any of the flavors stood out and so what we had was a dish of chicken + mangos + sauce rather than a blended dish of all of these ingredients and more.  These days, I am all about the "and more" in a dish.

I have to say that I was particularly amazed that the mango was not the star ingredient and I don't know why.  The dish sure looked good in the photo but maybe my mango wasn't as ripe as it should be?  Not that I know how to test a mango for readiness but that's another story.

Alas though reader, the mango problem wasn't the only issue as the "seasoning profile" also missed the mark. Both the marinade and the wok sauce contained soy sauce, rice wine and cornstarch and that is not exactly exciting.  The wok sauce contained 1 teaspoon of sugar but that wasn't enough to elevate it, either.

For the longest time after making this dish, I was stumped as to what could have made it work, and I've concluded that Chinese Five-Spice powder might have done the trick.  This flavor marries really well with the mango and also would have punched the dish up a notch as it contains cinnamon, cloves, fennel and star anise.  Sometimes it contains also ginger but this recipe used fresh ginger in the marinade and unfortunately, it was also strained out of the sauce.

I might have also added a half to full teaspoon of sesame oil to the marinade, not that it was called for, but because sesame oil adds flavor.  Sesame oil cannot be used in the wok to cook the chicken (the recipe calls for peanut oil) as it will burn, but a small amount in the chicken marinade shouldn't cause a problem.  Of course, I don't know that for sure, I'm just thinking of ways to make this dish more enjoyable to eat.

Finally, I erred on the side of cooking the chicken a bit longer than directed. "As directed" was about 1 minute, 30 seconds, and I, being my mother's daughter when it comes to chicken, wanted to make sure my chicken was done and not raw and so left it in a bit longer.

After making some rice to go with this stir-fry, I told Andy that dinner was ready.  He often waits until he's done to comment but this time around, he didn't say a word and I think that is indicative of what we collectively thought about the dish.  In summary:  "Huh."  Sadly, the leftovers I had the net day did nothing for me either.

As an aside, I tried hard to find a recipe to make in this cookbook that might please "HM," but I just don't like most of the standard fare that Brits enjoy.  I honestly can't see "HM" sitting down to this dinner but then again, maybe she would.  She's traveled all over the world so who's to say she's not a fan of stir-fry?  I'm just sayin' she probably wouldn't have been a fan of this stir-fry.

As to the cookbook though, you might want to take a gander at it for the sheer novelty of it all.  Harrods is still a must-see when in London and hip, hip hooray for them for standing the test of time!  As to "HM," long may she reign!

Chicken Breasts with Mango and Almonds – Serves 4 – Ann's Note:  allow ½ hour to marinate the chicken
For the marinade
1 ½ teaspoons cornstarch
1 egg white, beaten
2 teaspoons light soy sauce
1 teaspoon rice wine vinegar or medium-dry sherry
Ann's Note:  consider adding ½ to 1 teaspoon sesame oil to the marinade.  Consider also adding some Chinese Five-Spice Powder either to the marinade or the wok sauce.
3 boneless chicken breasts, skinned and cut into 1-inch squares
For the sauce
¼ cup water
1 tablespoon light soy sauce
2 tablespoons rice wine or medium-dry sherry
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1/3 cup slivered almonds, toasted
Ann's Note:  Consider substituting brown sugar for table sugar.  It may not work but I just have a feeling it might have helped the flavors come out. 
Other wok ingredients
1 ½ teaspoons chopped fresh ginger root
1 large garlic clove, finely chopped
2 large scallions, white part finely chopped and green part cut into pieces
1 large mango, peeled and cut lengthwise into strips
Scallion tassels, to garnish

Mix together the ingredients for the marinade and pour over the chicken.  Cover and marinate in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.  Ann's Note:  You would be wise to bring the chicken and marinade to room temperature before adding them to the wok.  See below.

Heat a woke over high heat, then add the peanut oil.  Ann's Note:  Before you add the chicken and marinade to the hot wok, bring them up to room temperature first.  The recipe doesn't call for you to do that, but I found the cornstarch in the marinade started clumping when added to the hot oil and that was not a very attractive look. Plus, I don't think the flavor came out as it should have. When the oil is hot enough for a piece of ginger to float to the surface, add the chicken and marinade, and stir-fry for 30 seconds.
Place a sieve over a bowl, and pour the chicken and all of the oil into it.  Leave to drain thoroughly, then return 2 tablespoons of the oil to the wok.  Stir-fry the ginger, garlic and white scallion parts for 30 seconds.  Return the chicken to the wok and stir-fry for 1 minute.  Transfer the chicken to a serving dish.

Pour 1 tablespoon of the oil into the wok, heat and add the mango.  Stir-fry for 30 seconds, then add all the sauce ingredients except the almonds.  Cook for a further 30 seconds until the sauce thickens.

Stir in the green scallion parts and the toasted almonds. Pour over the chicken.  Garnish with the scallion tassels.

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