With help from an especially adept sous chef, I returned home Monday tonight with a complete mise en place ready to prepare Grace Young's Kung Pao Chicken for dinner. Described by the wok guru as one of her favorite recipes from Stir-Frying to the Sky's Edge - and the selected post for this week's Wok Wednesdays online event - my only task was to locate the two tablespoons of chicken broth Tim was unable to find in our typically stock-stuffed freezer.
The bags of cubes and containers of broth that often tumble from my freezer were oddly missing from sight; a signal, at long last, that it really is time to replenish. In its place I made a scant cupful of broth from a liquid concentrate, a reasonable substitute since everything else was so perfectly in place.
Or so I thought. I messed up the maestro's organization by stashing the excess broth too close to the prep station. Tim handed me each ingredient with the confident skill of a surgical nurse - scalpel! clamp! red bell peppers! - until I misspoke and asked for broth instead of the savory mix of soy sauce, rice wine and toasted sesame oil actually called for.
I didn't even look when I splashed in about 3/4 cup of light golden broth, which should have been dark and shimmery. I realized the blunder about a minute later when the stir fry failed to gain the classic lacquered look of Kung Pao. In rapid succession, I strained off the excess liquid, added a teaspoon of corn starch and the proper sauce, then held my breath as I tossed the contents in the bubbling mix.
In just a minute or two, it assumed expected appearance and was brought to the table still steaming. A photo I posted as a preview earned admiring comments from friends who were unaware of how close I came to completely ruining the dish.
One ingredient that absolutely must not be messed with is the half-teaspoon of roasted and ground Sichuan (or Szechwan, etc.) peppercorns. I can't imagine anything else that comes close to the floral, almost fruity essence of this critical ingredient. Most well-stocked grocery stores carry this, as well as local and online specialty spice shops. Splurge a few bucks and get a jar; you'll be surprised how often you sneak it into favorite dishes.