In his most hilarious column to date, our cooking novice Jamie Hoyle gives homemade sweet and sour chicken a go. It does not end well….
Last week probably wasn’t the best inauguration for this column. Cooking for Valentine’s Day week one has set a high precedent. The purpose of this column was to show a steady rise in culinary quality, difficulty and ability week on week. Allow me to haughtily boast for just one sentence please, but last week’s tuna Carpaccio (with a side of Longbrook street chips) was thoroughly scrumptious. Now my concern is this: it can only really go downhill from here. Spoiler – it did.
I see three ways in which I can augment the standard from last week: superior circumstances, higher difficulty and, ultimately, a tastier end product. So here is the skeleton for this week. I shall be cooking for my best friend, whom I shall be best-manning (dubious verb usage) in August. He’s 19 by the way. And he’s getting married. Mental. Anyway, handily, this week falls on Chinese New Year and thus sweet and sour chicken is the second recipe on this premature menu with which we are creating. Already our restaurant is better than Spires Café in the Northcott Theatre.
We pick up this week’s humility before the cooking even began, as three Sainsbury’s assistants all had a hearty giggle at my expense when they told me that tempura batter was something I had to make, not buy. Note to self: look at the recipe instructions before choosing which dish to cook. A makeshift deep fat fryer was now essential. Luckily, a pan filled with all the sunflower oil we had in the house sufficed.
This dish was far more complex than the last. For long periods, it rediscovered my hatred of cooking and made me question why I’d even got involved with this column. Some people are just meant to live on pizza and chips for their entire life, that’s just the way things are. Don’t meddle with nature.
I was stressed from the off.
Recipe: 3 tbsp of soy sauce, 3 of white wine vinegar, 3 of sherry, 1 of light soft brown sugar 1 tsp of cornflour and 100ml of water.
My sauce: 3 tbsp of soy sauce, 3 of white wine vinegar, 0 of sherry (I am a student. I don’t own sherry, obviously), 1 of white sugar (how much difference can it really make?), 1 TBSP of cornflour (read the recipe wrong) and 100ml of water. Didn’t look like much when it was all in a bowl so I added another tbsp of soy sauce and vinegar.
It tasted horrific.
Now the sauce was pretty much adulterated, my attention turned to the 2 chicken breasts, which were diced and waiting patiently, whilst I prepared the batter formed of plain flour (80g), 2 tbsp of cornflour, and what should have been ice-cold sparkling water, but was lukewarm at best. This, lightly whisked in a jug, was ready to go.
The batter was undoubtedly the highlight of the dish, reversing my emotions like hormonal 13 year old girl. Seeing, the chicken, after being smothered in the batter mix, rise to the top of my pot of sunflower oil with a new, crispy, golden brown jacket of saturated fatty delight was emotional. Quick trips to get KFC popcorn chicken are a thing of the past. These were rested on a plate lined with kitchen roll until ready to serve.
The Stir Fry
I was confident at this point. I can cook a stir fry. I have cooked stir fries. This is something I do and do well. Noodles, carrots, peppers, garlic and ginger and, regrettably, my sauce in a wok. Bosh. Easy.
Wrong. The carrots were undercooked, as were the peppers and the ginger was far too overpowering. No matter how small the ginger was cut up, it was not small enough. Each mouthful’s edibility rested on whether a chunk of ginger had enveloped itself within the noodles. When it had, and we hadn’t spotted it, I dearly wished that I did indeed have that sherry. It was unbearable.
In any case, visually the dish looked impressive and the portion size was a vast improvement on last week, but this could not mask the overall tawdriness of it all. My friend was gracious in his displeasure at the dish. Statements like “I think you put in a really good effort” and “you know if you didn’t have the sauce I think it would be quite nice” don’t help however. Just tell me you wish we’d got Domino’s. Go on, say it.
“Should have just got Domino’s”
Oh, he actually said it.
Jamie Hoyle, Food Columnistbookmark me