Almond Boneless Chicken – The Gravy Debate

Back just over a year ago I posted a recipe for https://simplygratefulhousewife.wordpress.com/2015/01/05/almond-boneless-chicken-war-su-gai/ on my website Simply Grateful Housewife. At the time, I wasn’t completely happy with the recipe, but satisfied enough to finally put the recipe to rest — at least for the moment. What I wasn’t completely sold on was the gravy. The breading portion of the meal was perfect, but the gravy was still not exactly like that when ordering this dish from any local Chinese restaurant.

Although the gravies that accompanied this dish may have differed slightly at various restaurants, they were all good, as was the gravy I made. In my mind however, I really wanted to recreate the meal perfectly here at home, so improving or changing the recipe has been in the back of my mind every time I’ve made it throughout the past year.

I think probably the main ingredient I was having trouble with was the oyster sauce. Although there was only 1 tablespoon of this in the 3 cups of sauce, it was really overbearing. Being that I am not a huge seafood fan and that any seafood dish that has the least hint of “fishiness” is typically not even considered to be eaten by me, this addition was really a thorn in my side. Hubby and the rest of the family thought my sauce was excellent, but then again, they had no idea what was on the list of ingredients. Perhaps it was just in my head, but even so, this was one thing that gave me pause every time I thought about making this meal.

Besides the oyster sauce, I also had issue with the vegetable ingredients included in my original recipe. Mushrooms, celery, bamboo shoots, and water chestnuts were all called for. I had eliminated the water chestnuts in subsequent preparations of the sauce and enjoyed the flavor more, but still, I didn’t know if the sauces I’d tried at restaurants contained all of these flavors. I knew I had seen mushrooms and/or bamboo shoots in some gravies, but not so with the celery. So, playing around a bit with these ingredients seemed like a viable option.

Finally, one flavor that truly made this dish pop was the addition of the finely chopped green onion when serving the dish. I wondered how adding the green onion to a basic chicken gravy would taste. Almond boneless chicken is one of the mildest dishes served at Chinese restaurants, so eliminating everything but the chicken gravy base and the onion flavor we all liked, might prove to be a winner.

With all this information to work with, I set to preparing three separate sauces. The first would be my original recipe, but without the water chestnuts again as well as cutting the oyster sauce down to 1 teaspoon instead of 1 tablespoon. The second sauce would be based again on my original sauce but this time eliminating all the vegetables except the mushrooms, all the oyster sauce, and introducing a little sherry to add a new flavor that could compliment the mushroom flavor and tone it down a bit so it wasn’t so poignant. The final sauce was going to be a basic chicken gravy with the addition of some soy sauce, sherry and green onion. The soy sauce and sherry would help give it more of an oriental flair and the onion would hopefully infuse the gravy with the flavor that made the dish pop.

Almond Boneless Chicken Sauce #1 (Modified slightly from original sauce)

  • 1 1/2 Tbsp. Peanut Oil
  • 1 Celery Stalk, diced
  • 1/3 Cup Fresh Mushrooms, chopped
  • 1/3 Cup Bamboo Shoots, roughly chopped
  • 3 Cups Chicken Broth
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp. Soy Sauce
  • 1 tsp. Oyster Sauce
  • 1/4 tsp. Salt
  • 1 tsp. Sugar
  • 4 Tbsp. Cornstarch, dissolved in 1/3 Cup Water

Heat 1 1/2 Tbsp. oil in wok or large skillet over medium heat. Add celery and stir fry 2-3 minutes. Add mushrooms and bamboo shoots and stir fry 3-5 minutes. Add chicken broth, soy sauce, oyster sauce, salt and sugar. Bring to a boil and cook 7 minutes. (At this point I strain out the vegetables, but if you like, these can be kept in the gravy.) Return strained gravy to wok and return to boil. Stir in cornstarch slurry and cook until thickened. Turn heat to low and keep warm.

Almond Boneless Chicken Sauce #2

  • 1/3 Cup Fresh Mushrooms, chopped
  • 3 Tbsp. Butter
  • 3 Cups Chicken Broth
  • 2 Tbsp. Soy Sauce
  • 1 Tbsp. Cooking Sherry
  • 1/4 tsp. Salt
  • 1 tsp. Sugar
  • 4 Tbsp. Cornstarch, dissolved in 1/3 Cup Water

Heat butter in wok or large skillet over medium heat. Add mushrooms and stir fry 3-5 minutes. Add chicken broth, soy sauce, sherry, salt and sugar. Bring to a boil and cook 5 minutes. Stir in cornstarch slurry and cook until thickened. Turn heat to low and keep warm.

Almond Boneless Chicken Sauce #3

  • 2 Cups Chicken Broth
  • 1/4 Cup. Chopped Green Onion
  • 1 Tbsp. Soy Sauce
  • 2 Tbsp. Cooking Sherry
  • 2 Tbsp. Cornstarch mixed with 1/4 Cup Water

Combine chicken broth, green onion, soy sauce, and sherry in small saucepan. Heat to boiling. Add corn starch slurry and turn heat down to medium. Cook until thickened. Turn heat to low and keep warm.

The results:

DSCF3206

Top left: Version #1, Top right: Version #2, Bottom: Version #3

I would love to say that my day working in the kitchen allowed me to finally put this recipe to rest, but alas, life is just not that fair. A consensus could not be met. Hubby and Zeb liked #1 the best, with #2 running a close second. Grace liked #2 the best because there were mushrooms in the gravy and she enjoyed eating them with the chicken. She still liked #1, but preferred a gravy that had vegetables in it. Everyone did agree that version #3 was definitely not a keeper. The only aspect of this one that was okay was the onion flavor, but it was too strong.

So what’s next? Well, I liked #2 the best, probably because it didn’t have any oyster sauce in it. Next time I think I will make only two versions of the sauce and hopefully come a little closer to a conclusion. I plan on making version #1 without any oyster sauce (hopefully Hubby and Zeb will still like it) and version #2 with the addition of 1 tablespoon of green onion. I have read some places that almond paste has been added to the sauce, but I don’t think that is a flavor that is missing.

Overall I have to say I’m glad I spent the time making all the different sauces. I was able to definitely determine I don’t like the flavor of oyster sauce, because even the 1 tsp. of it in version #1 was too much for me. That alone was worth the experimentation. Now we just need to continue tweaking until we’ve got a sauce everyone can agree on.

After everything was all said and done and Grace and I were cleaning the kitchen, I mentioned to Grace that I was really disappointed that none of my sauces truly duplicated the ones we’ve had from authentic Chinese restaurants. Grace told me she was glad that mine wasn’t the same. I asked her why?

She told me, “Because if yours was the same as the restaurants, when we went out, there wouldn’t be anything worth ordering on the menu. This way we can still enjoy something when we do go out.”

You know what? She’s right. I’m so focused on copying what we’ve already enjoyed that I’m missing out on enjoying what I’m making. Plus, it’s just like Peggy Buddy says, “You don’t want to make it too good for them at home or they’ll never take you out!” So true.

One more step to perfecting almond boneless chicken at home and a very important lesson pointed out by my darling daughter, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

 

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