Some decades ago my mom tore a recipe for “Szechuan Peanut Chicken” from the local newspaper. She has made it almost weekly since then, and it has now become a regular fixture on my menu as well.
This was before the advent of the Internet, when recipes were cut from magazines and newspapers and lovingly tucked into index card boxes for future reference. Mom still has the shard of newspaper from which this chicken dish was born, though the version we enjoy today bears only some resemblance to the original.
There is actually nothing Szechuan at all about this chicken dish, despite its name. In fact the odd combination of ingredients (peanut butter and salsa!) defies cultural categorization. So I’ve dropped the Szechuan, and left it at “Peanut Chicken”.
Whatever you call it and however you categorize it, it’s good. So good you won’t even believe you are eating chicken breasts. Which, if you are new to my blog, is a recurring theme—the general disdain for chicken breasts, that is. I am always seeking out new ways (like this one) to transform the busty little things from drab to fab. And in this case, all it takes is the unexpected combination of soy sauce, garlic, ginger, PB and salsa.
Which I appreciate is not the obvious makings of love at first bite. In fact, when I told my beloved friend—and trusty recipe tester–Afshan about this recipe, she was quick to decide that the whole thing sounded “disgusting”. (Tell me how you really feel, Afshan!) “You’re going to have to figure out a way to sell it,” she insisted.
To that I say: it’s been on the menu for 20 years.
To boot, it’s kid-friendly (“soooo delicious,” if you ask the Bean), comes together in a weeknight flash, and—if you are inclined to make a double batch—can be stashed in the freezer for a future meal.
Serve this dish over rice or quinoa, with salad or a green veggie–we favour plain steamed broccoli or bok choy to cut the saltiness of the chicken.
Don't be turned off by the unexpected combination of ingredients in this chicken dish. It really works! My family has been enjoying it weekly for at least the past 20 years...
- 1 pound boneless skinless chicken breast
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 3 tablespoons water
- 2 cloves garlic, crushed or minced
- 1 tablespoon peeled and finely grated ginger
- 2 tablespoons neutral-flavoured cooking oil (vegetable, sunflower)
- ½ cup mild or medium salsa
- 2 ½ tablespoons natural no salt- or sugar-added peanut butter
- 3 green onions, finely chopped
- Remove the tenders from each breast half. Cut the remaining pieces horizontally into cutlets, and then cut each cutlet in half. (This is roughly the same method pictured in this recipe.)
- Stir together the soy sauce, water, garlic and ginger in a shallow dish large enough to fit the chicken. Add the chicken, and stir it all around to hit all sides with the marinade.
- While chicken is marinating, mix salsa with peanut butter in a small bowl, and finely chop the green onions. Set both aside.
- Heat the oil in a large skillet set over medium-high heat. When oil is hot and shimmering, add chicken pieces. Cook until the chicken starts to brown and get a bit crispy, then flip it all over and do the same on the other side. When chicken is almost cooked through (it won’t take more than a couple of minutes on each side), spread the salsa and PB mixture onto each of the pieces, turn the heat to very low, cover the skillet, and cook until the chicken is done. Do not overcook!
- Sprinkle with chopped green onions, and serve with rice or quinoa, and steamed broccoli, bok choy or a green salad.
Both creamy and crunchy peanut butter will work in this recipe, but I prefer crunchy.
Almost any plain, medium or mild, jarred salsa will work well in the recipe, but skip the versions that contain beans, corn or mangos, if you can. There are also lots of great organic and relatively clean brands available, if that's a concern for you.