When takeout becomes home cooking

By Bill Colvard - bcolvard@MtAiryNews.com

Orange chicken that would make Panda Express proud, prepared at home with ordinary kitchen utensils. Served with rice and broccoli.

Bill Colvard | The News

It’s possible to make some pretty good takeout food at home. Right in the comfort of your own kitchen, you can construct reasonable facsimiles of Chinese takeout, Chick-fil-A sandwiches or even McDonald’s fries.

In response to this information, the most often asked question is “Why?”

Good question.

Some folks like a challenge. Some want to save money. Others just get a hankering for Chick-fil-A on Sunday.

It’s not just convenience. Restaurant food tastes different from home cooking. Sometimes you crave home cooking and sometimes you crave restaurant food. And in the same way that, on rare occasion, a restaurant can simulate the taste of home cooking, it’s also possible for a home cook to blur the lines of home kitchen and professional kitchen and construct a meal that really tastes like takeout. Which is, in its way, quite an accomplishment.

If you’re the kind of person who sees something, likes it, and then says, “I bet I could do that myself,” then this is the kind of challenge you might enjoy.

Restaurants often take steps that home cooks don’t usually take. Brining is a good example. Whether it’s fried chicken or French fries, a good long soak in salt water can’t hurt. Salt intensifies flavor and brining is a way to get the salt all the way through the food. Which is one of the reasons fast-food is so addictingly delicious and why the sodium content is often so high.

One of the advantages of a DIY approach is the salt content can be adjusted. Brining with less salt or for a shorter period of time can deliver some of the flavor benefits but keep the sodium levels down a bit.

The idea of cooking Chinese food at home is an alien idea to a lot of people. Perhaps because most folks rarely see it outside of their neighborhood takeout place and the ingredient list is long, with a lot of unfamiliar ingredients. The good news is that most of those ingredients are used in a lot of recipes so it can be an investment to cook homemade Chinese takeout one time, it’s not so bad if you make a habit of it.

And like the salt in fast food, you are in charge of the use or not of MSG. We all ask for our takeout to be prepared without MSG, but is it, really? Many people wonder. Especially a few minutes later when they get itchy and have an unrelenting desire to drink a bathtub full of water.

An argument can be made that there is a cost savings to homemade takeout. If your household is a couple or a single, there’s probably going to be some leftovers. Make your lunch the next day and the money you spent for one meal buys you two.

Seven bucks seems to be the going rate for lunch in Mount Airy whether it’s fast food or a casual restaurant. Multiply that times five days a week, fifty-two weeks a year (less two weeks of vacation) and you could save $1,750 in a year if you apply yourself to the project.

That is not an insubstantial savings.

And you’ll be all set next time you get an uncontrollable urge for Chick Fil-a on Sunday.

Homemade Takeout Orange Chicken

Serves 4

3 tbsp. soy sauce, divided

2 tbsp. white wine

2 tsp. minced ginger

1 clove of garlic, minced

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1 to 1 1/2-inch cubes

¼ cup plus 1 tbsp. cornstarch, divided

Canola (or other neutral oil) oil, for frying

1 tbsp. honey

⅔ cup orange juice

1 tbsp. orange marmalade

1 tbsp. rice vinegar

¼ tsp. sesame oil

Whisk 2 tablespoons soy sauce, wine, ginger and garlic together in a large bowl. Add the cubed chicken and marinate for at least 15 minutes. Using a large slotted spoon, move the chicken cubes from the marinade into a new bowl, leaving the remaining liquid behind. Sprinkle 1/4 cup cornstarch over the chicken and mix slightly to coat. In a large pot over medium-high, heat 1/4 to 1/3 inch of canola oil . Working in batches, add chicken cubes in a single layer and fry, turning occasionally, until well browned and cooked through, about 4 minutes total. Move to a paper towel-lined large plate or baking sheet to drain. Cubes will be crunchy looking nuggets of magic. Resist urge to eat them all from the baking sheet. In a small pot or saucepan over medium heat, mix remaining 1 tablespoon soy sauce, honey, orange juice, marmalade, rice vinegar, and sesame oil. In a small bowl, mix remaining tablespoon cornstarch and 2 tablespoons water together to form a slurry. Bring orange sauce mixture to low boil, and add some of the slurry, a spoonful at a time, while whisking, to thicken the sauce. Remove from heat once thickened. Toss chicken cubes in the sauce in a large bowl. Serve with rice and broccoli.

Homemade Chick-Fil-A Sandwich

This chicken is really salty, just like its namesake. The salt measurements are for Diamond Crystal kosher salt. If you are using Morton kosher salt, reduce by 25%. If using regular table salt, reduce by 50%. if you want it less salty, reduce brining time to 1 hour and decrease salt in breading.

Makes 4 sandwiches

Kosher salt (see note above)


2 large boneless skinless chicken breasts, split horizontally into 4 cutlets

2 tsp. paprika

2 tbsp. black pepper

1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper

1 tsp. powdered MSG (optional)

1 cup milk

2 large eggs

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

2 tbsp. powdered non-fat milk

1 tsp. baking powder

2 quarts peanut oil

4 soft hamburger buns, toasted in butter

8 dill pickle chips

Dissolve 1/2 cup kosher salt (see note above) and 1/4 cup sugar in 1 quart of cold water. Place chicken breasts in a zipper-lock bag and add brine. Transfer to refrigerator and let sit for at least 6 hours and up to overnight. Meanwhile, combine paprika, black pepper, cayenne pepper, and MSG (if using), in a small bowl. Set aside. Whisk together milk and eggs in a medium bowl. Set aside. Combine flour, non-fat milk powder, baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, 2 teaspoons sugar, and 2 tablespoons of spice mixture in a large bowl and whisk until homogeneous. Drizzle 3 tablespoons milk/egg mixture into flour mixture and rub with fingertips until the flour mixture is coarse like wet sand. In a large wok, deep fryer, or Dutch oven, preheat oil to 350°F. Remove chicken breasts from brine and pat dry with paper towels. Season on all sides with remaining spice mixture. Transfer to milk mixture and turn to coat. Working one cutlet at a time, allow excess milk mixture to drip off then transfer to flour mixture. Turn to coat, pile extra mixture on top of cutlet, and press down firmly to adhere as much mixture as possible to the meat. Lift cutlet, shake off excess flour, then slowly lower into hot oil. Repeat with remaining breasts. Cook, turning breasts occasionally until golden brown and crisp on all sides, and chicken is cooked through, about 4 minutes total. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate. Place 2 pickles on each bottom bun and a fried chicken cutlet on top. Close sandwiches, then cover with an overturned bowl or aluminum foil and allow to rest for 2 minutes to steam buns. Serve immediately.

Thin and Crispy French Fries like your favorite fast food chain

2 pounds russet potatoes (about 4 large), peeled and cut into 1/4-inch by 1/4-inch fries (keep potatoes stored in a bowl of water)

2 tbsp. distilled white vinegar

Kosher salt

2 quarts peanut oil

Place potatoes and vinegar in saucepan and add 2 quarts of water and 2 tablespoons of salt. Bring to a boil over high heat. Boil for 10 minutes. Potatoes should be fully tender, but not falling apart. Drain and spread on paper towel-lined rimmed baking sheet. Allow to dry for five minutes. Meanwhile, heat oil in 5-quart Dutch oven or large wok over high heat to 400°F. Add 1/3 of fries to oil (oil temperature should drop to around 360°F). Cook for 50 seconds, agitating occasionally with wire mesh spider, then remove to second paper-towel lined rimmed baking sheet. Repeat with remaining potatoes (working in two more batches), allowing oil to return to 400°F after each addition. Allow potatoes to cool to room temperature, about 30 minutes. Continue with step 3, or for best results, freeze potatoes at least over night, or up to 2 months. Return oil to 400°F over high heat. Fry half of potatoes until crisp and light golden brown, about 3 1/2 minutes, adjusting heat to maintain at around 360°F. Drain in a bowl lined with paper towels and season immediately with kosher salt. Cooked fries can be kept hot and crisp on a wire rack set on a sheet tray in a 200°F oven while second batch is cooked. Serve immediately.

Takeout-Style Kung Pao Chicken

Diced Chicken With Peppers and Peanuts

This mildly spiced Americanized version is a Chinese-American standard, complete with slightly gloppy sauce and mild heat that proves Szechuan doesn’t have to be authentic to be delicious.

Serves 4

For the Chicken:

1 1/2 pounds boneless skinless chicken thighs, cut into 3/4-inch chunks

1/2 tsp. kosher salt

1/4 tsp. ground white pepper

1 tsp. dark soy sauce

1 tsp. Shaoxing wine (or dry sherry)

1/2 tsp. sugar

1/2 tsp. roasted sesame oil

1/2 tsp. cornstarch

For the Stir-Fry:

1 tbsp. dark soy sauce

1 tbsp. Shaoxing wine (or dry sherry)

1 tbsp. distilled white vinegar

2 tbsp. chicken stock

1 tbsp. sugar

1 tsp. roasted sesame oil

2 tsp. cornstarch

3 tbsp. vegetable, peanut, or canola oil, divided

1 large red bell pepper, cut into 3/4-inch dice

1 large green bell pepper, cut into 3/4-inch dice

2 stalks celery, cut into 3/4-inch dice

1/2 cup roasted peanuts

2 tsp. minced fresh garlic (about 2 medium cloves)

2 tsp. minced fresh ginger

1 scallion, white and light green parts only, finely minced

8 small dried red Chinese or Arbol chilies (or 1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper)

For the Chicken: Combine chicken, salt, pepper, soy sauce, wine, sugar, sesame oil, and cornstarch in a medium bowl and toss to coat. Set aside for 20 minutes.

For the Stir-Fry: Combine soy sauce, wine, vinegar, chicken stock, sugar, sesame oil, and cornstarch in a small bowl and whisk together until homogeneous. Set aside. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a wok over high heat until smoking. Add chicken, spread into a single layer, and cook without moving until lightly browned, about 1 minute. Continue cooking, tossing and stirring frequently, until the exterior is opaque but chicken is still slightly raw in the center, about 2 minute longer. Transfer to a clean bowl and set aside. Wipe out wok and heat remaining 2 tablespoons oil over high heat until smoking. Add bell peppers and celery and cook, stirring and tossing occasionally, until brightly colored and browned in spots, about 1 minute. Add peanuts and toss to combine. Push vegetables up side of wok to clear a space in the center. Add garlic, ginger, scallions, and dried chilies and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Return chicken to wok and toss to combine. Stir sauce and add to wok. Cook, tossing, until sauce thickens and coats ingredients and chicken is cooked through, about 1 minute longer. Serve immediately.

Orange chicken that would make Panda Express proud, prepared at home with ordinary kitchen utensils. Served with rice and broccoli.
https://www.mtairynews.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/web1_homemade-takeout.jpgOrange chicken that would make Panda Express proud, prepared at home with ordinary kitchen utensils. Served with rice and broccoli. Bill Colvard | The News

By Bill Colvard


Nominate your favorite cook to share their love of food with readers of The Mount Airy News.

Reach Bill Colvard at 336-415-4699.

Nominate your favorite cook to share their love of food with readers of The Mount Airy News.

Reach Bill Colvard at 336-415-4699.

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