A classic home-cooked food, making this Braised Chicken with Bitter Gourd 苦瓜焖鸡 easily reminds me of what it feels like to take a trip down the memory lane. Revisiting the comforting feeling of dining at home and enjoying mom's cooking, these home-cooked dishes are the food that we have most of our lives growing up, at times taken for granted even. I didn't actually have much of this Braised Chicken with Bitter Gourd 苦瓜焖鸡 back then; it's not exactly a dish that would always make an appearance on our dining table. But there's something about this dish that I would always tag and class it together within the same comforting group of feel-good, home-style dishes.
Most people do not have a natural affinity for food with a bitter taste; and I'm no exception myself growing up. I didn't particularly like gourds of any kinds (I wonder... was it their texture or was it their appearance in general really?); and I certainly didn't appreciate anything bitter should they ever be present. So the bitter gourd - it had always been a NO-NO in my case. But as you grow up, it's just so common to realize later and agree that certain food that you used to dislike as a child are not that bad after all. It's pretty much like an acquired development of a whole new spectrum in taste and flavor. From a hatred feeling, you may even find yourself actually loving some of them later in life.
Liking and then loving the bitter gourd was indeed a development that happened ever so gradually in my case. From a total avoidance, I started being rather selective - avoiding the really bitter ones, accepting the rest. Then I got choosy - I only liked them fried with eggs or stuffed with fish paste and made into Yong Tau Foo 酿豆腐. Yup, I basically liked their taste masked. But things took a turn (AGAIN). I have no idea as to when and how the transition actually happened, but now... I love everything about it.
And I especially love the natural bitterness that makes the bitter gourd all unique.
One of the first few dishes that I started learning when I first picked up cooking, this is now one of the regulars at home. A comfort food that easily makes an everyday meal more appetizing, they are best made just a little in advance (at least half an hour will be good!) and left to braise right until serving time. The end result - a serving of tender and well marinated pieces of chicken and softened cuts of bitter gourd drenched in sweet and savory gravy accentuated with the salty fermented black bean sauce and yellow bean sauce.
One last note - just be sure that you cook a little more rice when you make this part of your meals! It IS that good!
Braised Chicken with Bitter Gourd 苦瓜焖鸡
1.5lbs chicken (any parts - thighs and drumsticks work the best), skin removed, chopped into bite-size pieces
1 large bitter gourd (~1lb in weight)
1" ginger, thickly sliced
4 cloves garlic, minced
3/4 tbsp fermented black bean sauce
1½ tbsp yellow bean sauce
2½ tbsps cooking oil
1 tsp corn starch dissolved in 1/4 water for thickening
1/4 tsp white pepper powder
1 tbsp light soy sauce
1/2 tbsp Shaoxing wine
1/2 tbsp corn starch
Gravy (mix together in a bowl)
1 tbsp light soy sauce
1 tbsp oyster sauce
1 tsp sugar
1/3 tsp salt
2-3 dashes white pepper powder
1 cup water
1. Marinate the chicken pieces with the chicken marinade in advance. Leave refrigerated until cooking time.
2. Trim the ends off the bitter gourd slightly. Halve the bitter gourd, scrape and discard the pulp within. Cut each half into huge pieces crosswise (about 3" in length) and then cut each of the huge pieces lengthwise into strips of about 3/4" in width. Rub these strips of bitter gourd with salt.
3. Bring a pot of water to boil. Boil the bitter gourd for about a minute. Drain and rinse the bitter gourd under cold running water. Set aside.
4. Heat up about 1½ tbsps of cooking oil in the wok. Bring in the chicken pieces and stir-fry over medium-high heat. Cook until the chicken is at least half done. Dish out and set aside.
5. In a pot or a deep sauce pan, heat the remaining cooking oil over high. Add in the minced garlic and ginger and stir fry until aromatic, lightly browned. Add in the fermented black bean sauce and the yellow bean sauce. Stir to mix well.
6. Toss in the bitter gourd followed by the chicken pieces. Mix well.
7. Pour in the gravy mixture, stir well to get most of the contents immersed and bring to boil. Let boil for about 5 minutes. Cover, turn the heat down to medium-low and let simmer for at least 30 minutes.
8. Just right before serving, thicken the gravy slightly with the corn starch slurry. Serve hot.