Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Cornstarch Catastrophes!

Sometimes a small accident happens in life and later, after catastrophe occurs, you find yourself pointing to the tiny accident wondering, "Was that a catalyst to disaster? Did that lead to a much bigger accident of epic proportions?"

Okay, maybe I'm being a little dramatic. Today I made cashew chicken from a recipe in one of those "Cooking for 2" magazines. It called for a sauce made of soy sauce, sugar, ginger, salt and cornstarch. I have never used cornstarch ever. 

When I opened the container, which has an impossibly wide mouth, I couldn't even figure out how to get the cornstarch from the container to my little giraffe measuring spoon. So I just attempted to pour and of course got cornstarch all over the counter, all over me and very little in the actual spoon. It didn't seem like any real damage was done, so I moved on with my life. But I won't lie...I was already frazzled.

See that looks okay right? No biggie so far. I sauteed some onion and celery, then set that aside. Then I added some chicken breast tenders to the skillet and cooked those on medium heat. 

At that time, I added the sauce, as per the directions. The directions DID NOT INDICATE I SHOULD TURN THE HEAT DOWN. And I don't know if I even should have! What I do know is that when I poured the sauce in, it immediately congealed into the scariest soy sauce nuggets I have ever seen. I don't think the sauce even remotely touched the chicken because it was too busy rolling itself into balls. It was so horrifying. Why did this happen, friends? Why?

I decided to march on, so I added some chicken broth and peas. The directions said to let this sauce "thicken." Since it had already thickened to nuggets, I just decided to stop when I felt like it.

After what I'm calling the Cornstarch Catastrophe, I was pretty much distraught. I almost forgot to add the cashews! But I did. And here's the shocking part:

Sean liked it! He said it was great. And I will say, it wasn't awful. It was maybe a little too salty and of course, in my distress, I overcooked the chicken (as per usual). But it was edible.

But seriously friends. What happened? Was I supposed to turn the heat down? Was it something to do with the cornstarch? 


Joe said...

My guess would be that you spilled too much cornstarch into the sauce. Cornstarch is a pretty effective thickener, and you don't have to use much. The pan might've been a little too hot by that point, too.

But hey, it was good anyway. That's really all that matters, right?

Aliya said...

Next time try to temper the sauce with the thickener in it so it doesn't freak out the second it touches the heat. Add a couple tablespoons of HOT water or hot chicken broth and mix it up. That way, it'll get acclimated to the temperature more smoothly.

Elizardbeth said...

I think your problem is actually the recipe.
Yes, cornstarch thickens super fast on even a fairly low heat. But whipping up a sauce with cornstarch and tossing it into the skillet is pretty different from the way I've made this dish.
In the past, I've seasoned the chicken, rolled it in a dusting of corn starch, cooked that to almost done, then added the vegetables and nuts, then finally the liquid ingredients of the sauce. The corn starch on the chicken will still thicken the sauce.
If it doesn't, then you can have some corn starch mixed into a paste with warm water in a bowl off the the side. You can add a dab of that if your sauce is too runny.
Wow. Too much? :)

Amber said...

That's extremely more practical, Elizabeth. I knew cornstarch would ruin me, I just knew it.

Elizardbeth said...

Aliya also offered you some pretty good advice in dealing with corn starch. It also works well when you graduate to a roux.
I think we should get together and cook some time!

Amanda said...

Wow. I have no idea. But I enjoyed reading the post. :) I lurve kitchen disasters!

ginamom said...

also i think you have to stir constantly, as in non-stop, and add the thickening slowly while stirring... and continue stirring as you add the broth... but i'd consult your uncle