This dish is sort of like chicken sate without the skewers, with a healthy dose of broccoli to move it into the "healthier" category. I've been making this since I was in law school and I vividly remember making it for Paul on one of our early dates. He claims it's one of the main reasons he married me. We won't debate that topic here. What is not in dispute is that it has been a favorite of all of ours and has been very kid friendly. When the kids were smaller, there were times that one or the other passed on the chicken chunks or the sauce or even the noodles, but there was always another part of the dish they ate happily. There's nothing fancy or gourmet about this dish, but it is delicious and relatively easy to prepare.
We like this to be particularly saucy, so I use a little of the pasta water to thin the sauce, rather than overdoing it with the peanut butter. Use fresh lemons for the lemon juice if you have them, but you can substitute bottled lemon juice in a pinch. I've served this with regular and thin spaghetti, whole wheat spaghetti and even couscous. This would also be great with soba noodles. If you don't eat gluten, I'm sure it would be great with rice noodles as well. If you don't have a wok, just use a deep skillet.
One thing I've never really discussed that I know many people already do but might be helpful for some, is to have everything ready before you start cooking. While this is always helpful, it is particularly important when using a wok as the cooking can go very quickly and you'll want to have all your ingredients ready at the outset. You can put everything into little bowls like the French mise en place. I cut my broccoli first and get that on to steam, and then cut the onion and garlic. Next I cut the chicken so it doesn't cross-contaminate the vegetables. The board then goes into the dishwasher. I use a separate knife for cutting meats and chicken as well. I steam the broccoli lightly before adding it to the wok because I find that it otherwise takes too long for me to cook it on a regular home stove. I sometimes even make the sauce before heating up the wok, though more often, I hand that over to Paul to mix while I work the wok. It's sort of a tradition after all these years. We even have a particular little stainless steel bowl that we always use to mix the sauce. Weird, I know.
Before getting to the recipe, I'd just like to acknowledge the vendors at the Bethesda Central Farm Market, who were out there on Sunday despite the ridiculously cold weather. It was no more than 25 degrees when I was there around 11 a.m. and was, I'm sure, much colder when the first arrived to set up. I had received an email telling me that the farm stand would be open, so I felt compelled to bundle up and get out there to support them.
(serves 4 - 6)
1 tablespoon peanut or canola oil
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into bite sized pieces
1 onion, diced
2 small (or 1 large) cloves garlic, minced
1 head broccoli (it will be about 4 -6 cups depending on size), cut up into florets and lightly steamed (do not overcook - you want the broccoli to be bright green). I like to have a lot of broccoli so I buy a big head.
6 tablespoons crunchy peanut butter
4 tablespoons low sodium soy sauce
3 tablespoons lemon juice (1 -2 lemons, depending on how large and how juicy)
1 pound whole wheat spaghetti or whatever noodles you prefer
1. Put up a pot of hot water for the noodles you'd like to serve with this.
2. In a hot wok lightly coated with peanut or canola oil, saute chicken pieces over medium-high heat until chicken is just becoming white, about 5 - 7 minutes.
3. Add onion and garlic to the wok and continue to cook until onion is soft and chicken is cooked all the way through (if you're not sure, cut into a piece to see if the inside is no longer pink), about 5 minutes more. If it seems dry in the pan, throw in a splash of low sodium soy sauce.
4. Add broccoli to pan and lower burner to medium-low. Make sure to keep an eye on the pasta water and add the pasta when boiling. When you drain the pasta, reserve 1/2 cup of the water for the sauce.
5. In a small bowl, mix the peanut butter, soy sauce and lemon juice to make a paste.
6. Add peanut butter paste into the wok and mix well, adding 1/4 - 1/2 cup (add 1/4 cup at a time) of the pasta water if you like a looser sauce. Stir until all the broccoli/chicken mixture is well coated and heated through, 1 -2 minutes.
7. Serve over noodles. If you are serving eaters who insist on a little spice, simple pass them the rooster (Sriracha) or other hot sauce.