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One of my favorite scenes from the beloved TV series "Seinfeld" hails from the episode entitled "The Chicken Roaster." Kramer is secretly indulging in the fare of a fast-food chicken joint unbeknownst to Jerry Seinfield. One day Jerry is in the eatery when he observes Newman, his sinister yet buffoonish nemesis, ordering a large amount of chicken with a side order of broccoli. Jerry suspects Newman is also ordering food for Kramer, since he knows Newman hates broccoli. He confronts Newman stating: "Newman, you wouldn’t eat broccoli if it was deep-fried in chocolate sauce." Newman, endeavoring to maintain the chicanery espouses his love of broccoli and pops a floret into his mouth to prove Jerry wrong. He reflexively spits it out as he declares "vile weed!" The jig is up and Newman's revulsion of broccoli spurs his confession.
Broccoli seems to be one of those foods that people either love or hate. While the dichotomy isn’t as stark as caviar or anchovies, there nevertheless appears to be a polarization of broccoli between its advocates and its detractors. Newman's antithesis would be Drusius, a son of the Roman emperor Tiberius. It is alleged that Drusius was so obsessed with broccoli that he consumed it until his urine turned green.
Broccoli, whose name derives from the Italian word for "cabbage sprout," is a relative of cabbage, Brussels sprouts and cauliflower. All of them belong to a larger botanical family known as Brassicaceae. The ancestral cabbage that broccoli originated from was first cultivated as early as 6,000 BC. Cabbage grown in Asia Minor, (now modern day Turkey) was probably introduced to Italy and other neighboring Mediterranean states in the 8th century BC. At that time the indigenous peoples of Asia Minor began a migration, eventually settling in Tuscany. At some point after that broccoli evolved. We know that the ancient Greeks and Romans were enamored with it based on the writing of several historical figures of the day.
Catherine de Medici of Tuscany, the seminal influence of French cuisine, most likely exposed broccoli to France when she married King Henry II in 1533. The first mention of its use in England appears in the early 1700's. Later in that century broccoli found its way to America. Thomas Jefferson planted it at Monticello in 1767. Interestingly however, broccoli never caught on in America until the 1920's and wasn't an entrenched feature in our culinary landscape until the 1950's.
Broccoli is available year round. Although usually a dark emerald green, it sometimes can be all or partially purple. The florets are the unopened buds. Avoid broccoli where the flowers have begun to open or display any indications of yellowing. Wilted leaves are also a bad sign. Although best when consumed right away, it can be stored unwashed in a plastic bag in the fridge for up to four days. Broccoli is a good source of vitamins A, B2 and C, as well as iron and calcium.
Broccoli can be boiled or steamed but sautÃ©ing or roasting, (with some olive oil, garlic, herbs/spices), will accentuate the flavor most. The stems are also edible but need to be peeled. The stems require longer cooking so it behooves the cook to give them a head start before the florets. If you must boil your broccoli, remove it the instant it has reached your desired tenderness. Then plunge it into ice water, (known as shocking), or carry over cooking will render it overdone. I like to jazz up boiled or steamed broccoli with butter, salt, and lemon-pepper seasoning. Broccoli can also be used in salads, pasta dishes, cream of broccoli soup, and Chinese stir-fries like the one below.
â€¢ 2 Â½ tablespoons soy sauce, divided
â€¢ 3 tablespoons cornstarch, divided
â€¢ Salt, to taste
â€¢ 1 teaspoon hot chile oil, (optional)
â€¢ 1 lb. chicken breast*, cut into small bite-size chunks
â€¢ Vegetable oil, as needed for sautÃ©ing
â€¢ 12 oz. broccoli florets, halved
â€¢ 1 batch scallions, chopped
â€¢ 3 cloves garlic, chopped
â€¢ 1 teaspoon grated ginger
â€¢ 4 oz. chicken stock
â€¢ 1 tablespoon rice wine
â€¢ 2 teaspoons rice wine vinegar
Whisk two tablespoons of the soy sauce, two tablespoons of the cornstarch, salt and chile oil in a large bowl. Add the chicken, stir and allow to marinate for a 15-30 minutes.
Heat the vegetable oil in a large sautÃ© pan or wok.
Sear the chicken quickly on high heat and set aside.
Add more oil to the pan if necessary, reheat the pan and add the broccoli. Give the broccoli a head start and then add the scallions. When the broccoli is almost browned add the garlic and ginger. SautÃ© for a minute more and then add the chicken stock.
Cover and simmer until the broccoli is crisp/tender, about three minutes.
Whisk the remaining half tablespoon of soy sauce, rice wine, rice wine vinegar and the remaining tablespoon cornstarch.
Remove the lid, add the soy sauce mixture, bring to a boil, and simmer for a minute to reduce.
Serve with white rice.
* An alternative, and traditional way of preparing the chicken is to marinate it in a mixture of egg white and cornstarch.
Whisk two egg whites and two tablespoons of cornstarch with salt and then marinate the chicken.
Add the two tablespoons of soy sauce that would have gone in the first marinade to the end of the dish.
Also Visit Mark’s website: Food for Thought Online
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