This recipe is adapted from "Chinese Home Cooking" by Helen Chen, which I have borrowed from the public library innumerable times. I love the contrast of the tender chicken and the still-crispy cucumbers, especially with the saltiness of the black bean sauce adorning them both. Garnish it with roasted slivered almonds, if you like. Laura prefers it with Mexican white squash, which offer a milder taste than the cucumbers, rather zucchini-esque. (I've never been much of a vegetable eater, but these days am not only thinking more about my own health and that of my family, but we are discovering the delights of fresh vegetables, and so I often find myself reducing the amount of meat and increasing the vegetables in a dish, as I have done here.)
Chen recommends slicing the chicken to the same flat shape as the cucumbers -- "it takes a little practice to get the technique just right. You can cut the chicken into cubes instead, but the slices make a lovelier dish."
("But I like cucumbers," protested Laura when I set this in front of her just now, and told her that I'd made it with squash instead. "You do? The last time I made this, you told me you didn't!" "I changed my mind after a few minutes, but I forgot to tell you," she explained.)
Stir-Fried Chicken with Cucumbers
1 long seedless cucumber or 1 pound regular cucumbers
1 skinless, boneless chicken breast
3 teaspoons cornstarch
2 teaspoons dry sherry
2 or 3 tablespoons canola, corn, or peanut oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 generous tablespoon black bean sauce
Have all the ingredients ready before you start to cook. (If you want to serve this with rice, start that cooking about 15 minutes before you make the stir-fry, so that everything is ready at the same time.)
Peel and seed the cucumbers, if desired. Slice them on the diagonal 1/2 inch thick. You should have about 3 1/2 to 4 cups. Set aside.
Slice or cube the chicken, putting it into a small bowl, and stir in the cornstarch and sherry. Mix well, and set aside.
Pour the oil into a wok or frying pan, and place the pan over high heat. Add the minced garlic and stir around in the pan until the oil is hot but not smoking; the garlic will sizzle. Stir up the chicken again and add it all to the pan. Stir briskly for 2 to 3 minutes, or until the chicken is opaque but not fully cooked.
Add the cucumber slices and stir another 2 minutes. Toss in the black bean sauce and stir for another 30 seconds, or until the ingredients and flavors are evenly mixed and the chicken is no longer pink inside. Serve hot, over rice if desired.
Serves 4, or about 6 with rice. Active work time, about 15 minutes, not including rice.