I love to cook but I don’t like having to do it every day. After the holidays, I am ready to give my stove, my oven, and most of all, myself, a rest. I propose No-Cook January. Or at least, very little cooking. Last week, we had take-out three times, and we ate for free. If you think in terms of “What can I take out of the freezer or pantry?” you can eat without having to buy much of anything new. Added bonus, you’re cleaning and organizing your freezer and pantry in the process. Plus, you are helping to eliminate food waste.
Scan your pantry before you make your grocery list. You are sure to discover things you forgot about or may be about to expire. Check your freezer so you can allow time for things to defrost. Get creative with what you have and plan your meals accordingly. If you find a frozen casserole, you get the night off.
I discovered some chicken thighs, but they were frozen solid. After a few hours in the fridge, they hadn’t changed much, but I was able to get them out of their packaging and into a leak-proof resealable bag. According to the USDA, you can safely thaw meat packaged this way by submerging it in cold tap water, changing the water every 30 minutes as it continues to thaw. A pound of meat may take an hour or less, which mine did, but know that any food thawed this way should be cooked before refreezing.
With my thawed chicken thighs I made Three-Cup Chicken, a quick stir-fry that was almost like not cooking at all. Three-Cup Chicken is a simple Taiwanese recipe that is fast, flavorful and easy to prepare. Aromatic and delectable, it was exceptionally well-seasoned and satisfying for something so simple. Served with a side of white or brown rice and some steamed mixed vegetables, it will rival any take-out dish. And be a lot easier on your wallet.
There are many variations on this recipe, but this version leans heavily on ingredients you might already have on hand. From the pantry, you’ll need dried red peppers (or red pepper flakes), light brown sugar, and rice wine or dry sherry, which is what I used. From your fridge, sesame oil and light soy sauce, or Tamari, if you’d like to make this gluten-free. You’ll also need 12 cloves of garlic, a large piece of ginger, 4 scallions and 2 cups of fresh Thai basil or regular basil leaves, some of which you may already have in your crisper drawer. I used much less of the basil, only adding about a handful right before serving. Oh, and the chicken thighs, which I am guessing you may have stashed away in your freezer.
Definitely prep all of your ingredients ahead, because once you start to cook, this recipe comes together very quickly. I only had toasted sesame oil on hand, which is better for finishing your dish. If you don’t have sesame oil, use any thin oil with a higher smoke point, such as grapeseed, canola or avocado for your stir-fry, then finish with a drizzle of toasted sesame oil at the end.
The recipe instructs to scrape the aromatics to the sides of your wok, but if you are working with a skillet, just remove them onto a plate while you cook the chicken. If you want your scallions to remain intact, remove them right after they are cooked for the 2 minutes at the beginning, otherwise they will wilt and turn dark. Add them back in at the end with the basil and they will be vibrant and perky at serving time. I decided to just remove all of the aromatics since I was using a skillet.
Here’s to No-Cook January. May you find plenty of opportunities to not cook, but still eat, at home.
- 3 Tablespoons sesame oil
- 1 2-to 3-inch piece of ginger, peeled and sliced into coins, approximately 12 pieces
- 12 cloves of garlic, peeled
- 4 whole scallions, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
- 3 dried red peppers or 1 teaspoon red-pepper flakes
- 2 pounds chicken thighs, cut into bite-size pieces
- 1 Tablespoon light brown sugar
- 1/2 cup rice wine (or pale dry sherry)
- 1/4 cup light soy sauce, or Tamari for gluten-free
- 2 cups fresh Thai basil leaves or regular basil leaves
Heat a wok or large skillet over high heat and add 2 tablespoons sesame oil. When oil shimmers, add ginger, garlic, scallions, and peppers; cook until fragrant, approximately 2 minutes.
Scrape aromatics to the sides of the wok, or remove if using a skillet. Add remaining oil and allow to heat. Add chicken, and cook, stirring occasionally, until it is browned and crisping at the edges, approximately 5 to 7 minutes.
Add sugar and stir to combine, then add the rice wine and soy sauce and bring just to a boil. Lower heat and simmer, until sauce has reduced and started to thicken, approximately 15 minutes.
Turn off heat, add basil and stir to combine. Serve with white rice.
-adapted from recipe by Sam Sifton