Chicken Dinners: Polynesian Chicken

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A retro sweet and sour chicken. [Photograph: Yvonne Ruperti]

When I was little there was a very special Pacific Island-themed restaurant in my town that we reserved for special occasions or for when my grandmother was in town and was ready to splurge. Called Polynesian Village, it was so awesomely '50s kitsch and definitely the most exotic restaurant around. I especially liked pulling out the rolled-up Chinese newspaper from the little paper umbrellas that sat on top of my virgin mai tai. The front facade was a giant wooden A-frame, and the dimly lit interior was decked out with rough hewn wood beams, fake palm trees, scary faced carved totem poles, and glowing tiki lamps. Here, we'd order the types of dishes that my family loved: flaming pu pu platters, shrimp toast, and sweet and sour chicken. Crispy pieces of fried chicken with pineapple and red peppers, all glazed with a neon red tangy-sweet sauce. A dinner entrée that was also sweet? I'll take it! My ten-year-old taste buds were in heaven.

Since those days I've found I'd rather have a salt lick than a sugar cube, so I've only eaten sweet and sour chicken a few times (one being a frozen lean cuisine TV dinner or something). The day-glo sauce from the take-out Chinese joints is also a real put-off.

But recently, for some unbeknownst meaning, I've been hankering for a sweetish type of chicken dinner. (Actually, the most sensible explanation is that I'm turning into a sugar addict from working on my baking cookbook.) I wanted to make a dish that was similar to the one that I enjoyed as a kid, but without the additional deep fry.

As stir fries usually go, this one is a quickie. Cubes of chicken are first cooked in pineapple juice and then set to the side. Red onion, snow peas, red bell pepper, pineapple, ginger, and cashew nuts are quickly cooked and then the whole thing gets sauced with a sweet-tart sauce. Rice vinegar provides the tang, and brown sugar adds the sweet. Soy sauce adds balance and the secret ingredient, tomato paste, adds umami flavor and a tinge of color. I was torn whether or not to add some heat here, such as chili flakes or fresh chilies, but decided to leave it out and let the sweet and sour flavors be the star.

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Polynesian Chicken »

About the author: Yvonne Ruperti is a food writer, recipe developer, former bakery owner, and author of The Complete Idiot's Guide To Easy Artisan Bread. You can also watch her culinary stylings on the America's Test Kitchen television show. She presently lives in Singapore as a freelance writer for Time Out Singapore. Check out her blog: shophousecook.com. Follow Yvonne on Twitter.

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