Home Again: Scrounging up a Tasty Dinner

By Sandy Hu
The latest from Inside Special Fork

Steve and I returned from Ireland last Tuesday night and I’m still dealing with the eight-hour time difference, sleepy during the day and waking up at odd hours of the night. The first part of my trip was work for my PR consulting client, Ornua Foods North America Inc. (Kerrygold butter and cheeses). The second half, when Steve joined me, was pure vacation and a chance to fall in love with Ireland, on my own free time. You’ll hear more about this beautiful country and its culinary champions beginning next week.

Last week was all about getting our San Francisco life together after being away—back to the usual gardening and housekeeping, making a Frozen cake and cookies for my granddaughter’s birthday party on Saturday, and of course, returning to daily cooking.

Making dinner on the first day back, before grocery shopping, is always a challenge. Scrounging through the freezer found me a package of five chicken thighs and some whole almonds. In the pantry, I always keep a container of dried shiitake mushrooms. I found one onion in my onion basket, some garlic, and miraculously, still viable in the fridge were a few stalks of green onion.

So, a few pantry cooking tips:

  • I always have a supply of chicken parts in the freezer. To defrost, cover the leakproof package in cold water, submerging with a heavy plate on top to keep the entire package under water, and changing the water every 30 minutes. As soon as the chicken is defrosted, refrigerate until ready to use. Follow specific USDA safe thawing instructions.
  • Store nuts in airtight containers in the freezer and they seem to last indefinitely. I always have walnuts, pecans, hazelnuts, macadamia nuts, pine nuts and almonds on hand for baking and cooking.
  • Dried shiitake mushrooms are a flavor booster, not only for Asian dishes, but for pastas, cream sauces and soups. I keep mine in a jar in my pantry to add to dishes that taste flat and need a shot of umami.

Here’s what I made with what I had on hand.

Soy Sauce Chicken with Shiitake Mushrooms, Almonds and Scallions

6 dried shiitake mushrooms
1 ¼ cups boiling water
1 tablespoon oil
4 to 6 chicken thighs
1 onion, halved from top to bottom and sliced from top to bottom, in ¼-inch slices
3 cloves garlic, sliced lengthwise, in 1/8-inch slices
¼ cup naturally brewed soy sauce
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch, dissolved in 2 tablespoons water
1/3 cup slivered, toasted almonds
¼ cup sliced scallions

Rinse dried mushrooms and place in small bowl. Add the boiling water and set aside to rehydrate and soften.

In a skillet large enough to hold chicken in one layer, heat oil over medium heat. Dry chicken thighs well with paper towels, add to skillet and brown well, turning once, about eight minutes total. Cover skillet with lid when fat begins to sputter too much.

When chicken is browned, turn off heat, remove chicken and set aside. Drain fat, leaving 1 tablespoon in the skillet. Heat remaining fat over medium heat, add onion and garlic and cook, stirring, until onion is wilted, about 5 minutes. Remove onion and garlic and set aside.

Squeeze water from mushrooms, reserving mushroom soaking water. Trim off mushroom stems and quarter mushrooms. Add mushrooms and mushroom soaking water, soy sauce and sugar to the same skillet, and bring to a simmer. Return chicken, skin-side down, onion and garlic to skillet and simmer, covered 5 minutes. Turn chicken skin-side up and simmer 5 to 10 more minutes until chicken is cooked through. Test to see if chicken is done by cutting the thickest piece with a knife, to the bone; juices should run clear.

When chicken is cooked, add cornstarch mixture to skillet and simmer, stirring, until liquid is thickened, about 1 to 2 minutes.

Serve chicken with a sprinkling of almonds and scallions, dividing equally.

Makes 2 to 3 servings, two thighs each.


  • If you don’t have a large skillet with a cover, you can use a covered pot, cooking the chicken in batches—do not crowd the pot or the chicken will steam and not brown.
  • To toast almonds, put them on a plate, spreading them out, and microwave 30 seconds at a time, stirring after each 30 seconds, until nuts are fragrant. Nuts will not crisp until cooled.
  • Use naturally brewed soy sauce, such as Kikkoman; nonbrewed soy sauce doesn’t have the same smooth, mellow taste of the naturally brewed product.
  • This recipe was tested with 5 chicken thighs, the amount that fit in a single layer in my 10-inch skillet.

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Posted: Jun 5th by Sandy_Hu