Chicken with Fresh Pears is an enjoyable summertime stir-fry perfect for weeknights. If you’re looking for traditional Chinese cuisine look elsewhere. This dish, along with many others in Sunset Wok Cook Book (1989), falls squarely in the old school Americanized stir-fry tradition. Stir-frying is an ingenious technique that works well with almost any set of ingredients: perfect for keeping proteins tender and juicy and vegetables bright-colored and crispy. Chicken with Fresh Pears has got a wok and a few Chinese veggies but this is Asian cuisine for the casserole crowd. And it’s absolutely delicious.
I’ve got a soft spot in my heart for dishes like this. Shortly after our first child was born a woman from church brought us young parents an enormous chicken stir-fry. I can’t remember names but I can still see her clear as day: a tall, broad-shouldered redhead with a couple of small kids of her own and a soft-spoken Mexican husband a full head shorter than her. I also remember – twenty-odd years later – the big bright chunks of white meat chicken along with crunchy celery, white mushrooms, and a slightly sweet soy glaze. There’s not an ounce of Chinese heritage between the lot of us and yet her go-to act-of-kindness dish was an enormous chicken stir-fry. God bless America indeed.
The oddball ingredient here (and the one that caught my eye) is the fresh pears, which are added thick-cut and unpeeled to the stir fry towards the end. They’re front and center in the title but contribute texture more than flavor to the final dish. Avoid ripe, soft pears – they’ll just dissolve into the sauce and make it mealy. I used D’Anjou pears – slightly underripe – and think that a good quality Asian pear would be just about perfect. I’ve made a few other adjustments to taste, opting for white wine instead of chicken stock for the sauce, using fresh peas instead of frozen, and subbing richer chicken thighs for breasts. The rest of the dish comes together just as the late 80s intended.
In our house a stir-fry is an all-in one meal. We may serve fresh fruit or a simple salad along side, but usually just a bowl. If you’re feeling particularly non-traditional consider serving this with rice noodles or even on top of a crusty slice of bread. Enjoy!
For the cooking sauce:
- 4 tsp cornstarch
- 2 tsp fresh ginger (finely chopped)
- 2 tbsp soy sauce
- 1 cup dry white wine
For the stir fry:
- neutral cooking oil
- 2-3 lbs boneless, skinless chicken thighs
- 1 tsp chopped garlic
- 2 stalks celery (thinly sliced)
- 3 green onions (cut into two inch pieces)
- 1 6 oz can bamboo shoots (drained)
- 2 pears (firm and slightly underripe)
- 8 oz fresh pea pods (either snow peas or sugar snap will work)
- 4-5 cups cooked long grain rice
- ½ cup salted, roasted cashew pieces
- Mix the ingredients for the sauce. Set aside.
- Trim excess fat from chicken thighs, and cut into bite-sized strips. Set aside. On a separate cutting board, slice pears into strips about the same size as the chicken, leaving the skin-on. Set aside.
- Heat a carbon steel wok over high heat. Add a tbsp of neutral oil until it starts to smoke. Working in batches, stir fry chicken until opaque - about 3 minutes per batch. Add garlic along with the final batch of chicken. Remove chicken and set aside.
- Bring the wok back to temperature and add another tbsp of oil. Stir fry celery, green onion, and bamboo for about 2 minutes. Add pea pods and stir fry one minute more.
- Add chicken and pears back to the wok, along with the cooking sauce. Reduce heat to medium-high. Stir until the sauce boils and thickens, about 2-3 miles.
- Serve over rice and garnish with cashews.