Fajita fusion Peking duck becomes Chinese chicken in Mexican tortillas

September 26, 1993|By Marlene Sorosky | Marlene Sorosky,Contributing Writer

When following the recipe for Peking chicken with tortillas tha appeared in Sunday's Food & Home section, be sure to discard any marinade that contained chicken to ensure food safety. The serving sauce is the half of the marinade that was originally set aside and never used on the uncooked chicken.

The Sun regrets the errors.

It's not easy to admit, but finally I've succumbed: Some dishes are best left to restaurant chefs. The first time I watched a waiter roll up succulent slices of duck meat with crisp slivers of mahogany skin and brushes of scallion in a thin hoisin-coated pancake, I knew I was a convert. While the flavors danced merrily around my tongue, I thought about how impressive it would be to make Peking duck in mandarin pancakes for a party.

But that was before I learned the Chinese technique for roasting duck. For starters, air is pumped through the bird to separate the skin from the meat. Then the duck is scalded with hot water and hung overnight to dry. Although this method doesn't fit my concept of easy entertaining, I was determined to duplicate it. I dragged my bicycle pump from the garage and bent some coat hangers -- but to no avail. My duck didn't come close to the Oriental version.

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

So I converted the flavors to a faux rendition. I changed the bird to chicken with a glorious glaze, eliminated the skin, added some condiments and substituted tortillas for the pancakes. The result is a merger of Peking and Puerto Vallarta -- a Chinese fajita.

To begin this East-West fusion feast, offer crudites with Asian peanut dipping sauce. Sweet pea guacamole may sound offbeat when you read the recipe, but it has a perkier color and livelier taste than the avocado genre. Talented chef Michael Roberts is credited with substituting peas for avocado. The Oriental twist is my addition. Besides adding a delicate sweetness, peas offer other advantages: They don't turn brown when mashed ahead, and you can always find them ripe. The marinade for the chicken combines two Oriental sauces found in many supermarkets -- Chinese plum, a sweet sauce resembling a Major Gray-type chutney, and hoisin, a pungent, sweet, bean paste.

When Mexican tortillas enfold strips of Chinese chicken, and guacamole is enlivened with soy sauce and sesame oil, you know you're not in for a stuffy dinner. It may not be traditional, but it's delicious, casual and a breeze to make. The recipe is written for four, but it's a great choice for 40 also. Multiplying the menu is easy: Plan on two tortillas and one to 1 1/4 chicken-breast halves per person. Grilling might be part of the fun during the party, but you can opt to barbecue or broil the chicken ahead, slice it and then reheat it covered in a microwave. Or, for greater flexibility, serve it at room temperature. This makes it a super selection for your picnic basket as well.

Crudites with peanut dipping sauce

Prep time: 15 minutes

Advance prep: Dipping sauce may be refrigerated up to 1 week.

Makes 1 cup of sauce

THE SAUCE:

1 piece peeled fresh ginger (about 1 by 1 1/2 inches)

2 cloves garlic, peeled

1/2 cup peanut butter, chunky preferred

2/3 cup water

1 tablespoon sesame oil

2 tablespoons soy sauce

2 tablespoons rice vinegar

1/2 to 3/4 teaspoon hot chili sauce or hot chili oil, to taste

THE VEGETABLES:

Carrots, celery, jicama, broccoli, cauliflower, zucchini cut into bite- size pieces for dipping

In a food processor with the metal blade, process ginger and garlic until minced. Add peanut butter, water, sesame oil, soy sauce and rice vinegar and process until blended, scraping down sides as needed. Stir in chili sauce or oil to taste. (Sauce may be refrigerated up to 1 week. If it becomes too thick, thin with a little water.) Serve with assorted raw vegetables.

Peking chicken in tortillas

Prep time: 20 minutes

Marinade time: 4 hours or overnight

Grill time: 6 to 8 minutes

Advance prep: Condiments may be refrigerated for several hours.

Makes 4 servings, 2 tortillas per person

4 to 6 boneless skinless chicken breast halves, about 1 1/4 pounds total)

marinade (see below)

8 flour tortillas (about 7 inches)

MARINADE:

3/4 cup Chinese plum sauce (7- or 8-ounce jar)

1/2 cup hoisin sauce

CONDIMENTS:

sweet pea guacamole (see recipe)

8 to 10 green onions, sliced lengthwise into halves or quarters

1 can (8 ounces) sliced water chestnuts, drained and cut into strips

1 cup cilantro leaves, torn into sprigs

1/2 cup sliced radishes

reserved marinade sauce

To marinate: Several hours or the day before serving, cut all fat from chicken breasts, rinse and pat dry. In a small bowl, stir together plum and hoisin sauces. Place chicken in a plastic zipper bag and pour half the marinade over. Marinate in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours, or preferably overnight, turning once to coat evenly. Refrigerate remaining marinade. Meanwhile, make sweet pea guacamole and prepare condiments.

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