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Failed kitchen hack teaches that shortcuts not always worth it

The life hack may sound like an ax murderer at the window, but apparently it’s a shortcut. Appealing, if suspect. No advice holds more authority than “never take no cut-offs,” coming, as it does, from a surviving member of the Donner party.

Still, life hacks relentlessly hack into the news feed, suggesting unlikely projects. To wit: Bundt-pan roasted chicken. It may seem obvious to the holder of a fully intact nonhacked life that the Bundt pan is intended solely to bake the prim tea cake. The life hacker counters that the pan is fitted with a center spike and that this spike can be repurposed as a skewer, in the rotisserie tradition.

Intriguing, if faulty, logic.

The Bundt pan can cradle a heap of potatoes, and its center spike is capable of supporting a chicken upright. But the post-roast result — actual life experience teaches — is a chicken crisped rotisserie-golden above the pan-line and soggy and pale below. Also sad potatoes wallowing in the depths. Not a success.

Rejecting the chicken hack, the cook turns to hacked chicken, classic of the Chinese kitchen. The recipe calls for slowly poaching chicken breast, then going after it with an ax, or cleaver. No shortcut, but entirely reliable.

Hacked Chicken

Prep: 15 minutes

Cook: 6 minutes

Wait: 1 hour

Makes: 6 servings

2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breast

1 whole clove garlic

1 chunk (1 inch long) fresh ginger, plus 1/4 cup fresh ginger matchsticks

2 teaspoons kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon whole peppercorns

2 teaspoons sesame oil

4 green onions, white and green portions sliced into very thin 4-inch lengths

1/4 cup peanut oil

2 tablespoons soy sauce

1 tablespoon sherry

2 teaspoons sugar

1. Poach: Settle chicken in a pot in a single layer. Fill with cold water to cover chicken by 1 inch. Add garlic, ginger chunk, salt and peppercorns. Bring to a simmer; simmer, 5 minutes. Cover pot, pull off heat and let rest until warm, about 1 hour.

2. Hack: Pull chicken out of poaching liquid, rinse and pat dry. Hack or shred into fine strips. Toss with sesame oil. Heap chicken onto a serving platter.

3. Crisp: Set a strainer over a small bowl. In a small saucepan, heat peanut oil over medium-high heat. Add green onions and ginger matchsticks. Cook, stirring, until bright and fragrant, 30 seconds. Pour through the strainer. Scatter ginger and scallions over the chicken.

4. Boil: Return oil to the saucepan. Add remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil. Pour this sauce over chicken. Serve at room temperature.

Provenance: Adapted from “The Chinese Cookbook” by Craig Claiborne and Virginia Lee

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