Friday, November 21, 2008

Stir Fry: General Reference and Pointers

Vague Sense of Ingredients:
Sauce components (see directions below)

2 or 3 Tbsp oil (see directions below)

2 Tbsp garlic, minced
1 Tbsp fresh ginger, peeled and grated or minced
1 cup onions, sliced
Cauliflower or broccoli, cut into bite-size florets
2 or 3 scallions, sliced or minced
Bell peppers, sliced (I prefer orange, yellow, and red)
Carrots, julienned
Meat (or meatish component!):
Boneless chicken, beef, or pork, rinsed and patted dry, cut into chunks
Ddok, cut into chunks or slices
Barely cooked optional touches:
Water chestnuts, sliced
Bean sprouts
Bamboo shoots

Directions and Loose Tips:

Whisk a mixture in a bowl to later coat the stir fry using a bit of sesame oil, soy sauce, fish sauce if you're feeling adventurous, Asian sauces at your discretion (I like fermented black bean, Szechuan, garlic, hoisin, orange, etc), and sugar. Optionally, you can add 1/4 cup stock and corn starch as a thickener as well.

Swirl 1 Tbsp oil in a wok over high heat. Add half the garlic and half the ginger, stirring, and cook about 15-30 seconds. Add the onion and cook, stirring, about 2 minutes. Add broccoli or cauliflower and scallions and cook over high heat until it browns and becomes tender but not at all mushy, about 5-7 minutes.

Remove vegetables from heat, add another 1 Tbsp oil if necessary, and cook the other vegetables similarly quickly at high heat, grouping them by toughness so everything has the right texture. Remove.

Turn heat to medium, swirl 1 Tbsp oil, and add remaining garlic and ginger. Stir, the add the meat and/or ddok. Raise heat to high, stir meat once, then let it sit for 1 minute before stirring again. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the meat has lost its pinkness, 3-6 minutes.

If you're like me and make enough that it doesn't all fit back in the wok to coat with the sauce you've made, take a huge sauce pot and stir it together under low heat that way. Toss in the cashews and other barely-cooked optional ingredients (if using) to lightly toast them, then add everything including the sauce and combine. Season with salt and pepper if necessary.

Serve over rice. I use a rice cooker for this, because stir fry is too hectic (lots of abrupt, short but crucial timing steps) to be timing white rice perfectly the normal way.

Personal Note: This is loosely based on Mark Bittman's guideline recipe, with the things my father taught me interjected. I've spent something like a decade making stir fry, both bad (I've totally flopped a bunch of times on my own) and good (Tasty! Where it makes takeout seem like paying someone to make me mac n cheese--it can be that good and easy). Now on my own I'm slowly learning how to make it open-ended but foolproof. That's why I'm finally posting some sloppy go-to reference for myself, so I don't forget what I've learned so far.

A few things:

Make sure your meat is really cut small enough and has been patted very DRY.

Keep your wok HOT and use as little oil as possible to maintain that heat.

Simplify the sauce--at first I was putting a little of every kind I had in, and the results were very underwhelming, I guess because it all cancels each other out. So now I'm not afraid to make a stir fry that is a bit more one dimensional but with big returns on actual flavor, with one sauce the major component and maybe just a dab of a couple other complementary things.

And maybe most important of all, don't be afraid to do the vegetables separately based on "toughness" class--it seems frustrating, like it defeats the purpose of stir fry (simple, quick, zap-fast cooking), but it makes a huge difference. If you're not willing to do like vegetables with like, you may well end up with soggy onions and peppers but barely cooked cauliflower and carrots.

Which reminds--the worst thing is soggy stir fried vegetables. Err on the side of "al dente"-ish, toothy crunch. Bittman talks about parboiling the cauliflower, and I just don't see it. I like it with a faint crunch though. Besides, you want things tender but firm--how else will they stand up to being microwaved as 3 a.m. leftovers? ;)

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