Thursday, February 16, 2012

Stir-Crazy Stir-Fry

Fire by The Jimi Hendrix Experience
Things are going to get hot in the kitchen today!  So, of course, I need a song that echoes that mood.  Jimi comes through PERFECTLY with this song.  This song has a driving beat and lots of energy AND it talks about fire.  This is stir-frying in a nutshell.  High heat, quick cooking times, and quick stirring and/or the tossing of food!  Stir-frying is fun!!!  And I'm happy to have Jimi by my side today!

I've made stir-fry for years.  We received a wok as a wedding gift and I set about using it the best I knew how.  Hmmm.  

Let me just say that it has taken DECADES for me to get the patience part of cooking down.  I always wanted to just get it over with so I'd just lob everything into whatever cooking vessel I was using, apply heat, and then cook to submission!  There was no finesse - no understanding of the nuances of cooking.  And it ultimately ended up taking longer to cook than had I done it right to begin with.

During the last quarter of culinary school I was able to learn the simplicity and joy of a proper stir-fry.  In case you've been serving steamed veggies and boiled meat, like I used to, I'll let you in on what I learned.

Proper preparation is paramount.  Stir-frying is more about the preparing of the food than the actual cooking of it.  The reason you are able to cook the foods so quickly is because they are supposed to be cut in thin strips, in uniform size.  

When adding meats, such as chicken, beef, or pork, they should be cut on the bias in long thin strips.  It's easiest to do this if you cut it while it's a bit frozen.   Marinades add wonderful flavor and help tenderize the meat.  Because shrimp already cooks quickly, you just need to shell and devein them.  If the shrimp are large, though, I'd either cut them in smaller pieces or butterfly them.  

Next, choose your vegetables.  I choose mine almost strictly based on color.  You really want a vibrant palette - it's the most important appeal of a stir-fry!  Just look at this beautiful color display!
Red, purple, yellow, orange, and greens - it's going to be deliciously beautiful!  

After you've prepare these veggies for the cooking process they should be all lined up something like this ~
Long thin strips, celery and green onions cut on the bias to create length and interest.  I love that I can find the carrots already julienned in the produce department at my store.  If you're not a fan of chopping, you can certainly use a mandolin.  It's worth it to invest in one that is really sharp, though!  It's maddening to work with a dull mandolin!
(That glove is called a cutting glove, made to be used with knives.  I find it very helpful when using my mandolin as well!)

Essential to the flavor profile of a stir-fry are these three ingredients - cilantro, fresh ginger, and garlic.
 I like to scrape the brown skin from my ginger root and store it in a baggie in the freezer.  When it's time to add, I pull out my microplane and zest the ginger across the top of the contents of the pan.  Ginger root can be very fibrous.  In a frozen state, it's easier to cut across the fibers and create a beautiful dusting of ginger that permeates its flavor throughout the dish.  It's just not the same without it!  Ginger is potent - you don't need very much!

With your meat prepared and your veggies and herbs prepared, you are ready to start the show!  IT IS IMPOSSIBLE TO DO A PROPER STIR-FRY IF YOUR FOOD ISN'T ALREADY CUT AND READY TO GO!!  Please don't think you're going to be able to cut as you go.  In order for the veggies to maintain their crispness they have to be seared quickly and served at once.  If they are made to wait, they wilt and lose color.  This is the patience part of cooking!

"Let me stand next to your fire!"

Get your pan hot, hot, hot!  Then stream in a quick swirl of vegetable oil.  I just make a swoop around the sides of the pan and call it good.

Add the meat in small batches so the pan doesn't cool down too much and you can maintain that sear.  Toss the meat to coat with oil and stir!  Keep it moving!  You are just getting a good color on the outside - a quick sear - 1 - 2 minutes is all.   Remove and let set aside while you finish with the veggies.  You do the meat first because it's more forgiving than the veggies.  It also allows it some resting time to cook a little further.

Making sure that the pan has kept it's high heat, add the veggies in order of their hardiness, tossing or stirring and coating with the oil after each addition.  Season lightly with salt.  If necessary, add a little oil, but add it by running it down the sides of the pan allowing it to sneak in under the veggies.  

I usually start with the celery and follow with the carrots, peppers, and red onions.   I save the red cabbage for towards the end because it tends to bleed and become dull otherwise.  Remember, you are stirring and/or tossing as you go!  Green onions go in next, followed by the garlic, fresh ginger, and cilantro.  As soon as the garlic becomes fragrant, I add the yakisoba noodles, toss and stir,  and do a quick turn around the pan with some soy sauce and a small dash of sesame oil.  I add the meat back in, give it all a quick toss to mix, taste for seasoning, and out to the serving dishes they go!  I add some green onions and cilantro to garnish and we dig in!

The aftermath of a very satisfying adventure!
"Yeah, I like it like that!"

2 T. miso paste
1 T. mirin
1 T. soy sauce
1 garlic clove, minced
1 T. sugar

Place ingredients in a plastic bag and smush together.  Add the sliced meat and seal the bag, working out excess air.  Using your hands, work the marinade into the meat, trying to get it coated as thoroughly as possible.  Store in refrigerator for at least an hour.  This is enough marinade for 8 oz. of meat.

Choose an array of vegetables that are colorful, trying to include as many different colors as possible.  Some suggestions:
red cabbage
bell peppers - red, orange, yellow
red onion
snow peas
green onions, for cooking and garnish
ginger root
cilantro, for cooking and garnish

You will also need:
vegetable oil
soy sauce
sesame oil

Other delicious additions:
black bean sauce
sambal oelek (spicy chili paste - a little dab'll do just fine)

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