Let us consider the humble stir-fry.
The concept is simple enough – you stir as you fry. Not quite brain surgery.
However, during my 27 years on this planet, I’ve come across quite a few people who seem to find this equation a little perplexing…
I’ve had more than a few friends partake in my stir-fries and the most common comment that I receive is that the dish is full of flavour and texture. The compliment regarding flavour I contribute partially to the stir-fry sauce that I like to use, but texture is something that comes down to one important factor:
All foods take different lengths of time to cook.
See, now that wasn’t so hard, was it?
I quizzed each friend that commented on my stir-fries and there appeared to be a common problem – they were all dumping all the ingredients into a wok at the same time and cooking till the final firm vegetable was cooked…at which point, half of the other ingredients were overcooked.
Anyone who has ever cooked vegetables should understand that capsicum cooks quicker than carrot but slower than snowpeas (as an example), and this is the rule which you should bear in mind when making this dish. The ‘difficult’ part of a stir-fry is the preparation – it might take 15-30 minutes to prepare all the bits and pieces that you want to use, but once they are ready to go, their progression into the wok should be quick and uniform.
From the photo above, you can see the components of today’s stir-fry:
snow peas / mangetout
bok choi (you can see that I’ve actually separated the leafy tops from the stalks since they take different lengths of time to cook)
red & green capsicum
half a rump steak, trimmed of all fat and sinew and finely sliced
6 cloves of garlic, finely sliced
a brown onion, trimmed and cut into 8 segments (not actually in the photo)
I like to brown my main protein (whether beef, chicken, seafood or tofu) in a separate frying pan before adding to a stir-fry, but that really is a personal quirk. A high heat will help you to cook quickly without liquid seeping from the veg into the bottom of the stir-fry and making it ‘soggy’, and veg that takes almost no time to cook (such as snow peas and bok choi) can actually be stirred through once everything else has cooked and the heat has been turned off – the residual heat of the dish will cook these veg during their trip from stove top to the kitchen bench.
Once you have ordered your veg in order of those which take the longest time to cook to those which cook in a heartbeat, you’ll need to actually go ahead with it. Heat up the wok with 1-2 tbsp of oil till it begins to smoke, then add the veg in progression – starting with one and adding the next as soon as the veg in the wok begins to soften.
Whatever you have in the fridge or pantry!
I generally make a stir-fry when I have bits of veg in the fridge…the odd bit of cabbage, a handful of snowpeas, half a capsicum, a few lonely bunches of bok choi. There is no rule and there’s generally no limit – but I’d suggest sticking with vegetables that cook relatively quickly (so root vegetables are generally not great, except for lotus root!)
The other rule with preparing vegetables for a stir-fry is that you want to cut them into similar sized pieces. This is because a stir-fry should be cooked quickly, and ensuring uniform size means they cook quickly and evenly.
Most people flavour their stir-fry with a simple drizzle of oyster sauce, however my preferred is sweet, salty, spicy sauce that can be boiled and bottled up and stored in the fridge for up to a month, ready to flavour any dish which needs a little boost.
1/2 cup kecap manis (sweet Indonesian soy sauce)
1/4 cup oyster sauce
1-3 thai birdseye chillis, finely sliced (depending on how spicy you like your food)
1/4 cup cold water
Combine these into a small saucepan over a low heat and bring to a simmer, allowing to cook until the mixture is reduced by 1/3. Pour into a clean container and store in the fridge for up to a month.
[tags]stirfry, Asian, noodles, beef[/tags]