Spring! Oh, how I have missed you!
After a couple of weeks of seriously cold and snowy weather, it looks like Punxsutawney Phil’s prediction for an early spring may be coming true. Okay, maybe it is not all that early, but I will take the sunshine any way I can get it!
Here in Colorado the warmer weather and extra-hour of sunshine keeps many of us outside as much as possible. Cyclists are tuning up the bikes, runners are shopping for new shoes, and hikers…well hikers grab the dog and a bottle of water and off they go.
In my house, with Spring comes stir-fry. A quick and easy meal that is perfect after a ride, run or hike. Good protein, yummy veggies, a light, flavorful sauce and some rice make up the basic stir-fry. Your culinary daring and creativity will make them great!
Tips for a Great Stir-fry
Have all of your ingredients ready: Have your ingredients prepped and ready to go. Cut all the ingredients into uniform-sized pieces to help ensure they cook at the same rate. Cutting hard vegetables on the bias (on the diagonal), exposes more surface area to the heat allowing them to cook more quickly.
Use higher heat: At the heart of a good stir-fry is the pan and the higher cooking heat. The higher heat sears the meat and seals in the flavor and quickly cooks vegetables without leaching out much of the healthy nutrients. If the pan being used is nonstick, stick to medium-high heat to prevent damage to the nonstick surface.
Start with the meat then add the veggies: When starting your stir-fry, cook the meat first until it is about 80% done. Be careful not to overcrowd the pan. If your pan is overcrowded, your meat will steam instead of sear. Once the meat is almost cooked, remove from the pan. Then start the vegetables. Start with the dense vegetables like carrots or eggplant and add leafy and fragile vegetables and aromatics toward the end of the cooking time. Add the meat back at the end with any juices that may have developed.
Keep it moving: When the meat gets added, wait a couple of minutes to allow it to sear. Then begin stirring to toss the ingredients. Once the vegetables are added, keep stirring quickly. Vegetables in a stir fry need to be kept moving to keep them from over cooking and getting mushy. If you are adding a sauce, use the sides of your pan. Push the cooked meat and veggies up the sides exposing the bottom of the pan. You will be able to easily create the sauce while keeping the rest of the stir-fry hot.
Serve immediately: Since stir-frys are made up of bite-sized pieces, they will cool quickly. Serve your delicious creation as soon as it is cooked, for best results.
Do you really need a wok for stir-fry? Yes! If you don’t have one, I highly recommend that you get a wok.
Could you create a stir-fry in a saute pan or skillet. Yes, you could. But the wok has an advantage when it comes to a stir-fry: its shape.
The high, concave shape make stirring easier. In a skillet, stirring moves the food from one side of the pan to another. Each stirring motion inside of the wok brings the ingredients up the sides, but allows them to tumble back down into the well of the pan where the heat is concentrated. And while the heat may be concentrated in the well, the sides of a wok heat as well and can be used as a cooking surface, unlike with a skillet or saute pan.
A wok also handles the bulky volume of vegetables or noodles easily. And the deep sides of the wok shape keeps food from spilling out while stirring.
Building Great Flavor
There is no lack of spices and ingredients for great stir-fry. Any good market will usually have a wide variety of spices available. But how do you know which to use? We have put together a list of some of the most common Asian ingredients and some basic information about what they are and how to use them.
- Black bean sauce: a flavorful sauce made from salted, fermented black beans, rice wine and other ingredients like garlic, chile peppers, vinegar and soy sauce. Use sparingly in stir fries and other dishes; a little goes a long way.
- Chinese Five Spice Powder: Traditional ingredients include ground peppercorns, star anise, cloves, fennel, cinnamon. Some versions include ground coriander seeds. This spice powder covers a wide flavor range, from sweet to hot. Use as directed in recipes or sprinkle on meat, fish, poultry and vegetables.
- Edamame (eh-dah-MAH-may): green, immature soybeans either steamed or boiled. Eat only the soft, creamy beans: the pods are tough and inedible. Look for edamame – either still in the pod or shelled – in the frozen food case.
- Fish Sauce: a pungent liquid resulting from the fermentation of fish with sea salt. The fish is often anchovies. Fish sauce has an intense flavor so use sparingly; a little goes a long way.
- Hoisin Sauce: a dark and thick reddish-brown sauce that’s spicy and sweet. It’s main ingredients are fermented soybeans, vinegar, sugar, garlic and spices.
- Kombu: an edible kelp with large leathery leaves used in Japanese and other Asian cuisine. You can find packages of dried kombu online or in natural food stores. Use kombu to flavor dashi, Japanese soup stock.
- Mirin: a sweet, light-colored Japanese cooking wine. To make mirin, glutinous rice and malted rice are mixed with distilled spirits and allowed to ferment for 2 to 3 months. The resulting rice wine is high in sugar (40 to 50%) but low in alcohol (1% to 14%). The Japanese add mirin to fish and seafood dishes to help mask unpleasant or strong fishy aromas. Mirin also adds luster to sauces and glazes. Use sparingly; a little goes a long way.
- Miso: a naturally fermented soybean paste that’s essential to Japanese cooking. Miso is made by fermenting soybeans with salt and a grain such as barley or rice in wooden kegs. The color is a good indicator of the miso’s age and flavor. Lighter colored miso is younger, sweeter and less salty than a darker one that has aged for up to 2 years. Darker miso has a deeper, more assertive and saltier flavor.
- Nori: thin, pressed sheets of dried seaweed commonly used as sushi wrappers or a garnish
- Oyster sauce: a mild sweet and smoky brown sauce made from boiled oysters, oyster extracts, sugar, soy sauce and other seasonings; popular in Cantonese dishes.
- Panko: flaky Japanese bread crumbs used as a coating for tempura and other deep fried foods. Panko is Japanese for “bread crumbs.”
- Plum sauce: Made from salted plums, apricots, vinegar, ginger and chilies. Has a sweet and tart flavor, perfect for dipping spring rolls, fried wontons and other deep fried foods. Texture can be either chunky or smooth.
- Rice vinegar: a vinegar that is milder and more delicately flavored than regular white vinegar. Use rice vinegar to flavor sushi rice or in soups, dipping sauces, salad dressings and other dishes that vinegar.
- Sesame oil or toasted sesame oil: a dark, aromatic oil made from sesame seeds. Use sparingly; a little goes a long way
- Shrimp Paste: a pungent paste made by fermenting shrimp in salt. Shrimp paste is often used in dipping sauces. Cooking the paste first helps tame its strong aroma. Use sparingly; a little goes a long way.
- Soba noodles: Japanese noodles made from buckwheat flour and wheat flour and used in hot and cold dishes. When compared to Italian pasta, soba noodles are about the same thickness as spaghetti.
- Soy sauce, tamari or shoyu: A slightly salty sauce or condiment traditionally made from fermented soybeans and wheat. Wheat-free and low-sodium varieties are also available.
- Sriracha and other chili sauces and pastes: made from a blend of fresh and dried chilies, vinegar and other ingredients like garlic. Amount of heat depends on the chilies used. Consistency varies from pourable sauce to thick paste.
- Tamarind paste: sticky and paste-like edible pulp of the tamarind fruit. Young fruit has a sharp sour taste. In Thai cooking, it’s added to savory dishes like Pad Thai. Riper fruit is much sweeter and used in desserts and beverages. Buy ready-made tamarind concentrates online or in Asian markets.
- Tofu: Soybean curd made by curdling soy milk and then pressing the curds into molds. Tofu by itself tastes quite bland. In recipes, it absorbs the dish’s main flavors. Two main types: silken and pressed. Silken is soft, smooth and creamy and has high water content. Because silken tofu purees beautifully, use it in puddings and smoothies. Pressed tofu is firmer and denser making it more suitable for stir-fries, frying and grilling.
- Udon: thick, chewy Japanese noodles made from wheat flour served hot in noodle soups and other dishes.
- Wasabi: True wasabi is the root of the hard to grow wasabia japonica plant and is often called Japanese horseradish. Although related to horseradish, wasabi belongs to a different botanical family. When we eat that hot green paste served with sushi and sashimi, we are most likely enjoying extra hot horseradish mixed with hot Chinese mustard. If you buy wasabi power, read the ingredient list to see how much true wasabi is actually in the powder.
Lemongrass-Garlic Stir-Fried Pork
6 large cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons fish sauce
2 teaspoons sugar
1-1/2 pounds pork tenderloin, sliced into 1/8″ thick pieces
1/2 cup low-sodium chicken broth
2 tablespoons minced lemongrass
2 tablespoons fish sauce
2 tablespoons Sriracha chili sauce or to taste
4 teaspoons sesame oil
2 teaspoons rice vinegar
juice of 1 lime
2 teaspoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 pound green beans, trimmed and cut into 2″ pieces
1/2 cup low-sodium chicken broth
2 (6-7 ounces each) red bell peppers, cut into 1/4″ slices
2 small (4 ounces each) yellow onion, cut into 1/4″ slices
1 cup fresh basil leaves
In a small bowl, whisk together the garlic, soy sauce, fish sauce and sugar. Add the pork and toss to coat. Set aside.
In a separate small bowl, combine the chicken broth, lemongrass, fish sauce, Sriracha, sesame oil, rice vinegar and lime juice. Whisk to combine. Add the cornstarch and whisk to combine.
Heat a wok over high heat until smoking. Add the canola oil and the green beans and toss to coat. Stir in the 1/2 cup chicken broth, cover, and let the beans steam until they are crisp-tender, 4 to 6 minutes. Transfer the beans to a bowl and cover to keep warm.
In the same wok over high heat, add 2 tablespoons canola oil, the red peppers and the sliced onions and toss to coat. Cook until the vegetables begin to soften, then transfer them to the bowl with the green beans. Add the marinated pork to the wok and cook, stirring often, until cooked through, 4 to 6 minutes. Stir in the sauce and bring to a boil.
Add the cooked vegetables to the pork mixture and toss to coat with the sauce. Stir in the basil leaves and serve immediately with steamed rice.
Makes 4 to 6 main-course servings
Spicy Shrimp and Mango with Snow Pea Salad
2 red onions, sliced
1 tablespoon ginger julienned
1-1/2 tablespoons sambal
1-1/2 pounds large shrimp, peeled and deveined
Juice of 2 limes
2 ripe mangoes, diced
1/2 pound blanched snow peas
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/8 cup rice wine vinegar
1/4 cup canola oil
Salt and black pepper to taste
In a hot wok, coat wok with oil and caramelize onions with the ginger. Season. Add sambal and shrimp and stir fry until just cooked through. Deglaze with lime juice and add mangoes. Check for seasoning. In a mixing bowl, whisk together Dijon, vinegar and oil. Check for seasoning. Toss with snow peas. Place a pile of snow peas in the middle of the plate. Surround with stir fry. Garnish with mango slices.
Leek and Pork Stir-Fry
3 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
2 leek, rinsed and sliced diagonally
2 pounds pork, cut into bite-sized pieces
2 carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
2 celery stalks, cleaned and cut into 1/4-inch pieces
1 Green pepper, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
1 tablespoon garlic, minced
1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons oyster sauce
Salt and pepper to taste
In a wok, heat 2 tablespoons of oil over medium heat. Once oil is hot, fry the pork, in batches, 5 to 8 minutes or until pork is cooked through. Remove pork from wok, and set aside. Add 1 tablespoon to hot pan, add garlic. Sauté garlic 1 to 2 minutes, or until fragrant. Add vegetables, except leeks, and stir fry 7 to 8 minutes, until vegetables are tender-crisp. Add leeks and stir fry 1 to 2 minutes more. Add water, and bring to a boil. Add oyster sauce, and stir to combine. Allow to reduce 3 to 4 minutes, until reaches a sauce consistency. Return pork to the pan and stir to combine. Serve with hot steamed rice.
Grilled Shrimp and Vegetable Stir-Fry
1-1/2 pounds medium-sized shrimp deveined
3 tablespoons soy sauce
3 tablespoons sweet wine
3 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
15 fresh shiitake mushrooms
6 scallions sliced into 2 inch lengths
6 ounces snow peas
6 ounces baby corn
1/2 medium sized onion
2 broccoli stalks
Preheat Cuisinart Non-Stick Grilling Wok on grill to medium heat. Combine and mix soy sauce, sweet wine, and sesame oil in a bowl. Add chopped broccoli, scallions, snow peas, mushrooms, baby corn, and onion and mix well. Transfer vegetables and sauce to wok. Grill the vegetables for 6 to 8 minutes tossing to ensure even grilling. Set vegetables aside on a serving plate. Add shrimp to wok. Grill for 5 to 6 minutes tossing shrimp to grill evenly. Remove from heat and serve with vegetables over a bed of white rice or favorite noodles.
Beef Vegetable Stir-Fry
2 pounds flank steak or sirloin steak
1/3 cup light soy sauce, divided
2 tablespoons Chinese rice wine
2 tablespoons cornstarch, divided
4-1/2 tablespoons garlic, minced
1 pound fresh mushrooms of choice, stems removed, 1/4-inch slices
1-1/2 pound asparagus, trimmed and sliced into 1-inch pieces
1 large red pepper, seeded, sliced
1 large onion, 1/4-inch slices
4 tablespoons peanut oil
1/3 cup oyster sauce
1-1/2 tablespoons garlic-chili sauce
2 cup beef stock, divided
Steamed rice or cooked noodles
Trim excess fat and gristle from flank steak. Place meat into the freezer for 30 minutes to make slicing easier. Remove from freezer, and slice thinly against the meat grain.
In a medium bowl, combine 4 tablespoons soy sauce, rice wine, 1-1/2 tablespoons cornstarch and 2 1/2 tablespoons of garlic. Add beef and toss to coat.
Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in wok or stir fry pan over high heat. Add steak, and cook until just browned. Note: Depending on size of wok, it may be easier to work in batches. Avoid over crowding the pan, you want the meat to be able to sear and cook quickly. Remove immediately and set aside.
In a small bowl, whisk together oyster sauce, garlic, remaining soy sauce, and 1-1/2 cups of beef stock.
In a second mall bowl, whisk together 1/2-tablespoon cornstarch and 1/2-cup beef stock.
Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in wok over high heat. Add onion and garlic, and stir fry for 1 minutes. Add mushrooms and continue to saute 3 to 4 minutes. Add red pepper and asparagus, and stir fry for 2 to 3 minutes, until asparagus is tender-crisp.
Add 2 tablespoons of oil to the wok and 2 tablespoons of garlic. Stir-fry until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add mushrooms and sauté until soft, 3-4 minutes. Add asparagus and stir-fry for 1-2 minutes. Asparagus should still be crisp. Add beef and any meat juices that have gathered. Stir to combine.
Add oyster sauce mixture and bring to a boil. In a slow stream, add cornstarch mixture to thicken sauce, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and serve over steamed rice or noodles.
For these and other recipes, visit CHEFS Recipes
Your Turn: What do you most look forward to cooking in warm weather?