You’ve probably been in Asian restaurants where the menu is 30 pages long and there are literally hundreds of items listed. When I was a culinary student I used to wonder, “Isn’t it
expensive to prep for so many different dishes every day?”
Here’s the secret they don’t want you to know: Although there may be hundreds of dishes, they are all combinations of only a handful of basic ingredients. Each dish is a pairing of couple different vegetables (such as onions, peppers, pea pods, etc.), combined with a few kinds of proteins (chicken, beef, pork, shrimp, etc), then served with your choice of starch (white rice, soft noodles, fried noodles).
All are quick cooked in very hot oil, usually in the same wok.
Obviously, there are variations. Sweet and sour chicken is breaded in a tempura batter, deep fried and served with a sweetened vinegar sauce. In egg foo young , vegetables are fried with an egg and flour mixture and served with a brown sauce. Moo shu sauce is made with sweetened plum puree.
But you get the idea.
Which brings us to why stir fry is the ultimate in budget cooking. Open your refrigerator and look around. Maybe you’ve got some leftover chicken, a half an onion and some garden fresh jalapenos. Guess what? You are now in the stir fry business!
Stir fry is one of the best ways to use up whatever leftovers you have laying around. Or you can buy a couple simple items and create an all-new quick and easy meal for your family.
Since I’m already spilling the beans, here are a couple of other stir fry secrets:
- A little goes a long way: If you only have a small amount of leftover protein, you can stretch it out by mixing it with lots of inexpensive vegetables and rice or noodles. Kind of like ancient Chinese hamburger helper.
- Rice and noodles don’t cost anything: Okay, maybe they cost something, but it’s pennies per plate compared to other starches like potatoes or pasta. Filling up a plate with lots of white rice is a tasty and nutritious way to improve your family’s grocery budget.
- Use the same basic marinade: Marinade chicken, pork, beef or shrimp in a little freshly crushed garlic, minced ginger, soy sauce and sesame oil and you will get an Asian influenced meal that won’t bust your wallet. Always keep these items on hand (ginger freezes excellently), and you will always have a quick and easy go-to meal guaranteed to please your family.
- It’s thickened with the cheapest things on earth: Mix 1 TBS corn starch to 1 cup of water (this is called a “slurry”) and add it to your stir fry. Bring it to a boil, reduce heat and let simmer for five minutes and you’ll get a thick, flavorful
stir fry that rivals anything from your local chop suey palace. In fact, that’s
exactly same thing they do!
Want to make your stir fry more exotic? Spend a little more for baby corn cobs, water chestnuts or bamboo shoots. Or stop by the produce section to pick up some enoki mushrooms or bean sprouts. Easier still, during the last minute of cooking, throw in any leftover nuts you have lying around, such as cashews, peanuts or pecans.
Here’s a simple recipe I recently made that incorporates all of these ancient Chinese secrets.
Stir Fry Beef and Broccoli
For the rice:
1 cup dry white rice
2-3/4 cup chicken stock
1 TBS butter or EVOO
Salt and pepper to taste
For the protein:
6 oz leftover cooked flank steak (you can use any beef, chicken or pork you have)
2 cloves crushed garlic
1 TBS minced ginger
1 TBS sesame oil
3 TBS low-sodium soy sauce
1 tsp rice wine vinegar
½ tsp red pepper flake
For the stir fry:
½ red (or white or yellow) onion, sliced
½ yellow, red or green pepper, julienned
1 garden fresh jalapeno, sliced (seeds and ribs included)
½ cup sliced mushrooms (totally optional)
1 small to medium head of broccoli crown, separated
A couple of green onions, sliced at an angle
1 TBS chopped parsley (only because I already had it)
For the thickening agent:
1 cup water or chicken stock
1 TBS corn starch
1. Marinade the beef in the other ingredients between 10 minutes and 24 hours, depending on how much time you have. The longer you marinade, the more flavor will be aborbed by the beef. But don’t worry: all the flavor is going in the pan anyway.
2. Make rice however you prefer. I have a rice steamer, which is SO easy: Just dump in all ingredients, turn it on and forget about it. Perfect every time. Here’s a link to another easy way to cook rice.
3. Heat a large pan over a high flame. When hot, add oil and allow to get smoking hot. Add all the vegetables except the broccoli, scallions and parsley and cook until onions transluscent, about 2 minutes.
4. Add the beef and all the marinade and toss around. Cook until heated through, about a minute. Stir in the broccoli and thickening agent (liquid and corn starch), stir, reduce to low heat and cover. Cook about five minutes, stirring once or twice.
5. For plating, pile white rice in center of pasta bowl. Use a slotted spoon to arrange stir fry beef and broccoli. Garnish with green onions, chopped parsley and maybe a few more red pepper flakes.
Now you know the secret.