How to Stir Fry!

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Stir frying is something I do quite often in my kitchen. For one thing, Asian stir fries, with traditional ingredients, are simple and delicious. Secondly, they’re quite healthy, because of the lovely balance of meat or seafood and vegetables. They’re also a good use for leftover meat and vegetables, and mostly, I love them because no recipe is required.

It does help to be familiar with Asian ingredients. My stir fries are more on the Chinese side, but add some fish sauce and you’ve got yourself a Thai stir fry! As I have said before, you can certainly follow recipes, but I often cook the inspired way. That is, being familiar with the traditional ingredients of a cuisine, and using those in your dish. It may not be a perfect stir fry according to Chinese chefs and grandmothers, but no Chinese food police are coming to my kitchen to arrest me any time soon!

First, it’s important to have the basics – onion, garlic, and ginger. These can be part of the stir fry, or used in a marinade. If I do marinate meat before a stir fry, I only use a little peanut oil or olive oil – enough to blend the aromatics. Liquid additions are wonderful, but then the meat has to be patted dry before cooking. An oily marinade is just easier.

The seasonings for stir fries are easy to find, fortunately. Soy sauce, mirin, rice vinegar, sherry, sesame seed oil, chile paste, hot sauce, and hoisin sauce. Other optional ingredients include fermented bean paste, shrimp paste, plum sauce (which I don’t care for) and oyster sauce.

One Chinese seasoning is called Chinese 5-Spice, which, obviously, is a mixture of spices – cinnamon, ginger, cloves, star anise, and pepper. I’ve noticed that some also contain fennel. As with most spice and herb mixtures, I hesitate to use them. Just like using a purchased curry powder, every dish you make will end up tasting the same. For this dish today, I just want the meat, vegetables, and seasonings to shine. But use the spice mixture if you like it!
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The protein used in a stir fry has to be good quality and quick cooking. For example, I wouldn’t use beef or pork that requires 4-6 hours of cooking. I’m talking beef and pork tenderloin, chicken thighs and breast, scallops and shrimp.

When it comes to vegetables, anything goes, unless you are expecting the Chinese food police to show up. Of course there’s traditional bok choy, Chinese cabbage, Chinese eggplants, snow peas, and so forth, plus ingredients that play a minor role like bean sprouts, dried mushrooms, chile peppers, water chestnuts, bamboo shoots, and cilantro. But if you want to use carrots and broccoli, you can make a delicious stir fry as well. Or spinach and tomatoes!

The only requirement of a stir fry is that all the different components are cooked properly at the very end when all of they are all tossed together. So if you’re using carrots and broccoli, steam-cook them first until almost completely tender, then add them to the cooked meat at the end. Perfection! Spinach and tomatoes wouldn’t require any pre-cooking. It’s all about common sense.

Here is the stir fry that I made using what was in my refrigerator one night. Enjoy, and make sure to customize it to your tastes and ingredients!

Beef and Vegetable Stir Fry

1 1/2 pounds cubed beef tenderloin
1/2 cup olive or peanut oil
5 cloves garlic, peeled
1 – 1 1/2″ piece fresh ginger, coarsely chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 pound sugar snap peas or snow peas
1/3 cup soy sauce
3/8 cup mirin
1 tablespoon hoisin sauce
1 teaspoon sesame seed oil
2 medium onions
2 medium red bell peppers
Fresh cilantro, chives, or chile pepper slices

Drain the beef well on paper towels, then place the cubed beef in a large bowl or re-sealable bag. I used the ends of a whole beef tenderloin, from which I had cut filet mignon slices, which is why the “cubes” are different shapes. The volumetric uniformity of the cubes is what’s important in a stir fry. Mine are on the large size, but uniformity is what’s critical.

Add the oil, garlic, ginger, and salt to a jar of a small food processor.
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Process until smooth, then pour over the meat.
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Toss the meat, or bounce it around in the bag to make sure the beef is uniformly coated with the flavorful oil. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight.

Bring the meat to almost rooom temperature at least an hour before beginning the stir fry.

When you’re ready, begin by trimming the peas, if necessary, and steam them just until crisp-tender. For me, this was 5 minutes of steaming. Snow peas are thinner and would require less cooking time. However, cooking time also depends on how crisp you like your vegetables.


Let the peas cool. If you think you have overcooked the peas, or any vegetable for that matter, toss a cup full of ice over the vegetables in a colander. This will cool them off faster, and the melted ice will drain away. Set the peas aside.
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In a measuring cup, measure out the soy sauce, mirin, hoisin sauce, and sesame see oil. Whisk the mixture, and set aside.
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If you’re not familiar with hoisin sauce, I’d suggest buying some. You don’t need much for fabulous flavor. It’s just a soy bean paste. There are different qualities and brands. This is the one I can find locally, but when I have the opportunity to visit an Asian market, I buy more “authentic” brands.
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Slice the onions and peppers to your liking. I like more of a wedge look. Have these in a bowl nearby.
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Have everything you’re going to use in your stir fry near the stove. A lot about Chinese cooking, much like all cooking, is to have everything on hand during the cooking process. It’s mise en place on crack, because things can move quickly

To begin, heat a large skillet or wok over high heat. Add about 1 tablespoon of oil* and just when it begins to smoke (have your ventilation system on) add a handful of cubed beef. Let them sit for a minute, before tossing around, then leave them alone for another minute or two. Get the cubes to the point where all sides show browning, but don’t allow any further cooking. Remember, there will be a little cooking boost at the end.


Remove the beef with a slotted spoon, then continue with the remaining beef.
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When you are done with the browned beef, lower the heat on the stove by about half. Add the onions and peppers, and saute them, tossing them around occasionally to create some caramelization.

If you want them cooked softer, you can put a lid on the skillet/wok for about a minute.


when you’re happy with the “cook” of the onions and peppers, add the peas and toss gently.
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Then add the beef cubes and any juices that might have accumulated in the bowl.
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Immediately pour in the seasoning mixture, and combine it gently. Stir occasionally, to make sure the beef cooks through to your liking. Mine, of course, will end up medium-rare.
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If the stir fry seems like it has too much liquid, remove the beef and vegetables, using a spider sieve, and place in a large serving bowl. Then reduce the liquid in the skillet/wok.
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Pour the reduced liquid over the stir fry, toss gently, and serve.
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Most people enjoy rice with their stir fries, but I prefer it as is.

Serve the stir fry with chile paste or sriracha or even cayenne pepper flakes for those who want a boost in heat. I’ve also included dried chile pepper slices, and you can always serve black or white sesame seeds for a pretty topping.
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* You may not need any extra oil if you have enough extra oily marinade. Make sure to use all of the marinade in the stir fry for extra flavor.
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note: Some recipes call for cornstarch to thicken the final sauce for a stir fry, but I don’t bother. If you’re not careful, the sauce will become gloppy, which reminds me of bad Chinese American restaurant food.

Spicy Pork with Sweet Potato Hash

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One often reads about dry rubs when looking at barbeque recipes, because it’s quite common to dry rub a pork loin or a brisket before being placed in a smoker. But a rub, which is typically a mixture of spices and herbs, doesn’t have to be rubbed onto meat days before serving, or only used when smoking. In fact, in a way, coating a whole chicken with lots of herbs, spices, salt and pepper is essentially a rub. The reason it’s traditionally called a dry rub is that it’s not a paste or a more liquid marinade. Just dry seasoning.

A rub is a wonderful way to add flavor to meat, even meat that takes very little time to prepare. Today I’m cooking two pork tenderloins, and using chili powder for the rub. Yes – just chili powder – the mix used in chile con carne.

The brand of chili powder I like is from Penzey’s. But of course, all you have to do is mix together paprika, cumin, coriander, oregano, garlic powder, onion powder, cayenne, salt, and black pepper, and you’d end up with the same mixture, essentially. Plus, you can adapt it to suit your taste, like add chile pepper powders, for example, like ancho and chipotle.

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The pork I’m using is Berkshire pork purchased from D’Artagnan.

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I first let the pork tenderloins come to nearly room temperature. Meanwhile, set your oven to a good roasting temperature. I have a “roast” setting on my oven, but roasting usually involved about 400 degrees, at least for about 15 minutes, and then the temperature of the oven can be reduced. The important thing with pork tenderloin, as with all meat, is to cook it properly.

I never let pork tenderloin’s internal temperature go beyond 155 degrees Farenheit. Some people don’t like the hint of pink, and go with 165 degrees. That is just personal preference.

Place a little olive oil in a roasting pan large enough to accommodate the tenderloins.
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Generously sprinkle on the chili powder, rotate the tenderloins in the oil, and sprinkle on more chili powder.
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Make sure the tenderloins are coated with oil and the seasoning mixture. I always tuck under the smaller ends of the tenderloins.
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If you were to be picky, this really isn’t a dry rub since since the tenderloins are coated in oil, but because this meat is very lean, I wanted the oil. Plus, it just helps the seasoning stick.

Place the pan in the oven and roast until done.

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Immediately place the tenderloins on a cutting board and let them sit for about 15 minutes before slicing.

Meanwhile, make the sweet potato hash by adding a little oil to a large skillet and adding some diced bacon.

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Cook only part way, then add some finely diced onion to the bacon.

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After sauteing the mixture for just a couple of minutes, add grated sweet potato. Season with salt and white pepper.
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Use a medium setting, but adjust the heat accordingly. Toss the sweet potato with the bacon and onions, and then let the sweet potato cook, undisturbed, for a couple of minutes. Turn the mixture over; there will be minimal browning, but the sweet potato is cooking. You know if you’re at too high of heat if the bacon and sweet potato burn.

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Add a little butter and let it melt. After a couple of undisturbed minutes, flip over the sweet potato hash again.
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It should be nicely browned. If you feel more cooking is required, continue at a medium-to-low setting, or place a lid over the skillet. However, if you want any crispness to the hash, give it a little browning right before serving.

Slice the pork tenderloin.
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Serve with the sweet potato hash, and a green vegetable like Brussels sprouts.

I used some of the “jus” from the roasting pan and drizzled it over the pork for extra flavor. It was not oily at all.
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For people who need recipes for simple, quick meals, this one fits the bill. As soon as the oven is preheated, in goes the pork tenderloin with a spicy coating. During the short time in the oven, no more than 30 minutes, the sweet potato hash is done. Easy, flavorful, and fabulous for fall!