Bits and Bites: Stir Fry

My wife and I are fans of Cooks Illustrated. We bought a boxed set of the first ten years of bound volumes after getting back from our honeymoon back in 2003. Since then, we’ve added most of the individual volumes. I’ve always found their approach appealing as it strikes me as the way a scientist would go at a problem. Cooking as chemistry rather than art. It’s a good grounding in cooking. I’ve learned to indulge my creative side too.

One criticism of CI is that the recipes can be ridiculously involved. We have some vegetarian friends and so I make a vegetarian friendly stuffing for Thanksgiving. The vegetarian stock in CI is over the top. Two pounds of veggies and an hour of cooking to produce one quart of stock. REALLY??? I’ve simplified it a bit and double the amount of stock that I get out of it.

One of our favorite books is The Simple Recipe, from the same folks. The idea is to take the ridiculously complicated recipes and simplify them for every day cooking. It still takes time, but works for a weeknight meal. When it comes to throwing together a balanced meal, my most serious failing is in not making a side dish to balance out the meal. It’s too easy to just serve the main course with a starch. One pot meals have a nice way of handling this problem. Veggies included!

This brings me to my recipe of the week: stir fry. Everything is in one pan, so there’s no need to do anything on the side. Get some rice going, chop up some meat and veggies (or use a bag of frozen veggies), and you’re good to go. This does not, however, mean throw everything into a pan. Different veggies take different cooking times. Plus, if you crowd the pan, those veggies are going to throw off enough liquid to drown your meal. What I really like about the Quick Recipe approach is that it’s broken up so that everything has a chance to cook, not too much, and you throw it all together in the end. The meat marinates while you get everything else ready.

Here’s the general approach.

Step 1. Cut up ¾ of a pound of meat (or tofu) into bite sized pieces and combine with 2 teaspoons each of soy sauce and sherry. Not being English, I don’t often have sherry on hand, so I use white wine (if I don’t have it on hand, I’ll run over to Unwined).

Step 2. Combine a tablespoon of minced ginger, another of minced garlic, some chopped green onions (white parts), and a couple teaspoons of oil. Peanut oil is really good for stir fries as it has a high smoke point. Safflower and sunflower oils are a good alternative.

Step 3. Chop up 1 ½ pounds of veggies. They’ll need to be separated by how they cook. Spinach is going to get added in at the last moment. Carrots and onions go in early.

Step 4. Heat 2 teaspoons of oil in a 12” nonstick skillet (another thing I love about this method—no wok) until smoking. Add the marinated protein and cook, stirring occasionally, until browned. It’ll probably take 2 – 3 minutes. Less for shrimp (unless you’re a fan of chewing polyurethane). Transfer to a clean bowl.

Step 5. Cook the veggies. Add a bit more oil to the pan and heat until shimmering (not smoking!). Add the slower cooking veggies to the pan and cook until nearly done (tender, but a bit crisp). Move the veggies to the side, add a bit more oil, and add the quick cooking veggies.

Step 6. Clear out the center of the pan and toss in the garlic/ginger mixture. Cook for about a minute, mashing a bit, and then stir all the veggies together. Add the protein back in and stir to combine. Toss in ½ cup of sauce and serve over rice.

It’s time for me to add a note regarding sauces. This should be step 2.5. But hey, there’s some decent sauces that you can buy in the supermarket. This is, after all, supposed to be a weeknight meal. Their sauces are pretty easy to put together. One common theme is cornstarch as a thickener. In case you’re obsessive like me, here’s a few of my favorites.

Garlic Sauce

3 T. dry sherry

3 T. chicken broth

2 T. soy sauce

½ t. sesame oil

1.5 t. minced garlic

1 t. cornstarch

½ t. sugar

Hot and Sour Sauce

3 T. rice wine vinegar*

2 T. chicken broth

2 T. dry sherry

1 T. soy sauce

1 T. chili paste

1 t. sesame oil

1 t. sugar

1 t. cornstarch

*You can sub other vinegars, but cut it back as the rice wine vinegar is pretty low in acidity

Lemon Sauce

Zest and juice from one large lemon

2 T. chicken broth

2 T. dry sherry

1 T. soy sauce

2 t. sugar

1 t. cornstarch

½ t. black pepper

I’ll throw in a couple of my favorites. The basic template is adaptable to whatever you’ve got in the crisper. Okie and I chatted recently. She had a few ingredients available, but was lacking in inspiration. That had me going stir fry!

One of my favorites is beef and broccoli. I didn’t realize until well into my 40s that broccoli stalks were something you should enjoy. I figured you cut off the florets and discarded the rest. Here’s a recipe that I hope might convince you likewise.

Beef & Broccoli in Garlic Sauce

¾ pound thinly sliced flank steak

1 ½ pounds broccoli—florets broken into bite sized pieces; stalks peeled and cut into ¼” thick pieces

¼ cup of coarsely chopped walnuts

Garlic sauce (see above)

All the other stuff I mentioned above

1. Combine the beef with soy and sherry

2. Combine garlic, ginger, scallinos and oil (see above)

3. Toast the walnuts in that same 12” skillet you’ll be using. Set aside.

4. Add 2 t. oil to the skillet, heat until smoking, and toss in the beef. Cook, stirring occasionally, until well browned and transfer to a clean bowl.

5. Add another 2 t. of oil to the skillet and heat until shimmering. Add the broccoli, ½ cup of water, and cover. Cook until the broccoli turns bright green , 1 – 2 minutes. Uncover and cook, stirring, until the water evaporates and the broccoli is ready, About another 2 – 4  minutes.

6. Clear the center of the pan, add the garlic/ginger mixture and cook for about a minute. Stir it all together, add the beef and combine with the sauce. Toss the walnuts on top and dig in!

Shrimp and Peppers in Garlic Sauce

You may notice a theme, as I love the Garlic Sauce

1 pound of large shrimp

2 med. red bell peppers, diced

1 cup of scallion whites, coarsely diced

1 ½ cups of scallion greens, chopped

Garlic sauce

Other stuff as noted above

Note: If you don’t feel like spending awhile chopping scallions, use a medium white or yellow onion for the whites and some spinach for the greens.

Pretty much, you follow the same protocol. Marinate the shrimp and prep the other stuff. Cook the shrimp in smoking oil until browned. I’d say shrimp require a bit more attention Don’t worry if they’re undercooked, because they’ll continue to cook while set aside and go back on heat later. Cook the onions/white parts, toss in the bell peppers, and then add the green parts (or greens). Make some space, cook the ginger/garlic mix, throw everything together and eat!

May you all have a Memorable weekend. I’m taking my sons to visit their great aunt’s grave in Arlington National Cemetery and then we’re going to watch Rolling Thunder going over the Memorial Bridge.


18 Responses

  1. Soy and sherry (or wine) is a great marinade for just about anything. For thin cut pork chops I also throw in some vegetable oil, ground ginger and garlic salt. Seal it all in an air tight bag and let it marinade anywhere from overnight to a day or to and they make great Asian style pork chops.


  2. Yum yum. I typically make stirfry 2-3 times a week partly because it’s so quick and easy, and I too love everything in one pan (because I despise washing dishes). But the best part is the texture of the veggies, cooked and tender yet still crisp. The hardest part for me is resisting the temptation to include every vegetable I have in the frig.

    I made Paul’s “Hot and Sour Sauce” and it was delicious. It was almost identical to the basic stirfry sauce I’ve used for years (same ingredients, slightly different proportions). I think Paul and I are agreed that the best chili paste for this is Sriracha; but if you use Sriracha, you might want to reduce the quantity a bit to 1 or maybe 2t unless you want your stirfry to be screamingly spicy.

    Love being able to use a nonstick skillet for this because you use medium high heat instead of the very high heat usually associated with wok cooking. Can’t count how many nonstick pans I’ve ruined over the years trying to use very high heat.

    Tip for leftovers (if you have any): One of the best soups you’ll ever have can be made from leftover chicken, pork, shrimp or tofu stirfry. Heat some chicken or vegetable broth to a boil. Add the leftover stirfry and immediately reduce the heat. Cook at a simmer for a couple of minutes, just until the stirfry ingredients are heated through (do not overcook). You can also add some leftover cooked rice if you want. I like hearty soups so use about equal portions of broth and stirfry leftovers; vary according to your preference.


  3. Good piece by Steve Pearlstein:

    “Identity crisis for American capitalism
    By Steven Pearlstein, Published: May 26

    Beneath all the folderol about job creation and destruction at Bain Capital or President Obama’s alleged war against success and free enterprise, there’s actually a legitimate debate to be had about what kind of capitalism we want in the United States.”


    • jnc:

      On Pearlstein’s, I’m not at all sure it makes much sense to try to divide American economic history into categories of different kinds of capitalism. And I’m positive it doesn’t make much sense to re-brand socialism as one of those categories, so-called state capitalism.

      Also, I think Pearlstein is propagating a myth when he says this:

      with more and more of the economy’s profits and the nation’s income captured by a relatively small number of investment bankers and the managers of hedge funds and private-equity funds.

      A look at Forbes 400 richest people in America shows that there are only 3 such people in the top 25: George Soros, John Paulson, and Carl Icahn. In the top 100 there are all of about 15 depending on how you count (some of Forbes’ categories are ambiguous). It just isn’t true that wealth is becoming concentrated in the hands of a few financiers.


    • Pearlstein’s views of economic history do not line up with my own.

      However, his point that there could be an interesting debate, when instead we will have stupidity, is well taken.

      FWIW, the phrase “state capitalism” is antithetical to all the various theories of capitalism, although the phrase “welfare state” is not, so I think Pearlstein meant the latter. Surely he did not mean to abuse the phrase the way journalists do about China, an economy that is essentially pre-capitalist, feudal, fascist, and mercantilist.

      There is room for private investment in a feudal or mercantilist state, but those were the exact theories that capitalism expressly rejected.

      There could be several interesting debates, actually. The organization of publicly traded corporations, for example, could be quite different than it is.


  4. I’m often too lazy or time constrained to make my own marinades, and my two favorite store bought marinades for chicken and salmon have been discontinued. They were:

    Lawry’s Citrus Grill With Orange Juice for salmon and Lawry’s Tequila Lime With Lime Juice for chicken.

    Anyone have any prepacked store bought alternatives that they would recommend as replacements with similar flavor?


  5. The other side of the JP Morgan Chase losses:

    “The Hunch, the Pounce and the Kill
    How Boaz Weinstein and Hedge Funds Outsmarted JPMorgan

    Published: May 26, 2012”


  6. jnc, thanks for the Pearlstein link. This might be an interesting discussion at ATiM:

    “We would all surely welcome an intelligent presidential debate on what kind of capitalism we want to have. Only please spare us the self-serving nonsense about who created or destroyed how many jobs. In almost any form of capitalism, running the government is not the same as running the economy, and neither is like running Bain Capital.”

    Can’t help you on the marinades since I always make my own. Not only do I not know what your old favorites tasted like, I don’t know what marinades currently on the market taste like. (Give some consideration to making your own; they take almost no time to construct and you have more control over what other nastiness — preservatives, sodium, etc. — might be lurking in them.) My go-to for salmon, which I usually broil, is just to coat it with a good mustard. It makes a nice crust and seals in the juices.


    • jnc – Given that you like sauces with a citrus base, how about trying some of Goya’s mojo sauce? They do a mojo criollo (orange and lime) as well as a bitter orange. Take some of that, add some soy sauce and a bit of hot sauce, and you probably have something that’ll work well. Come to think of it, I might pick up some today and try that.



  7. Thanks for the Goya recommendation. I’ll try it.

    Also, Paul Krugman interviewed in the FT:


  8. The Washingtonian has an interesting article about the Koch/Crane standoff at the Cato institute. I’m a subscriber, so no link available yet. I don’t have a dog in this particular fight, but I’m sure that Michael Vick would have been happy to host it back in the day.



  9. FB:

    Just wanted you to know, your touting home-ground beef resulted in me getting a grinder attachment for our mixer. Fresh ground Angus chuck burgers were awesome — and I’m making a big pot of bolognese right now. Yes, I had a lot of fun with the grinder today.



  10. Mike – Now I really need to get back to Tampa.

    Last night’s stir fry generated a monster fight in the family. Secondo refused to try it and demanded something else for dinner. Not in my house, buddy. He resorted to a favorite technique, burrowing in behind the sofa cushions. My wife eventually went out with the kids on a Target run. When they got back, she said they’d reached a deal. He’d try one bite of chicken. He came up to the dinner table and ran back to the sofa for another round of burrowing. I’m thinking I need a drink.

    Later, he’s taking a bath as it was needed from their long walk in Arlington National Cemetery. I come in to check on them and he decides that he’ll try some of the chicken or rice. The beautiful bit is that he gets up and says, in perfect parody of me, “finally!”. It was perfect.

    He wound up nibbling at it for ten minutes. Spaghetti tonight. I don’t have energy for that two nights in a row.



  11. FB, that actually sounds pretty typical kid to me but understand the frustration. Perhaps we should have traded places last night. In the spirit of one-pot meals, although not stirfry, I made my “cheater’s” version of childhood favorite cheesy chicken broccoli casserole that kids tend to love. My version is much lower fat than the traditional and I load it up with extra spinach, plus it’s one skillet (pasta and all). Recipe calls for noodles but I like it best with conchiglie rigate to catch all the sauce. Let me know if you want the recipe.


  12. Secondo has will power that impresses me, even if it’s usually directed against my desires. I’d love to hear about your casserole. I probably will pass on the extra spinach, mainly as that might over egg the pudding a bit.



  13. “ScottC, on May 28, 2012 at 6:06 am


    On Pearlstein’s, I’m not at all sure it makes much sense to try to divide American economic history into categories of different kinds of capitalism. And I’m positive it doesn’t make much sense to re-brand socialism as one of those categories, so-called state capitalism.”

    I think it’s a useful exercise to the extent that it shows that the developments in financing and aligning shareholder and management incentives from the 1980’s and 1990’s were a response to perceived problems with the older “corporate managerial” style from the 1940’s, 1950’s and 1960’s, and not just done for some random reason.

    See also:

    There’s a line of argument that I see trotted out quite often that if only certain government policies were returned to what they were in say the 1950’s (usually involving marginal federal income tax rates and rates of unionization) then we could return to the manufacturing economy of that era and the associated distribution of income/wealth.

    Absent the equivalent of World War II destroying the industrial base of most of the other countries in the world, I don’t see this happening just by changing Federal income tax and labor relations policy. It’s a different world and a different economy.


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