Saturday, October 3, 2009

Yeah, so, I set the smoke alarm off...

Ever see a smoke alarm in a chinese person's kitchen? Me either. Authentic stir fry is dangerous. Not that this is all that authentic, but I wish I had pictures of the grease flash that caused the smoke alarm thing...

Beet Greens & Tofu in Spicy Oyster Sauce

1 large bunch of beet greens
1 onion
1 block firm tofu
oil for frying
1 tsp grated fresh ginger
1 T black bean garlic sauce
1/2 tsp crushed chili paste
1/3 c oyster sauce
a pinch or 2 of salt

I had been avoiding buying beets at market for a while because I couldn't think of what to do with the greens. I like them southern style, but that makes them up as kind of a side dish and even a small bunch of beets comes with a large mess of greens. Then they kick around in my fridge until they die. Hence, the chinkabilly stir-fry.

Wash the greens well, separate the stems from the leaves and chop each, keeping them separate.
Chop the onions & add to the pile of stems. Drain & cube the tofu. Big cubes is good. Mix the seasonings in a little bowl.

I guess a wok would be good, but I used my cast iron frying pan. Put a tablespoon or so of oil in the pan and over pretty high heat. The oil should be shimmering and smoking in the pan. Sprinkle a little bit of salt in the pan and put in the stems & onions. Fry uncovered, stirring enough to keep from burning them, for about 3-5 minutes, or until the vegetables have begun to caramelize. Pour them into a dish and reserve. Rinse the pan out, then repeat the process with the leaves, rinse again and put a slightly larger amount of oil in and get it good and hot before putting in the tofu. Wait until the bottoms of the tofu bits have developed a good crust before turning them over, brown on all sides before putting the vegetables back in the pan with the seasonings. Heat everything through, mixing well. Serve with rice. Fried noodles would be good too.

Now, here's the thing: you can use roughly this process with everything, but the 2 key steps are to get the pan hot and keep it that way, and to add a pinch of salt to the pan before the vegetables. Salting the pan draws the water out of the veggies, and the high temperature does 2 things: 1) it caramelizes any starches that come out of the vegetables really fast, so that you have both the fresh veggie taste and a hint of maillard compounds. 2) the heat causes some of the cooking oils to oxidize and polymerize which is what that magic "stir fry" taste is.

Of course, high heat also causes oil to vaporize. And throwing a bunch of wet tofu into a puddle of hot oil causes steam. Which creates a rapidly expanding cloud of tiny oil droplets mixed with the ideal ratio of oxygen packed in little water molecules to make for a very exciting wooHOO! moment when it hits a red-hot burner. As a child this was a regular, but always alarming occurrence at my house. Nowadays I just run around cursing and flapping a towel at the ceiling, I swear I'm gonna pull the battery out of that wretched thing.


  1. I bought a fire alarm with a special cooking hush button for my kitchen :)

  2. huh. I never knew they had such a thing! now you got me thinkin...