Monday, April 16, 2012

What makes it stir-fry, anyway?


A few things.

1. Temperature. Hot. Like oh wow aggravate my anxiety disorder hot stove hotsie hot.
2. The order things go in the pan. Think about what you're cooking. Does it take a while to be done, or do you just need to show it to the frying pan before you eat it?
3. Keep it simple already!

I have sat around watching my co-workers at the staff cafeteria swilling that revolting pap they call 'stir-fry bar' once too often. A morass of leathery meat bits, celery, onion chunks, mushrooms, carrots, cabbage, baby corn, pea pods, and bean sprouts weltering in a steam tray accompanied by uncle ben's minute rice and four basins of liquid which differ in color and viscosity if not in flavor is NOT STIR FRY. If it was ever stirred, I can't attest to it, and it sure as hell was never fried. I don't give a crap if it isn't authentic, but for chrissakes, that isn't even food.

Take a look at my dinner. Tofu and baby bok choi stir fry. 2 ingredients. That's it. I do distinguish between seasonings and ingredients. Ingredients are what you make the food out of. You make a stir fry because you have one or two good ingredients and you want to know what they taste like together. Ingredients are what you've got that's worth eating a meal of. Seasonings are what you use to spruce things up a bit, that's all. Seasonings are the little whatevers you put with your ingredients that make you go 'Oh, hey, tofu is good. I could really fancy me some stir fried tofu for dinner. Seasonings are not for covering things up with, and ingredients are not made better by throwing a lot of them into a kludge and reaching for the viscous brown/yellow/orange stuff.

Ingredients: half pound each of tofu and baby bok choi
Seasonings: oil,onion, ginger, salt, pepper, sesame oil and soy sauce.

You don't need a wok. I hate those pseudo-woks with flat spots on the bottom anyway, but that's a whole different set of problems.

Use a fairly large, heavy, frying pan. No non-stick pans!  I use cast iron.  Put 2 or 3 tablespoons of vegetable oil in the pan, along with just a dash of sesame oil for flavor. Turn the burner on to medium high and when the oil shimmies in the pan a bit, salt the pan and set about a half pound of tofu cubes in it. Ignore it while you mince a teaspoon of fresh ginger and cut half an onion into very thin slices. Chop up the baby bok choi a bit too.

By that time, your tofu should have developed a nice brown on the bottom. If it hasn't, the burner isn't hot enough. Turn it up a little. When the tofu has browned on one side, flip it over and shove the chunks over to one side of the pan. Add a little more oil if necessary, then put in the onions and ginger. Stir the seasonings around a few times until the ginger looks a bit brown but not burnt.

Add the greens, stir everything up and then sorta poke the greens down into the pan. Stir and poke for about a minute, and add a tablespoon or two of water if the greens are too dry. Add a few shakes of pepper and a splash of soy sauce. It's done when the dark green parts are wilty and the light green parts are just going transparent around the edges.

There's fried rice in the picture. Fried rice is a kind of stir fry, folks, so apply what you just learned.

Ingredients: Stale cooked rice, an egg.
Seasonings: garlic, salt, black bean sauce, oil

Hot up your pan with some oil and salt. Crush in the garlic to brown it for a second, then stir in 2 cups of rice and a tablespoon of bean sauce. Cover the rice for a minute, until it is hot through and developing crusty places, then crack in the egg. Stir until the egg is cooked.

I think I've only made one post about stir-fry before because it just doesn't seem very complicated to me, you know? It's really just pan-grilling a few things, and throwing some marinade stuff in the pan with it like a lazy-ass. Stir fry was what there was to eat in my house when I was a kid on the nights when there wasn't soup. It wasn't exciting by any means, but I do remember thinking that mostly it was pretty good. So then I grow up, and there is the staff cafeteria, and it just irks me to see people eat such nasty stuff, thinking that it has anything at all to do with stir fry.

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