Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Stir Fry Is Wicked Pro

There's not been enough (or, more accurately, fuck-all any) cooking content in here recently, so it's time to amend that by moving out this bunch of instructional pictures. This is how to cook a mixed meat/vegetable stir fry for people who think they know what they're doing, and have all of the tools needed. Doing this well is a necessary prerequisite to cooking anything else Chinese-style.

Look how yummy that looks. And it came off my stove in less than an hour from first cut to fork, not out of a carton. This isn't the recipe that's going to follow, but the principles are the same. If you know the basics of knife work, seasoning, and wok handling, you can stir-fry virtually anything.

Complete raw ingredients. Here we have from left to right some napa cabbage, a leek, some celery, and the cheapest package of beef I could find as whole cuts without bones in them. As will be seen later, getting anything but the cheapest cuts you can for stir-fry is a waste of money.

How to cut celery. This is fast, exposes and breaks up the grain, and produces slices that you can pick up with chopsticks easily.

Reducing the napa cabbage. Pluck out, then wash a couple leaves, then stack them up and cut them down in a herringbone pattern as shown in the photo.

Prepping your leek. The part that is not in the sink is getting cooked; the hard top ends of the leaves as well as the root base are not getting cut up.

Leek technique; again, thin slices across the grain. The leek is from the onion family, so those slices are going to disassemble into rings in the wok.

Leek surprise. Because they grow under the ground, mud tends to get in between the rings of your average leek. Check your slices as they go and wash or throw out (according to taste) anything that looks too affected.

Leek, fully processed. Cutting the rings in half helps the disassembly and makes for one thing less to worry about when you're actually stirring.

A big pile of vegetables ready to hit the wok. Cutting correctly produces pieces that are mostly of the same thickness; this is important for stir fry where you want to move stuff through the wok as fast as possible together. Here the celery isn't matched to the other ingredients, but it's ok if that stays a little crunchy.

Now to prep the meat.

First, dress out all the fat using your meat knife. The bare minimum for Chinese cookery is a vegetable knife suited to slicing, as shown above, and a larger, heavier meat knife like shown here and below that can be used as a hammer and a cleaver if needed, but is still sharp enough to cope out edge fat.

The beef chunks were too thick, so I sliced them in half. Any thicker than about half an inch and you're going to think about wanting to do this.

Bash up the meat with the back of your knife in the regular pattern as shown. You can see how much this makes the meat expand relative to the top half of what used to be that cut at the top of the frame. The purpose of this drill is to break up any remaining grain in the meat.

Do two passes of that on both sides of your meat chunk, creating a cross-hatched pattern. This should make it much larger and flatter.

Cut slices about as wide as your cut is thick (at this point) out of the meat you've battered into submission. These will cook fast, digest easier, and handle easily with chopsticks.

After repeating that process for the other three chunks, all the ingredients are prepped.

Once you get the hang of sauce-making, you can start your rice here. Until then, it's probably better to wait.

Sauce parts. Roughly from left to right: barbecue sauce (can use ketchup, I just don't keep that around), garlic powder (can use fresh garlic, but the handling's different), real soy sauce (if you use La Choy, just stop reading and kill yourself), rice wine (can use rice vodka or soju in reduced quantities), hoisin sauce, sesame oil, oyster sauce, black pepper, sugar. Not pictured: tap water.

Seasoning varies from person to person and is not always intuitive. Since this was a beef stir fry, my sauce mixture probably looked something like this:

1 tbsp sugar
1 piled tbsp barbecue sauce
2 tbsp rice wine
1/2 cup soy sauce
1.5 seconds tap water (about)
2 tsp oyster sauce
1 tsp hoisin sauce
dash sesame oil
6-8 shakes garlic powder
10-12 turns black pepper

added to the bowl in about that order. When it tastes right, stop.

One spoon hoisin, two spoons oyster. Generally I work off the following for different meats:

beef: 2 oyster, 1 hoisin
pork: 1 oyster, 2 hoisin
chicken: 1 oyster, 1 hoisin, more soy sauce

but this isn't actually founded on anything. I don't have hard and fast rules for tofu-based and other vegetarian stir-frys developed....yet.

More-or-less completed sauce. This needs thickening before it hits the wok, but that's for later.

Put about this much oil in the bottom of your wok. If your wok is still new and shiny, I'm sorry, you need to treat it first. That's better handled elsewhere. Non-stick woks are right out.

After heat is up -- remember, cook on high for wok hei, always -- and the oil spits at you when you flick in a drop of water off your finger, bomb your veggies in and stir to make sure that all of them get equal time on the bottom and on the sides.

As you stir, the mass will start to lose volume as the water boils out.

With practice, you'll know that this looks done -- and if you have aromatics like leeks in, it'll smell done as well.

Dump the veggies back on the plate they came from, put some oil in the wok as shown above, and when that's ready, in goes the meat.

Your meat will cook faster than your veggies. Stir vigorously to keep any bits from sticking.

After the meat is done, plate it back out to a different plate that hasn't had raw meat sitting on it. With beef or pork, this is usually when you see major steam plumes coming out of the pan. We want to keep as much water in the meat as possible, so get that to feck.

When the meat's out, put the wok back on the heat and add your thickener to the sauce, about this much. You really ought to use cornstarch, but flour will work and I tend to keep that around for other uses. Whisk it thoroughly in to prevent clumping.

Pour your finally-completed sauce mixture into the wok.

Keep the ingredients to the side for the time being. The sauce needs to cook and also to cook down to get rid of the water we used as a solvent to make the other parts mix properly.

Your sauce will soon start bubbling deliciously. Stir occasionally to keep tabs on it that it isn't clumping and doesn't need any extra seasoning.

As the sauce starts to cook down, the bubble complexion changes.

When your spatula leaves a trail behind it as you stir, the sauce is getting close. The idea of cooking down the sauce is to take it from liquid to semi-clotted by driving off most of the water and letting the thickener set up.

If you put the rice in before making the sauce, it's probably finishing up in the rice cooker about now. If you waited until after the sauce was done, it's probably got a little longer to go.

Thick, glossy bubbles in a greatly reduced volume mean the sauce is ready to take the ingredients.

Chuck everything back in and stir them through so that the meat and veggies pick up the sauce.

Like that; see the gloss and coloration on the ingredient slices.

This should take a minute or two at most, and then you're ready to top some rice with that and eat!

The above is about half the stir fry on top of about a cup of rice dry (cooked as one cup rice, two cups water in the rice cooker above), which makes a solid, not quite to say gutbusting, meal for a very large metalhead who doesn't eat a lot during the day. The stir fry volume set up in this recipe/walkthrough and half a cup of rice dry for each person will probably serve three or four normal-sized people just fine.

And since there wasn't a lot of metal content in this post, here is a picture of Akiyama Mio thrashing the fuck out in front of a limited Coffins split.

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