Continuing on my lower carb eating goals, I have been trying out various stir-fries. Although I have to admit that I dearly miss white rice, I am also satisfied by the richness of flavors imbued in stir-fried dishes. Because of the practice of cooking meat and veggies on very high heat, stir-fries often carry a rich smokiness that comes from a hot wok (referred to as “wok air” in Cantonese). This is analogous to the smoky quality of American barbecue, as it differentiates truly great stir-fry from mediocre stir fry.
Traditional stir-fries in Chinese cuisine require copious amounts of oil, a practice that I try to modify in my own home cooking. I remember feeling appalled when I saw my parents cook a stir-fried vegetable dish at home. You would never think that almost half a cup of oil went into the healthy-looking vegetable dish served on our dinner table. Of course, I appreciate that the oil provides a certain level of flavor and texture in Chinese cuisine, so I do not believe in stir frying completely without oil. But I have found my own ways of achieving a similar flavor profile while saving on calories and fat.
Your basic stir-fry is comprised of the following:
- Aromatics (garlic, ginger, scallion, chile)
- Thinly sliced vegetables
- Thinly sliced meat
- Flavoring sauce (salt, soy sauce, oyster sauce, fish sauce, shrimp paste, black bean sauce, etc…)
Once you have this formula down, you can be creative and make new combinations of stir-fries. In stir-fries, it is absolutely essential that you first start by frying your aromatics in oil. This perfumes and flavors your oil so that the veggies and meat that are eventually cooked in it will also take on the flavor profile of the aromatics. But be careful not to burn your aromatics, especially garlic. Once your garlic turns somewhat golden brown, dump all your vegetables in and stir vigorously. This will release much-needed liquid to prevent your garlic from burning. Another trick is to splash a bit of water into your wok/pan and then cover with a lid to create some steam for more rapid cooking.
Also, I know I often rant about how adding sesame oil to a dish does not necessarily make it an authentic Asian dish. I get upset when I think about some famous chefs and their take on Asian food because it always involves sesame oil. And that is just not the case. Clearly, some dishes greatly benefit from the rich earthiness of sesame oil, but there are also times that it does not belong. This is actually a dish that benefits from such a splash of sesame oil. So, drizzle away! But not too much. Too much of sesame oil will make your dish taste like dirt. Yuck.
An essential nuance in cooking with a wok is timing and knowing which ingredients to stir fry first, which to stir-fry together, and which must be separately stir-fried and then combined later on with the sauce. Most stir fried veggie dishes start off with the browning of garlic in oil before adding the other ingredients. The problem is that the garlic will quickly burn if it is not given some liquid. To prevent burning of garlic, I usually add a splash of water to my stir-fry after adding the vegetables. Traditional Chinese cooking utilizes LOADS of oil to prevent garlic from burning, but that is a rather unhealthy approach, so I prefer my splash of water.
In stir-fries involving meat and veggies, I almost always stir-fry the meat first, remove it from the pan, and then stir fry the veggies separately. This allows proper cooking of each ingredient, as cooking them all at once will create a watery mess. They are later combined and stir-fried with the sauce, which is oftentimes soy sauce, fish sauce, oyster sauce, fermented bean sauce.
Stir-fried vegetables should always retain some level of crunch after cooking. When in doubt, slightly undercook your veggies. That way, the residual heat will do the rest of the softening of the veggies. For people who follow a meal prep life, undercooking the veggies is a good strategy to give your veggies the perfect texture after re-heating.
1 tbsp oil
½ lb Flank steak, cut into thin strips
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp corn starch
1 tbsp oil
1 bunch of garlic chive, cut into 2-inch pieces
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tomatoes cut into 1-inch wedges
2 tbsp oyster sauce
1 tsp sugar
Optional: splash of sesame oil
Marinate steak in soy sauce and corn starch. Allow to sit at least 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, prep other ingredients.
Turn on wok or skillet on high. When pan is very hot, add oil. When oil is shimmery, add flank steak and stir fry for 3-5 minutes until beef is just cooked through. Then remove from heat.
Add oil to the skillet/wok, and when oil is shimmery, add in garlic chives and tomato. Stir fry for 3-5 minutes, until vegetables are slightly softened.
Add in beef and stir fry together. Add in oyster sauce and sugar. Stir fry another minute. Taste for seasoning.
Remove from heat and serve.