Saturday, February 27, 2010

Why Chinese is done as take out.

Thursday night I learned the hard way why most people order the Chinese food as take out, rather than cook in. It is because, while delicious, homemade stir fry is messy. Make no mistake, it is also delicious. In fact, it was much more delicious than any version I have ever ordered take out. But also make no mistake, you kitchen will be covered in a light mist of frying oil, and you will smell stir fry for days.

Last weekend Sam and I watched America's Test Kitchen on our local PBS station, and they were making stir fry. In 1/2 an hour they made two of the most delicious and easy looking classic take out dishes. "Piece of cake," we thought. So we bout a bunch of pork, beef, and rice, invited some friends over, and got to stir frying. Then we realized we had been duped by the television. A process that looked quick, tidy, and simple on TV was in reality, lengthy, meticulous, and messy in the home kitchen. Damn you television! You fooled us.

However, some things you see on TV are indeed true. America's Test Kitchen carefully reviewed how the traditional non-stick skillet is indeed the best piece of equipment for stir frying on a traditional American cook top. It turns out that a wok is not well equipped for the heat source of our modern ovens, but the skillet can maintain the high, consistent heat needed to stir fry. Despite the mess, I do have to give the show credit for teaching me how to create tender, non-chewy, flavorful stir fry meat.

At one point in the stir fry process, Sam and I were moving about our tiny, tiled kitchen, and both of use were slipping and sliding across the floor. That is because everything was covered in a fine mist of cooking oil and sputtering stir fry meat. It turns out that a 500 degree skillet kicks off a lot of grease. By the time I sat down to dinner, I was so OVER stir fry at home. But then, as I ate, I became reengaged. This is a darn good recipe.

So, if you are interested in stir frying at home, I implore you to learn from my mistakes. First, don't try to double this recipe. In order to accommodate the larger recipe, we had two skillets and all of our burners going at once, and it was too much. With only one pan it may be possible to wrangle the oil and smoke just a little bit better. Two, this is probably best made in a kitchen with a fan that vents externally. If you can flip on your fan and suck out the smoke and oil, I expect you will be a happy stir fryer. With these simple modifications, plus a quick gander at the America's Test Kitchen website, you too can have delicious stirfry cook in, and maybe even without the mess.

Teriyaki Stir-Fried Beef with Green Beans and Shiitakes
From Cook's Illustrated.
Published November 1, 2007.

Serves 4 as a main dish with rice.

You can substitute 1 tablespoon white wine or sake mixed with 1 teaspoon sugar for the mirin.

4 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons sugar plus an additional 1 teaspoon
12 ounces flank steak , cut into 2-inch wide strips with grain, then sliced across grain into 1/8-inch-thick slices
1/2 cup low-sodium chicken broth
1 tablespoon mirin
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon cornstarch
3 medium cloves garlic, minced or pressed through garlic press (about 1 tablespoon)
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
8 ounces shiitake mushrooms , wiped clean, stemmed, and cut into 1-inch pieces
12 ounces green beans , ends trimmed and halved
1/4 cup water
3 scallions, cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces, white and light green pieces quartered lengthwise

1. Combine 2 tablespoons soy sauce and 1 teaspoon sugar in medium bowl. Add beef, toss well, and marinate for at least 10 minutes or up to 1 hour, stirring once. Meanwhile, whisk remaining 2 tablespoons soy sauce, remaining 2 tablespoons sugar, broth, mirin, pepper flakes, and cornstarch in medium bowl. Combine garlic, ginger, and 1 teaspoon oil in small bowl.

2. Drain beef and discard liquid. Heat 1 teaspoon oil in 12-inch nonstick skillet over high heat until just smoking. Add half of beef in single layer, breaking up clumps. Cook, without stirring, for 1 minute, then stir and cook until browned, 1 to 2 minutes. Transfer beef to clean bowl. Heat 1 teaspoon oil in skillet and repeat with remaining beef. Rinse skillet and dry with paper towels.

3. Add remaining tablespoon oil to now-empty skillet and heat until just smoking. Add mushrooms and cook until beginning to brown, about 2 minutes. Add green beans and cook, stirring frequently, until spotty brown, 3 to 4 minutes. Add water and cover pan; continue to cook until green beans are crisp-tender, 2 to 3 minutes longer. Uncover skillet and push vegetables to sides to clear center; add garlic-ginger mixture to clearing and cook, mashing with spatula, until fragrant, 15 to 20 seconds. Combine garlic-ginger mixture with vegetables. Return beef and any juices to skillet, add scallions, and stir to combine. Whisk sauce to recombine, then add to skillet; cook, stirring constantly, until thickened, about 30 seconds. Serve.

1 comment:

Meat Lover said...

Kate, these pictures make me want to order take-out! My parents stir fry almost every meal I ate growing up, except for the Vietnamese dishes they made. They fashioned an L-shaped "splattering grease guard" out of the long and short sides of a cardboard box (think the size of a box of oranges you'd see at a grocery store). Then they just set it up next to the wok so it covers the range dials and the left or right side of the counter top. Yes, cardboard and grease so near the burner can be a fire hazard, but their house is still intact. And when it becomes too worn, they toss it out and make a new one. Maybe that can help with the splatter next time. They also have a professional air vent because they mean business when they cook.