Sunday, September 26, 2010

I'll Stir-Fry you in My Wok!

Making your own stir-fry at home is all the fun of Chinese takeout minus the little white boxes, fortune cookies, and indigestion.

Aw man, no fortune cookie? If you’re like me, you look forward to seeing what that tiny piece of paper hidden within the folds has to say; although usually filled with lame advice or some sort of silly generic message about luck, often times it will reveal something remotely inspiring or incidentally true…

Don't hate on my Photoshop skills!

Ever since I got my wok last year, stir-fries have been making a frequent appearance on the dinner menu. They are quick, satisfying, and unlike the implicit mystery gulped down with your last order from Wok and Roll, you know exactly what’s in it.

The smells of stir-frying always elicit memories of my Cuisines of Asia class at the Culinary Institute of America. The second I crack open the sesame oil and the toasty aroma jumps into my senses, I’m right back in that kitchen. Cuisines of Asia is one of the first cuisine classes that you go into after months of basic skills training. Every day I walked into that fully equipped kitchen complete with traditional steel woks, wok burners, and tandoor oven, I was venturing into exciting and intimidating foreign territory.

Absorbing so much culture and being introduced to so many new, different ingredients at once, was a challenge I often felt overwhelmed by. For pop quizzes and tests, we would have to be able to identify dozens of different soy sauces, Asian pastes, and oils laid out in paper cups by taste, color and smell alone. It’s not easy! And the chef was intense. You don’t even want to know about the day I burned the bottom of the rice and thought I could get away with serving it. Who knew that a few extra-toasty grains could make you feel so crappy about yourself? Basically, I was damned if I didn’t serve it and damned if I did. Lesson learned: you’re better off not serving anything than putting out something that’s not completely up to par.

In addition to teaching me quite a few similar lessons, Cuisines of Asia provided me with tons of useful knowledge that I still reference today. It also gave me one of the first kicks in the ass that I needed and the worst grades I ever received in culinary school, second only to Meat Identification and Fabrication. Meat and fish are the first two kitchens you ever step foot in at CIA. Seven days each, they wear down your crisp chef whites and brand new sharp knives real fast. My difficulty to successfully memorize and identify every single cut from every animal in a week was perhaps elevated by the horror film-factor of meats class. In a cold room with wet floors, the smell of death just lingers in the air. How can you not feel like a serial killer when there are full carcasses hanging in the fridge, and bloody bones and meat scraps sitting on band saws? I know, I’m so dramatic.

Simple pork stir-fry over rice.
Anyway, back to stir-frying! This is one of the many stir-fry recipes that I make. I usually don’t write them down, typically following the same basic formula of protein, vegetable, and sauce. This pork stir-fry serves as a great platform to base any variation you would like to make. After browning the meat, in this case, seasoned with fragrent five spice powder, you begin with ginger, scallions, and garlic. This trio is like the mirepoix of Asian cooking. (A mirepoix is made up of carrots, celery and onion, and is the aromatic base of most classic dishes in French cooking).

Next, is the addition of vegetables. You can include whatever you have on hand. For this stir-fry, I used a colorful mix of peppers and crisp snow peas. When making a sauce for stir-fry I always make sure to include an element of every taste profile: sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and umami. And for a little bit of added crunch, cashews or peanuts are always a nice addition. I love my wok and highly recommend them for every household. If you don’t have one yet, you can of course use a large, deep sauté pan instead. Happy stir-frying!

Pork Stir Fry:

Yield: 4-6 Servings

- About 2 Tbs of olive or peanut oil
- 5 boneless center cut pork chops, diced into large cubes
- 1 tsp 5 spice powder
- Salt and pepper
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 Tbs ginger, minced
- 2 scallions, sliced
- 1 red pepper, sliced
- 1 yellow pepper, sliced
- ½ cup snow peas
- ½ cup cashews
- ¼ cup light soy sauce
- 3 Tbs rice wine vinegar
- 2 tsp sesame oil
- ¼ cup chicken stock
- 3 Tbs light brown sugar
- ¼ cup slurry ( ½ cornstarch, ½ water whisked together)

• Mix all sauce ingredients in a bowl together, except for slurry.
• Mix pork with salt, pepper, and 5 spice powder. Heat 1 Tbs oil in wok or deep sauté pan and cook pork until almost done; set aside.
• Heat 1 Tbs oil in pan or wok. Add garlic, ginger, and scallions and cook for about a minute. Add peppers and cook through. When peppers are almost done cooking, add snow peas. Return pork to the pan. Add cashews and sauce; bring to a simmer. Slowly pour the slurry into the sauce, whisking as you go. Allow sauce to thicken slightly. Serve over rice or noodles.


Joy said...

That looks so good. Great recipe.

oc2seattle said...

Great post title! Thanks for not only providing a great weeknight dinner recipe but also giving us the formula so we can try new things on our own if so inclined.

Deborah Dowd said...

This stir fry looks delicious!! Great job.


That is a great looking stir-fry! I don't pull out my wok nearly enough, come to think of it...

roxan said...

I love making my own stir fry also! Once you learn a couple good sauces you can stir fry ANY combo of meats and veggies. Mmm

Wheels and Lollipops said...

This stir fry looks delicious , I should pull out my wok more often - thanks for the delicious reminer

ravienomnoms said...

Nice recipe, the stir fry looks great!

Tanantha @ I Just Love My Apron said...

No I won't hate you hehe. I think your photoshop on the cookie looks awesome! I like fortune cookies too :). I use wok all the time and pretty much on almost Asian dishes. Can you believe that?! It's so versatile!

Adelina said...

Hi Marisa,

I love the recipe and your fortune cookie illustration. Did you know that I am a big believer of fortune cookies? My computer screen is plastered with all my fortunes from fortune cookies lol. One day I will share :)

Karen said...

Yum...I love anything with cashews in it...great addition. This looks really tasty.
I've been thinking about getting a wok lately, but didn't know if I wanted to devote cabinet space to it...this may have convinced me!

Kelsey said...

the sauce looks amazing!!! such a gorgeous glaze on it :) mmm i LOVE STIR-FRIES!!

Koci said...

First of all, that stir fry looks amazing! I never really knew how to put one together, so your tips were great!

Second, I totally understand you aversion to the massive amounts of raw meat. My family used to own a grocery store that also butchered its own meat and I always had to hold my breath whenever I walked into the meat processing area. Yuck!

Megan said...

Hi Marisa.... too funny about your adventures in your class.... and that you served the "burnt" rice. I like hearing about your culinary adventures in school. I would love to be tested in sauces and pastes... that is my idea of "fun torture". But... most importantly is your recipe. I am always looking for a good recipe as the kids love it when we whip out the wok - Megan

Foodessa said...

Marisa...I'd be real bad at identifying meat cuts too...what grade do you think I'd get?

Anyhow...this Asian inspired meal sounds fabulous...especially with the topper of your cute fortune cookie (great pic)...and a great message inside ;o)declaring how wonderful life will be.

Flavourful wishes,

Chef Dennis said...

see I knew there was a good reason I was an Apprentice sounds like school was a lot of fun though! Can you watch Dexter after your meat cutting experience?
well it looks like you certainly mastered the art of stir fry, it looks delicious!!! Thanks for sharing this great dish with us!

Magic of Spice said...

Love stir fry...and yours looks great. Plus I think your "Photoshop skills" are superb :)