Friday, March 6, 2009

Rock Stars need to eat, too

I had rock stars staying at my house this week (really; actual members of a reasonably successful band who are friends of my son), and they made themselves a stir fry one night (cleaned up after themselves too, forsooth). Stir Fry is a great “stone soup” sort of recipe—you can make a stir fry from the meagerest offerings of a totally empty fridge.

I never thought about stir fry as needing a recipe, but the rock stars actually had some questions, so here goes.

Simple stir fry

Extra-long grain rice, 1/2 cup dry for each diner

3-4 vegetables, mix of colors and textures (more below)
extra-firm tofu, and/or almond slivers, and/or unsalted cashews,
and/or chicken, beef or pork cut into finger strips
Sesame, peanut or walnut oil (or corn oil if you don’t have the expensive nut ones)
1 T cornstarch
1 cup water
1/2 cup soy sauce
water in reserve, or left-over tea

appropriate spices for stir fry:
black or white pepper
and/or cayenne or red pepper flakes for a spicy dish
and/or lemon grass or coriander

Start the rice first; a narrow heavy saucepan works best. The water should be about a finger joint deeper than the rice no matter what pot you use (I like a heavy 1-quart aluminum saucepan; this will cook up to 2 cups of rice). Somewhere there is bound to be a proper recipe with a ratio (maybe on the rice bag?), but that’s how I’ve always eyeballed it. Bring it to a full boil uncovered, then turn the flame way down and steam it covered for about 20 minutes. Take it off the flame when it’s done, even if you’re not done with the veggies yet. Leave the cover on.

A wok is best, but you can also make a stir fry in a standard frying pan; you'll just have to be careful to keep the ingredients in motion, as frying pans don't heat as evenly as a wok.

Heat the empty wok over very high flame; put in 2-3 T of the nut oil and sear the tofu or meat. You want the tofu lightly brown on all sides; this will help hold it together. Don’t use a heavy oil like olive; the lighter nut oils or flavorless corn or canola oil are better for bringing out the delicate flavors of the vegetables. You can take the tofu out and set it aside to be added back later, or leave it in and cook the veggies with it. (Tofu can also go in very last.)

Do the vegetables according to texture—those you want softest go in first, crunchy goes in last. I always start with the onion because I like them very well cooked. Put them in and sauté until they’ve just started to go translucent, then start working your way up to the ones you want al dente, typically brightly colored vegetables like green beans, bell pepper, broccoli. Nuts last. You can also wait until here to put the tofu in for the first time. Don’t use more than 3-4 different vegetables as it disturbs the feng shui of the dish (not kidding). Put the meat/tofu back in at this point.

For a sauce thoroughly mix the corn starch, water and soy sauce in a measuring cup (make sure the corn starch is completely dissolved); if you use any of the spices add them here, sparingly. You don’t want too much spice in a stir fry, as the vegetables should provide the sensual point of the dish. Slowly pour this into the vegetable mix, stirring constantly as it will immediately thicken into a creamy sauce; add more water if it gets too sticky. If you have any left over tea sitting around in a pot, you can use it to thin the sauce. For some reason I never make tea specifically for this purpose, but I suppose you could.

Serve with the rice. Use chopsticks, it’s time you learned.

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