The humble stir-fry a fundamental principle with endless possibilities. Learn it and love it!
The stir-fry is one of the most versatile principles I know. I really started to understand it when I was staying with a Chinese family in Beijing for two months in 2008. There’s nothing quite like a well-made stir-fry. It always hits the spot!
The stir-fry is a great way to reduce your meat consumption as better quality meat can be used in smaller quantities for flavour – or not at all, depending on your personal preference.
I promise you that once you get the hang of this principle you will not regret it.
The following ‘recipe’ i made up on the spot because I know the principle behind a good stir-fry. This allows me to basically make up my own recipes all the time.
Anyway, enough talk, here we go:
INGREDIENTS (for 2ppl - all amounts are indicative - you be the judge of your own dish :-)
1/2 - 1 head of pointed cabbage, sliced
2-3 carrots, split lengthways then sliced diagonally
10 chestnut mushrooms, thick slices
50g good quality bacon from animals that have been treated with respect (OPTIONAL)
150g frozen peas
FLAVOUR BASE (this is the northern Chinese base of many, many dishes)
1 leek, white part only, finely chopped
4-6 garlic cloves, chopped
1 small knob of ginger, chopped
Chilli, how ever much you like
SAUCE (Again, these are indicative amounts. I suggest you play around and find out what you like best. There is no right or wrong so long as you’ve understood the basic principle).
3 tbsp light soy sauce
2 tbsp oyster sauce (replace with dark miso paste if you want it vegan)
1 tbsp Chinese cooking wine (leave out if you can’t find it or use sherry)
A touch of dark vinegar (e.g. apple balsamic, balsamic or Chinese fragrant vinegar ‘xiang cu’)
2 tsp starch (corn flour, potato flour or tapioca)
1 tsp brown sugar
Add a couple tablespoons of oil to a hot wok or sauté pan followed immediately by the bacon (if using). Stir for 30 sec then add the ‘flavour’ ingredients. Stir for 1-2 mins making sure the garlic doesn’t burn (have a bit of water handy and add a few splashes if garlic starts to brown). Then add the mushrooms and stir for a minute or so. You can also pre-cook the mushrooms if you like more browning action and concentrated flavour.
Now add the sauce ingredients. Basically what you’re doing here is creating a deep and intense umami flavour base. Cook for 1-2 mins adding water if it start to go dry.
Finally add the main ingredients and stir for 3-5 minutes depending on the balance between raw and cooked that you like.
You will need to adjust flavour. So taste along the way to see if it needs more umami (soy/oyster sauce), a pinch of salt, a touch more of vinegar, sugar… You’re the master here. Taste, taste, taste.
Finally, the viscosity (thickness) of the sauce is essential to give the most delicious mouth feel, so you’ll want to adjust this as well by having a small bowl with a cup of water with tbsp of starch dissolved in it.
Flavour base: Always involves some kind of onion be it garlic, shallot, or leek. In Thai cooking the holy trinity is ginger, garlic and chilli whereas the (Northern) Chinese use leek. Point being, play around with it and see what you like.
Sauce: You want to hit a balance between sweet, salty, sour and overall UMAMI. Thick books have been written about the latter, but umami basically comes from glutamate; a flavour molecule found in many different ingredients, e.g., tomatoes, seaweed, miso, soy sauce, parmesan. Try tasting salt compared with soy sauce. The latter is salty, yes, but there’s much more to it than that - this is umami, and it is KEY! Meat also is a source of umami (why we like it so much), but used alongside other umami sources, e.g. soy sauce, we are able to use a lot less meat and achieve the same level of satisfaction.
Whatever is in season. Some ingredients like aubergine require longer cooking time or might need to be pre-cooked before adding back into the dish with the other ingredients. Say I was making a stir-fry with peppers and aubergine. Then I would start by frying the aubergine at medium heat until nearly cooked (aubergine can take a LOT of heat), then remove from the wok before starting with my flavour base, then the sauce, and then the peppers with the aubergine.
How can you tell if an ingredient requires pre cooking? A good rule of thumb is: can you eat it raw? If not, then you’ll probably want to pre cook it.
I hope you enjoy the principle based recipe and that learning this principle may help you on the path to liberating your kitchen spirit, not having to rely on recipes, but simply letting the seasons and your intuition guide you.
If you have any questions just drop me an email.
With love of food, people and planet,