For dinner, I looked at something fairly quick that would feed plenty of hungry newspaper-staffers. I selected a stir-fry, a quick meal that is nutritious and packed with flavor. The evening’s style was “Hunan Beef,” a spicy beef and vegetable medley in a brown sauce.
The effort expended in stir-frying mostly goes into the labor of preparing the meal- chopping lots of vegetables. I thought about all the Chinese food I’ve enjoyed in my life, and selected the vegetables that made me happiest. Cabbage is naturally the base for any stir-fry. I shredded about two cups and set it aside, for the time being. Then I chopped one carrot, one rib of celery, four large mushrooms and one onion into large pieces.
To prepare the meat, I improvised a hot pepper oil. I took one-quarter cup of a light olive oil and added a teaspoon of crushed red pepper, a dash of cayenne and a few drops of hot sauce. Mallory Lawrence recommended Frank’s Hot Sauce, and it was a winner. To the oil, I also added a teaspoon of garlic. Let the mixture sit for several minutes before adding to a wok or a large five-quart saucepan. Heat well.
The meat itself needn’t be complicated or expensive. I selected a pound of flank steak, though chicken, pork and shrimp work well. Season the meat with a quarter teaspoon of sea salt and the same amount of freshly ground pepper. Slice very thinly and sauté in the oil. Add a tablespoon of soy sauce and drain as needed, leaving only a small amount of liquid in the pan. Don’t let it get soupy, or you end up with Chinese flavored stew.
Once the meat is cooked, add the fresh vegetables. Toss well. I added some canned vegetables, including a half-cup of bean sprouts and a quarter-cup each of bamboo chutes and water chestnuts. I love water chestnuts. They add a crunchy texture to any stir-fry. Along with the bamboo chutes, they have a wonderful tendency to soak up the flavor of the food cooked with it. If you like garlic as much as I do, throw another teaspoon of minced garlic in. To this stir-fry, I also added 5 ears of baby corn, chopped into thirds. Stir fry is all about textures, and the baby corn adds yet another surprise. Add a half-teaspoon of ground ginger. Set the heat on the stove to medium.
As the stir-fry is well, stirred, add in a half-cup of commercial stir-fry sauce, and a tablespoon of oyster sauce. The oyster sauce is not overwhelming with oyster flavor, just gives it that hearty Chinese “brown sauce” flavor. Add another tablespoon of soy sauce, and if you like, a quarter cup of rice wine or sake. If you cannot find sake or rice wine, a white wine will do.
Continue to stir until well mixed, and cover for a minute or two, to steam the vegetables slightly. If your stir-fry sauce is thin, and some are, add a teaspoon of cornstarch to thicken. If the sauce is to your satisfaction, toss in a few peanuts or cashews. Again, flavor is added, but so is a nice crunch. Stir-fry should combine a number of textures so that every bite is something new.
I served the stir-fry over traditional steamed rice. This time out, I used a plain brown rice. I really can’t say enough nice things about brown rice. It has a great nutty flavor, and carries much more fiber than white rice. Tastes great and good for you! I served an appetizer of fresh, homemade egg rolls. The filling was great, but to be honest, my rolling technique needs work. We’ll save egg rolls for another column, but they were a lot of fun. This Hunan-style stir-fry serves five hungry adults easily, with little in the way of leftovers. Good eating!