Meals for the beginner cook – Part 1: Stir Fry

When you are first learning to cook, you’ll want to start out with a good foundation of techniques and cooking styles.  This series will demonstrate 5 unique dishes using 5 unique cooking styles.

The first dish is an Asian inspired stir fry. Here we will be learning the art of wok frying.

What you need

For our demonstration you will need the following ingredients:

1 lb of chicken breast, boneless pork or steak

2 cans of chicken or beef broth (use chicken broth with white meats, beef with red)

1 pack of udon, soba or ramen style noodles.

1 bag of frozen stir fry vegetables.

soy sauce

garlic salt

canola oil (vegetable oil works too, but canola is healthier)

ground hot peppers (optional)

For cooking, you will want a medium sized sauce pot, a wok, a wooden spoon and a spaghetti spoon.

Preparation

Before we start our stir fry, we need to prepare our meat.

Put your meat on a cutting board.

Using a large, sharp knife, cut your meat lengthwise into thin strips. (If you bought pre cut breast strips, skip this step)

Turn your cutting board 90 degrees.

Cut your meat slices into bite-sized strips.

Put your meat on a plate and season it lightly with your garlic salt. Remember, you can always add salt later, so don’t overdo it here.

Note: Its very important to keep your workspace clean, especially when working with pork and chicken. Once you transfer your meat to the plate, you will want to clean off your cutting board and wipe down the table or counter you were working on. If the juices from your meat are exposed to other foods, those foods may become contaminated with salmonella.

Boil your Noodles

For this recipe, we want our noodles to have a savory flavor that reflects our meat. To do this we are going to boil them in our broth.

First, put both cans of broth in your sauce pot and bring it to a boil.

If you want a spicy stir fry, add a small pinch of your ground peppers.  You will want to use either ground red chili (sometimes called chili pequin), or ground Tai chili peppers.  I like to use the Tai peppers because they are hotter than traditional red chilis.  You can decide how adventurous you are.

If you do add chilies to your broth, let them sit in the broth for 30 seconds, then use a teaspoon and taste the broth.  If its not spicy enough, go ahead and add another pinch.  Its very important that you taste test things as you cook so you can make adjustments.

When your broth is spicy enough and is boiling, add your noodles.  Asian noodles don’t take very long to cook… around 5 minutes for most varieties, so you will want to keep an eye on them.

When the noodles begin to bend easily and look about ready, go ahead and eat one.  If it tastes under-cooked, give it another minute and taste again.

As soon as your noodles are done, turn off the burner and move your pot to a cool burner so the broth can drop in temperature and the noodles won’t over cook too much. For this dish, we DO want them to be just a little soggy, not al dente.

Using a Wok

A wok is primarily a searing pan.  The shape of a wok is designed to distribute heat evenly up the sides of the pan, which helps your food cook fast and even.

The key to wok cooking is high heat and oil.  Because we are using super hot oil, you can not leave your wok unattended.

Pour just enough oil in your wok to evenly coat the bottom (somewhere around 4 tablespoons). Put the wok on high heat and keep an eye on it.

There’s 2 ways to tell if your wok is hot enough.  If you are watching closely you will see barely visible smoke starting to rise. This means your oil is hot enough.  The other option is to put the back of your wood spoon in the oil. If bubbles appear around the spoon, your oil is ready.

If you see a lot of smoke, your oil is burnt.  You will need to take it off the heat immediately and let it cool down before discarding it and trying again.  If you cook your food in oil that is smoking badly, you will either burn your food or start a fire. But that’s not going to happen because you are keeping an eye on your wok right?

When your wok is ready, carefully dump your cut up meat into the wok. It will sizzle loudly at first.  This is the sound of searing.

Searing is what happens when the outside of a food is super heated by direct heat. It causes the outside of the food to seal and caramelize (turn brown) giving the outside a bit of texture and sealing the juices inside.

Use your wooden spoon to toss the meat around.  The idea is to get all the raw pink parts of the meat to touch the pan and get seared all around. Once all your meat has changed color, you are ready for the next step.

Even though the outside of your meat will look completely cooked, the inside parts will probably still be raw.  Keeping that in mind, its probably a bad idea to do a taste test at this point.

Using a spaghetti spoon or some other slotted lifter, pull your noodles up above their pot and carefully shake off the excess broth, and toss the noodles into the wok.  When you have all your noodles in the wok, you are ready to try another skill: Sauteing.

Using both hands, lift the wok off of the stove top. Hold the handle so it points towards your chest, then lift the pot forwards and up in a small circle.  A light toss will shift your meat and noodles a little, where a bigger toss will actually flip everything over.  Start out soft and keep trying with more power until you get things to flip. Once you get things flipped, put the wok back on the heat for 30 seconds, then repeat.

Note: If you are using an electric wok and don’t already know how to saute with it, just use your spoon to stir things to avoid any accidents.

What you are doing right now is searing your noodles.  Keep an eye on your noodles as you do this.  As soon as you see them starting to get light sear marks, you are ready to move on. If you just can’t get things to flip within the first few minutes, you can just use your spoon to toss things around. But keep trying this technique every time you make this dish until you figure it out. Nothing makes you feel more like a real chef than being able to flip stuff in a pan.

Put your wok back on the burner then add your bag of frozen vegetables. Season everything with a few good shakes of your soy sauce, then mix everything up in the wok. Pour any of the broth left in your noodle pot into the wok as well.  The broth will absorb all the great flavors from your vegetables and add some of that spice from your chilies into everything else. Don’t worry if there’s not a lot of broth, you aren’t making soup.

At this point you can turn your heat down to medium high.  Everything is as cooked as it needs to be so all you are going to do is keep stirring things until the vegetables are as soft as you want them.  If your wok has a lid you can speed things up by covering the wok. This will catch and trap any steam from your stir fry, and that hot steam will help soften your vegetables.  Just be sure to stir your food every few minutes so the stuff on the bottom of the pan doesn’t burn.

When your veggies are as soft as you want, serve the stir fry in bowls and enjoy.

Remember to pay attention as you cook.  If your food comes out too salty or spicy, you will know to use less garlic salt, soy sauce or chilies.

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