Shrimp and baby bok choy stir-fry

This was the ostensible main course for our Christmas Chinese food feast. Delicious though the potstickers were, they do not a meal make; so to fill us out, I made a simple stir-fry of ingredients that looked good at the store.

I used to half-ass my stir-fries. It’s seductively easy to just dump a bunch of ingredients in a pan, stir until the slowest-cooking thing is cooked, and dump the whole mess onto a plate. But that way lies mushy vegetables and funky-textured meat, and after a while I wondered if I simply couldn’t stir-fry as deliciously as my favorite greasy takeout spot. It made me sad–and a good deal less frugal–to surrender to my laziness.

So over the past year or so, I’ve made an effort to be more deliberate. I’ve started thinking in terms of how quickly vegetables and proteins cook, how high I can take the heat under my pan, and how saucy or sticky I want the final product to be. I’ve learned when to add liquid to the pan, and when to let the heat and oil do the work. I discovered velveting over the summer, which has totally changed my relationship with meat in stir-fries. I’ve begun to relish the process of meticulously laying out a mise en place, and then tossing things into a hissing hot pan one after the other. And, surprise surprise, my stir-fries have gotten a lot better.

This was one of the best ones I’ve made. Not much to it, really: a pound of shrimp, a heap of baby bok choy torn into leaves, snow peas, aromatics, and a handful of toasted cashews. I decided I wanted a light sauce, no cornstarch, just soy sauce and rice vinegar and chili-garlic paste. I prepped the veggies lazily while the shrimp marinated in their cornstarch and egg white slurry, then poached the shrimp and stir-fried everything together right before we wanted to eat. It was the perfect unfussy dinner dish, with perfectly tender veggies and plump shrimp in a delicate but spicy sauce. As usual, I was too lazy to make rice; as usual, I wished I had.

shrimp bok choy stir fry

Shrimp and Baby Bok Choy Stir-Fry (serves 4-6)

For velveting the shrimp:

1 large egg white

1 tbsp cornstarch

2 tsp rice wine, dry sherry, or unseasoned rice vinegar

1 tsp soy sauce

1 lb large shrimp, peeled and deveined, tails removed

1 tbsp peanut, vegetable, or canola oil

Water for poaching the shrimp

For the stir-fry:

1 lb baby bok choy, washed and thoroughly dried

8 oz (1/2 lb) snow peas

1 tbsp peanut, canola, or vegetable oil

1 tbsp minced or finely grated fresh ginger

2 large or 4 small garlic cloves, minced

1 tbsp chili-garlic sauce, or to taste

4 scallions, thinly sliced, white and light green parts separated

2 tbsp rice wine, dry sherry, or unseasoned rice vinegar

1 tbsp soy sauce

1/2 cup toasted chopped cashews

Toasted sesame seeds for garnish

Cooked white or brown rice for serving

In a medium mixing bowl, combine egg white, cornstarch, wine or vinegar, and soy sauce, and whisk until smooth. Add shrimp and toss to coat. Cover the bowl and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, while you prep the other ingredients. (This step can be done a day ahead.)

While the shrimp marinates, separate the baby bok choy into leaves and, if desired, trim and de-string the snow peas. Set aside.

Bring a pot of water to a boil over medium-high heat. Add 1 tbsp oil and reduce the heat to low, so that the water is at a bare simmer. Add shrimp and cook, stirring constantly, for 1 minute. Drain the shrimp thoroughly, and set aside.

Place a large skillet or wok (not nonstick) over the highest heat the pan can handle. Heat until the pan is very hot–a drop of water flicked on the surface should sizzle and evaporate within a second or two. Swirl 1 tbsp oil into the hot pan, then add ginger, garlic, chili-garlic sauce, and the white parts of the scallions, and stir-fry for about 10 seconds. Add snow peas and bok choy and stir-fry for 2-3 minutes, or until the bok choy leaves are wilted. Add wine or vinegar and soy sauce and stir-fry for 1 minute more, or until the bok choy stems are starting to get tender. Add shrimp and stir-fry for 1 minute, or until the shrimp is cooked through, the veggies are tender, and everything is coated with sauce. Mix in the cashews and the green parts of the scallions. Spoon over rice, garnish with sesame seeds, and serve immediately.

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