Tag Archives: Stir-Fry

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

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Chicken and plum stir-fry

The day I raided the plum tree, I asked a few kitchen-inclined friends for suggestions on what to do with them. There were the usual recommendations–freeze them, jam them, bake them in pie–but then my friend Sandy threw me a curveball. “Stir-fry,” he said.

So I stir-fried. And I’m very glad I did.

It might sound odd to put stone fruit in a stir-fry. But it really works. Think of it as a fresh summer spin on the sweet-and-sour thing. Toss a few wedges of plum into a hot pan at the last minute, and they slump and half-melt into the sauce, adding pockets of jammy sweetness to an otherwise savory jumble. Some of the skins come loose, draping chicken and vegetables with a thin tart bite. The juices filter into every crevice, coating the vegetables and pooling thickly in the bottom of the pan. (More on that later.) It’s not quite like any other stir-fry I’ve ever made, and not coincidentally, I think it’s the best one I’ve ever made.

Part of the reason this stir-fry is so good is the plums; part of it is the chicken. There’s a trick to this, which Chinese restaurants use to keep meat–especially lean, easily-overcooked meat like chicken breast–juicy and tender. It’s called velveting, and it’s the only way I’ll stir-fry meat from now on. First, the sliced meat is marinated in a foamy slurry of egg white, cornstarch, and rice wine. Then it’s par-cooked in boiling water, drained, and finished off in the stir-fry pan. I don’t know what kind of sorcery takes place between the marinating bowl and the water pot; all I know is that it produced the plumpest, softest, most luxurious chicken breast meat that’s ever come out of my kitchen. The meat fairly glistened in the pan–you can see it in the photo below. This is one of those instances where taking the extra step is extraordinarily worth it, even if it means dirtying an extra bowl and pot.

I’m normally too lazy to cook rice for stir-fries, but I’ll make an exception here: you must serve this with rice. The reason for this is the plum juices, which filter to the bottom of the pan and thicken over the heat. Then there’s a simple hoisin sauce mixture, which mingles with the plum juices to form a soft purple sauce, rich and oozing, but without the gumminess of starch. The flavor is deeply plummy, a little salty, a little sweet, a little spicy. You’ll want to mop up every last purple streak of it. Trust me.

chicken plum stir-fry

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