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By Jorj Morgan
When you think stir fry, do you visualize waxed cartons of congealed glunk that have taken residence in the recess of your refrigerator shelf or do you salivate to the idea of fresh, tender crisp vegetables, simply sautéed chunks of lean meat or fish, and simple, flavorful sauces? If you are a food "take-out" junkie, then your idea of stir fry may be limited. In truth, stir fry, made at home, is doubly valuable in that it is inherently healthy because it relies on fresh ingredients and it produces a meal in minutes because of the fast cooking method.
What You Need to Get Started A cast iron wok is the perfect kitchen gadget for stir fry. The cast iron shell distributes the heat evenly. A non stick surface and a great fitting lid is a plus. If you are really planning to do it up right, you may want to purchase a set of heat resistant wok utensils guaranteed not to scratch the non stick surface. Of course none of this is really necessary - just FUN. A good quality non stick skillet and a plastic spatula will work just fine.
Think Like A Chef Take a look around and decide what ingredients you are going to blend into your stir fry. Chop cauliflower and broccoli into flowerets. Slice red onion and cabbage into half-inch wedges. Dice chicken breasts into 1 inch chunks. You want the veggies and meat to be in bite size pieces for two reason. First, the stir fry will be appealing and easy to eat if all of the components are equal in size. Secondly, similar size pieces will insure more uniform cooking time. The secret to great stir fry is to collect and prepare all of your ingredients in advance before you begin to cook.
Saucing the Stir Fry There are several techniques for making a flavorful sauce for stir fry. Some include a touch of cornstarch for thickening. Toss chunks of meat, poultry or seafood in cornstarch before cooking or add a touch of cornstarch mixed with water to the sauce before cooking. In both cases, you want to make sure that the cornstarch has time to cook for several minutes in the dish in order to produce a smooth and shiny sauce.
Stir fry suppers lend themselves to a totally fresh approach to cooking. Herb flavored oils may be sauce enough! You may choose to spice your fresh ingredients with Italian or Mexican seasonings. There are no rules for stir fry - only opportunities for creative cooking.
Technique Heat the wok or skillet over high heat. Place a small amount of oil in the bottom of the wok. (Olive oil is fine. Peanut oil and sesame oil add a very distinctive flavor.) The oil will smoke slightly. Don't abandon your wok! You must stay with the stir fry - don't walk away from this quick cooking method. You can call back that telemarketer later...
You may want to add slices of garlic or ginger to the oil to infuse it with flavor. Fresh herbs tossed into the hot oil will also impart their essence into the dish. As the herb begins to brown, move the pieces out of the oil and up the sides of the walk to slow the cooking process.
Next, add the ingredient that will take the most time to cook. In most cases this will be cubes of lean meat or poultry. Cook until the thick cubes begin to brown on all sides. This will begin the tenderizing process. At this point, you may push these chunks up the sides of the wok, or remove them to a platter while you continue with the recipe.
Now you are ready to add the veggies and stir until they are just crisp tender. (If you are cooking a stir fry that includes shellfish, you want to add this ingredient last as fish usually cooks in just minutes.)
Add the meat or poultry back to the wok. Season with sauce, fresh herbs, citrus juice or a touch of flavored oil. Stir to coat all of the ingredients. That's it! Serve the stir fry with rice or over pasta.
Stir fry is the perfect mixture of fresh ingredients and quick cooking. A combination that will work well in your busy lifestyle and one that your entire family will enjoy. An added benefit to this quick cooking method is the opportunity for kitchen experimentation. Use stir fry recipes as guidelines to create your own family favorite suppers. When you see those smiles around the table - you'll know that you've master the stir fry technique.
Jorj Morgan is the Lifestyle Director of BlueSuitMom.com and the author ofAt Home In The Kitchen, a cookbook due in spring 2001. Please share your favorite stir fry recipes with other BlueSuitMoms. Send her an email at Jorj@jorj.com .
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