Stir-Fry Strategy

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I make this type of meal at least once a week. It’s not the same type of stir-fry my  mom made in the 70’s with leftovers from last night’s dinner. No disrespect, because I loved that dish (often based around leftover teriyaki pork). But over my last few decades of professional cooking, I’ve learned a lot about the different techniques used for stir-fry and how they differ from country to country. While many of the same ingredients are used, they are often combined differently, with flavors added in particular sequences.

This style is based on Thai-style stir-fry, described so simply and clearly in Hot, Sour, Salty, Sweet: A Culinary Journey Through Southeast Asia. The authors, Naomi Duguid and Jeffrey Alford, not only give a scholarly account of the food along the Mekong Delta, but manage to write recipes that are accessible and easy even for inexperienced cooks to grasp.

I published a version of their Thai-fried Rice in Mad Hungry: Feeding Men and Boys. It’s a foundation I use often, regardless of the ingredients on hand. There are two distinguishing factors: the flavor base is a combo of minced ginger, garlic and scallion, and the liquid seasoning is fish sauce, not soy sauce. And no matter how many mouths you are feeding, cook the food in batches, otherwise a crowded pan will steam rather than ‘fry’ the food. I always prep everything I need in advance, then divide it into 2-people portions for cooking. As long as I have the aromatics, some sort of vegetable (and hopefully a little protein), it’s an easy process to follow.

  1. Mince equal parts (aromatics) fresh ginger, garlic, and scallion (more than you think). Wash and slice vegetables. Slice or cube tofu, chicken, or pork (not much). Put rice on to cook. If you have leftover rice, then incorporate it in the stir-fry. If you have fresh cucumber, cut into spears. Cut a lime into wedges. Slice some additional fresh scallion. Read ahead and get everything ready.
  2. Heat a wok over very, very high heat (a cast iron pan can be used as a substitute, but a seasoned wok is preferred). Add some veg oil, immediately add some aromatics, vigorously stirring for about 30 seconds. Add the tofu, or meat (if going all veg then add the “meatiest” one first such as mushrooms).
  3. After a few minutes, add the vegetables—one at a time according to their density. (Bell peppers need longer than bok choy for example). But the whole thing will cook very fast so keep the heat high and the food turning over. Just before the end, shake in about a half teaspoon of fish sauce. My favorite is Red Boat Fish Sauce. Serve over rice with some fresh cucumber, lime, and sliced scallion.

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