Saturday, June 25, 2011

Stir Fry for the Soul

Last night, I had a rare evening to myself while Eric painted Camp Hill red with his buddies.  As I relished the first moments of being alone in the house, I screamed my lungs out just because I could and then pondered what I should do that night.  And it came to me in a flash.  Stir Fry.

I've allowed my life to be a little too consumed by my work, both physically and emotionally.  Physically because of all the travel that goes along with it.  Emotionally because I am a tad of a Type A perfectionist who actually likes my job a tremendous amount, which will lead to bouts of insomnia for any reason ranging from stress to simply because I had a great idea on how to do one thing or another.  What has suffered, among other things, is my first cooking love - Stir Fry.

My parents are Taiwanese immigrants.  My first utensil was not a spoon or fork, it was a pair of pink pearlized plastic chopsticks that I could carry around in its little pink case with a cartoon panda adorning its front.  I carried those around like a treasure.  Even then, food was a passion of mine.

My mom was and is a Stir-Fry master.  Anything could be stir-fried, I learned, and the wok was the tool of the trade.  The saw to a carpenter, the paintbrush to an artist.  Indeed, it wasn't until I was well into my 20s that I finally got a soup pot from a friend who was a little more than astonished to see that I heated up some Cream of Mushroom soup in my wok, and no, she wasn't Chinese.

"What's the big deal," I countered, "it still tastes good and I didn't spill anything anywhere, and if it were a Chinese soup, you probably wouldn't have said a thing..."  Still, I appreciated having another pot for multi-dish meals.

Last night, I ran to the fridge where I had defrosted some sirloin steak with the intent to grill whole.  Intentions were made to change.  Some onion, some garlic, broccoli, soy sauce, satay sauce, hot sauce, any other condiment that tickled my fancy.  Eric had brought in a bunch of cilantro from the garden in fear that it would begin to bolt.  Perfect.

I sliced the sirloin at a bias to ensure ease of bite-ability and began marinating it some tapioca starch for tenderness and to help thicken the sauce later on, pepper, soy sauce and satay sauce and let it sit.  Diced some vidalia onion, ran my knife through the cilantro, and I was set.  I like to cook as if I were on a cooking show, where all the ingredients are already put into little bowls and just have to be tossed into the dish.  It's not only so that I can feel like a star, though.  In Chinese stir fry, it's actually quite important because things cook quickly at a high heat, and if the mushrooms are supposed to go in, but the chef is still working to slice or quarter them, the whole dish is at risk.  Yes, it's that important...

Oil into the wok, heated until it starts to smoke.  I threw in my favorite get from the Beijing market - Sichuan Peppercorns.  It's also called the Flower Pepper because you can see how it flowers out by the time it's purchased at the market.  It's apparently a sign of good quality.  Sichuanese is my favorite regional Chinese cuisine due in no small part to the Sichuan Pepper.  Its chemical composition is unique in that it leaves a tingling or "numbing" feeling in the diner's mouth.  It's spicy and gives you a unique sensation that I haven't experienced elsewhere.  Whenever you see a "Ma La ..." kind of dish, it translates into "Numbing Hot", indicating they're using Sichuan Peppers.  Unless, of course, you're eating in Lancaster, PA at Tony Wang's, and I'm not sure they've included any kind of pepper period.

Then in go the onions, sauteed for a moment until they start to get translucent, then I throw in the beef.  All that, alone, would be enough to satisfy me, but I always feel the need to get healthy and include vegetables.  

Before the beef is cooked all the way through, I scrape it into a bowl to incorporate later.  I need to cook the flash frozen broccoli and I won't risk screwing up my delicious beef and onions by keeping them in the wok.  I season the broccoli as it steams until they're thawed and starting to get soft.  I don't particularly like mushy, mushy broccoli, so I throw in the beef and onions sooner rather than later, toss in the cilantro, and stir fry everything together for a few minutes.  By this time, the starch from the beef is starting to thicken the water from the broccoli, which is exactly what I want, because now the gravy is coating and seasoning everything evenly.  Oh!  And don't forget to add a bit of sugar to round everything out. 

I especially like broccoli, even though it's not an indigenous vegetable in China - that IS why they have Chinese Broccoli...  But I like it because it does such a wonderful job soaking up all the flavors in its bushiness.  And voila!

Steamed some brown rice, ladled the stir fry on top, and I elatedly chomped away while watching a few episodes of Law & Order on Netflix.  I just don't think I could have spent the evening in any better fashion.

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