The Art of the Stir-Fry

In the process of organizing our new apartment, Mike and I discovered that we have hundreds of CDs and DVDs, all of which take up a lot of space.  We also have big, heavy boxes of books that we seem to have to carry every single time we move apartments.  I am starting to feel like I want digital books, digital music, and digital movies.  You know, the kind that don’t take up space in an apartment, don’t have to be moved, and are really convenient to access.  Right now if I want to watch a physical DVD I have to go through tons and tons of DVDs looking for the right one.  And that’s assuming that the DVD is actually put in the right case, which is hopefully true but not always.  I am definitely not buying new books, CDs, and DVDs.  The digital versions are just too convenient, especially for someone in an apartment!  🙂

In line with our resolution to try a new different restaurant each week, on Sunday we went out for a very informal lunch to Satay Seattle, a tiny restaurant that advertises a limited menu of Malaysian street food.  Neither Mike nor I had any knowledge of Malaysian food and honestly not much knowledge of Malaysia itself.  So we basically google’d Malaysia on our smart phones while we waited for our food and turned our lunch into a Malaysian educational experience.  🙂  For starters, the service was excellent.  Our waitress was a very sweet (probably Malaysian) girl who was very prompt in helping us as well as very friendly.  And very patient, since we had to carefully peruse the menu given our lack of knowledge on Malaysian food.  We both ended up ordering the beef satay, which is basically beef skewers plus rice plus a Malaysian salad.  Honestly, I’m not a big meat fan anyway, but the beef in the meal was pretty fatty and heavy.  I made it through about a piece and a half and couldn’t handle any more.  Mike finished his beef but said that it was pretty difficult for him.  We definitely prefer leaner, healthier cuts of meat.  However, the rest of the meal was good.  The salad was crisp and refreshing, with a sweet-and-sour kind of tanginess that was very pleasant.  The rice was abundant and was a lot lighter and fluffier than the rice I’ve often gotten in restaurants. The honey/chili marinade on the beef skewers was also very light and delicate and tasty.  Unfortunately the disappointing part of the meal was the meat itself, which is supposed to be the centerpiece of the meal.  However, I feel like the quality of the meat was probably very authentic to Malaysian street food, as street food doesn’t usually have particularly great ingredients, especially given that the restaurant specifically calls out the fact that they use totally authentic ingredients.  So it was a good experience.  And now we know a little more than we did before about Malaysian food and geography than we did before, which is always a good thing.

I have been cooking lately!  And Mike has been appreciating it!  He actually said yesterday that he’s tired of paying for lunch at his work cafeteria when he doesn’t like their food as well as mine.  That’s definitely an endorsement!  🙂  I made beef stroganoff over the weekend, and that’s already gone now.  Mike said it was ‘hearty and good’.

Monday night I made Tomato Green Bean Soup, which I assumed that Mike would not be interested in at all because it’s purely veggies.  However, he helped me chop up some of the veggies, and then as I was eating some while we watched an episode of Downton Abbey he expressed interest in the soup.  He ate a small bowl and said it was good but would be very much improved with bacon.  😉  I’m actually very surprised that the soup turned out so well, because I accidentally used cilantro in the recipe instead of basil.  Oops!  I had a bag of each in the fridge, grabbed the one I thought was basil, chopped it up, threw it in…. and then found the actual bag of basil.  It is greatly to my discredit that I didn’t notice the difference based on the shape of the leaves and based on the smell since both cilantro and basil have very distinctive smells.  I very vaguely felt that the herb I was chopping up didn’t smell quite like basil, but apparently it wasn’t enough to stop me.  Regardless, the soup is amazing and I’ll just have to try it next time with real basil to compare.  Who knows?  Maybe the cilantro is actually an improvement!  🙂

Last night Mike said he’d be home late so I went to yoga and had a great and very relaxing time.  Afterwards, since the beef stroganoff was gone I decided to do a little cooking.  Lately Mike has expressed a lot of interest in Asian food (one of the side effects of living in Seattle where good Asian food is abundant), so I decided to try Beef Stir-Fry.  It wasn’t the world’s best success, but given that it was my first foray into stir-frying I didn’t feel so bad.  To prevent all of you from suffering the same mistakes I did, here’s my ‘lessons learned’ list from last night.

Lessons in Stir-Frying for the Absolute Stir-Frying Beginner:

1.  Don’t stir-fry in olive oil.  Ever.  Italians don’t do stir-fries, and Asians don’t use olive oil.  Olive oil has a very low smoking point, which means that it doesn’t have to get very hot before it starts smoking.  Stir-fries are done at high temperatures.  Enough said.  Use canola oil or coconut oil, both of which have very high smoke points.

2.  Rice takes a long time to cook if it’s not instant.  A long time.  Like 50 minutes.  Don’t start the stir-fry first, assuming that you can throw the rice together in a few minutes at the end.  Start the rice early.  Like even the night before would be good.  You can always reheat it.

3.  Woks were invented for a reason.  If you’re trying to do a stir-fry in a sautee pan, recognize that you are using it outside of the bounds of its design.  I stir-fried the meat in my sautee pan, and then the directions said to ‘move the meat to one side of the wok and throw in the vegetables’.  Um.  My meat was fully taking up the entire sauce pan.  There wasn’t any place to ‘move it to one side’.  Consequently I had to take it out of the pan to have room to cook the veggies, so the flavors didn’t blend together as well as they could/should have because the meat and the veggies weren’t actually cooking together.

4.  Stir-frying is meant to be done very quickly in a very hot pan.  Don’t waste your time with your stove burner on medium heat.  That is essentially slow cooking the very food that you ultimately want to sear.  Don’t put your meat and veggies in until both the pan and the oil are HOT.  Also, without high heat, the water that comes out of the veggies just stays in the pan and you wind up with veggies in a watery soy sauce instead of the water evaporating instantly like it would in a very hot pan.  Watery veggies are not appetizing… even to me!

5.  If it doesn’t seem like you added enough soy sauce and you should really add more, don’t.  Just don’t.  A little soy sauce goes a long way, and it’s not something like garlic or basil where more is always better.  More soy sauce is salty and overwhelming.

6.  When you buy a cheap garlic press, cranking harder on it won’t squeeze out more garlic.  It will just break the press.  True story.  I now have no way to press garlic and am hinting around to Mike about the garlic press of my dreams.  Fortunately I know where to find it for a lot cheaper than $45.  😉

However, before you feel like this whole experiment was a complete and total failure, Mike had some last night when he got home and said it was really tasty although it could have been better.  But ultimately we learned a LOT.  And isn’t that what cooking is all about?  Experimenting, learning new things, and improving?  No?  It’s actually about producing good food that people enjoy?  Whatever.  Basically it was a lot of fun.  And I’m buying a wok this weekend.  🙂

It’s raining like crazy in Seattle today, which reminds me of this song even though this is Seattle and not Georgia.  But it is crazily applicable for today in Seattle.  And this song is appealing to me and always has been for some reason even though it’s not my typical genre at all.

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2 Comments

Filed under Cooking

2 responses to “The Art of the Stir-Fry

  1. Karen Homer

    I made the same mistake with olive oil this Thanksgiving when I slathered it on my turkey. Filled the whole house with smoke! How have I been cooking all these years and not know that olive oil has a low smoking point?

  2. I know… I was shocked that I didn’t know this too! And I’ve been cooking with olive oil for such a long time! Apparently not at hot enough temps to make a difference.

    And thank you so much for the gifts… there’s an official thank-you note coming in the mail. 🙂

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