The cheapest, fastest, and tastiest.... Stir Fry

We had beef and broccoli stir fry today. The brown sauce I use is based on This Recipe. It took me a long time to find a brown sauce I liked. I like this one because it's just the right consistency and doesn't have too much soy. I like PLENTY of stir-fry sauce when I cook because my favorite part of stir-fry is sauce-soaked rice. This sauce recipe is a good base for any kind of Asian cooking you are doing. It can perk up and thicken a soup or be used as a sauce over veggies and rice. It can also be used in your Top Ramen noodles instead of the enclosed seasoning packet. You won't be sorry for throwing out the Ramen seasoning packet and doctoring your own ramen noodles, they can make quite a meal. Wait until you try your Ramen noodles cooked in Your Own Stock instead of plain water!

If you do a lot of stir-fry or Asian style cooking, you can double or triple the sauce recipe and store it in a jar in the fridge (which makes it easy to grab, shake, and pour) for a week or so and use as needed.

Recipe for Stir-Fry Sauce:

3 1/2 TBS Cornstarch
1-2 tsp. grated ginger depending on your tastes, I like a lot--we buy a Hand Of Ginger "in town" and keep it in the freezer, it's the only way for us to keep "fresh" ginger in the house. Your palate will never know the difference and that hand will last you for a long time.
2-3 cloves minced garlic
3 TBS brown sugar depending on taste. Hubby likes his sweeter, I like mine less so, but the brown sugar is key to the recipe. I don't like enough so that I can taste the sweet, 2 tbs. is plenty for me. But without the sugar, the sauce really suffers. You can subsitute any sugary substance for brown sugar--honey, molasses, agave nectar--whatever works for you.
1/4 tsp. Chinese hot mustard if you've got it
1 1/2 cups chicken, beef, or turkey stock (use bouillon cubes or canned broth if you must--but don't use just water if you can help it or your sauce will be blah). Don't be afraid to use chicken stock with beef--it tastes marvelous. Beef stock would be better with beef, but any stock is better than none in this recipe.
1/3 cup soy sauce

Somthing HOT if you like spicy. We use a couple of dried Kung Pao peppers (crushed) or about 3 TBS of "fire oil." But you could use whatever spicy pepper you have available. Crushed red pepper is fine--start with 1 tsp. and use more or less next time depending on your taste. You could also use any minced fresh pepper that you fancied. I'm fortunate that hubby grows peppers in his garden that we can't buy here. I'm also fortunate to have Not One But Three of These Dehydrators. I love thrift stores!

Whisk all ingredients together except the stock. Add 1 TBS. of quality white wine vinegar or beer vinegar if you like a more "sweet and sour" aspect to your stir-fry--if using vinegar be sure to balance it by using the full amount of sugar/syrups/whatever. Heat stock to boiling and slowly whisk this in with the rest of the ingredients. Microwave for 30 seconds at a time until it just begins to thicken. This wakes up the peppers, garlic, and ginger. Set sauce aside to "marry up" while you prepare the rest of the dish.

Simple Stir-Fry Recipe:
Cook 2 cups of your preferred rice according to package directions. We use a cheapie rice cooker that I adore. It frees up stove top space and I don't have to worry about a timer or burning my rice. Although I do unplug the cooker as soon as I realize the rice is done--it stays hot for quite a while after it's cooked and I find that this amount of rice reaches an unpleasant consistency if left on the "warm" setting in the rice cooker for too long.
1 lb of thin sliced, bite-sized pieces of beef, venison, chicken, or turkey, put in a sealable plastic bag with a wad of several clean, fresh paper towels--the drier the meat the better the sear. WET, super moist meat dripping in juices and/or marinade won't sear properly unless you are lucky enough to have a specialty stove that will super heat your pan or wok. If you want to marinate your meat first, go ahead, but then be sure and pour off the marinade and stuff several clean paper towels in the bag and let it sit for awhile to soak up excess moisture. However, if your sauce is good and you are using tasty veggies, your meat will be just fine plain and unadulterated. Leftover meat instead of raw meat is fine, by the way--no need to sear it of course. We often make this recipe using leftover roast chicken or our canned venison (it's SO tender and delicious) and whatever vegetables we happen to have. If using pre-cooked meat in this recipe, shred it or slice it thin and set it aside until you are cooking the last of the veggies and add the meat to them in order to heat the meat.
7 or 8 green onions. Separate the green tops from their white bottoms and julienne them all, but keep them separate.

1 14oz. bag of frozen broccoli, unopened. Yes, use fresh if you like but in our area the best quality broccoli is usually frozen. The fresh stuff tends to be expensive and pathetic. Stab one side of your frozen broccoli bag a few times with a knife and then set in the microwave on the defrost setting until the broccoli is just soft enough to cut but still mostly frozen. Don't "cook" it. Cut your broccoli in strips, if you can. This isn't easy to do but the smaller, thinner strips will cook faster, be better tasting, and be easier to eat in stir-fry. We often use a frozen mixture of Asian-style veggies that are already the perfect size and shape for stir-fry, but I let them defrost a bit so they cook faster in the skillet. You can defrost them a bit by just leaving them on the counter for a while or by stabbing them repeatedly on one side of the bag (oh so cathartic) and defrosting them (slightly) in the nuker. The stir-fry veggies above are about $1.40 a bag and worth every little penny. If I bought these veggies fresh and seperately I'd not only have to prep them, but I'd have to use 'em quick before they rotted. Buying them like this is cheap, fast, and easy. The broccoli, at $1.99 a bag is still cheaper than fresh and requires almost as much prep as fresh would (for this particular recipe), but it's worth it to always have brocolli in the freezer when I need it.

What to cook this in: First things first, go set your A/C on "fan" so that you've got plenty of air circulating (or open the windows if it's nice out) and take the battery out of your smoke detector.

We can't get our wok hot enough to cook our stir-fry properly so we use an iron skillet. I put the skillet on high heat until it's smoking hot, usually takes five to seven minutes. I'm too lazy to cook small portions of the food at a time so I don't get that nice sear on the meat or the scorch on the veggies that you'd get in a good Asian restaurant. You need serious HEAT for that kind of searing. I'm determined to acquire a second, large iron skillet one day to speed up the process of cooking things like stir-fry AND to help increase my chances of getting seared meat and scorched veggies! With two large iron skillets, I think I could.

Have a large container with a lid nearby, get your pan smoking hot, add a tablespoon or two of peanut or other oil, and toss the meat in. Don't turn down your heat at any point from here on. Stir-fry the meat until it's nearly done and then put it into the lidded container to keep it hot and moist. If you want more of a sear on your meat, you can cook your meat a little at a time--but you'll have to let the pan re-heat between portions.

When your meat is cooked and set aside, let the pan reheat, add a little more oil, and cook 1/3 to 1/2 of your veggies (minus the green onion tops) the same way you did your meat. They'll cook fast. And you don't really want them to "cook" as much as you just want them to get hot. Stir-fried veggies should be crisp. As you can see from my photo, I didn't get a sear on my meat or veggies. But the meat wasn't overcooked and the veggies were still crisp--although the broccoli does look a little dull. Ah, well, can't have everything.

Once your last portion of veggies is heated through, put everything back in the pan and add your sauce. Cook this for about two minutes until sauce has thickened a bit, add the green onion tops and stir well, then remove it all from the pan and put it into your lidded dish to keep it hot and moist and also to keep your food from tasting like an iron skillet.

Serve over rice adding soy sauce to taste. This recipe sounds like a lot of work, but once you get used to it, it really is fast and easy. The most time consuming part is preparing the veggies. Everything else is a snap. I can prepare and cook it all in about 30 minutes. This serves us two with leftovers for one of us to have lunch the next day. We're big eaters, this would probably serve four normal, adult eaters, if you had a little something on the side to go with it, just fine.

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