Stir-fry is a fall-back meal for many Americans: Slice up some vegetables and maybe some meat, throw it in a wok or skillet, douse it with “stir-fry sauce” (sometimes from a bottle) and, hey, instant food.
Lately I’ve been reminded that authentic Chinese or Japanese stir-fry, while not much more complex than that, uses specific cooking techniques that can result in amazingly fresh-tasting dishes that retain the flavors of each ingredient while marrying them with just the slightest amount of subtle, savory sauce.
The stir-fry I made tonight is not my own; I owe it directly to Steamy Kitchen, a terrific “modern Asian” foodblog. The techniques she uses are classic, the flavors bright and fresh, and the presentation downright gorgeous.
I won’t repeat the recipe here, except to say that I used my wok for the whole thing, flash-frying the basil in a couple of inches of peanut oil, then turning the burner off and letting it cool down before draining most of the oil (now pale green and scented with basil) into a container for later use. I also had some green beans I wanted to use up, so I cut them in two-inch lengths, steamed them in the microwave (in a Pyrex dish with a few drops of water, covered with plastic wrap) till crisp-tender, then tossed them with a little hoisin sauce, and added them to the stir fry at the same time the shrimp was returned to the pan.
Two things about that recipe that bear noting: The shrimp, marinated in the slightest amount of cornstarch, sesame oil and salt, are cooked briefly first on one side, then the other, rather than tossed around in the wok as many stir-fry ingredients are. Second, the sauce – soy sauce, sesame oil, sugar – is also made in a very small quantity. Less really is more here; dumping in lots of sauce results in a dish that’s steamed and soupy, while using less than a tablespoon, as in this recipe, coats the shrimp and vegetables with just a gloss of flavor, and leaves them crisp and fresh.
Globe zucchini, chiles, and green beans came from the farmers’ market; basil and garlic came from my own garden.