What's a girl to do when her guy is in a rock band, practice is at 7:00 (we typically eat between 7:00 and 8:00), and fast and processed food are not options? To further complicate my dilemma, Mark and I find ourselves at the gym most days until about 5:30. My "type A" perfectionist temperament usually means my menu is more complicated than it should be on nights like this one. However, occasionally I make a wise decision, and dinner is on the table with time to spare. 🙂
One of my favorite options for a quick and healthy meal is a stir-fry. Typically, the flavor profile is Asian, but not always. If you are looking to improve the quality and frequency of putting a home-cooked meal on the table, cooking by "method" and "flavor profile" are invaluable skills. I have mentioned the fact that I am a "method" cook - meaning I learned cooking methods and use them to create food, rather than follow a recipe. This process allows me to use ingredients that I have on hand rather than searching for a recipe with ingredients currently in my pantry. In this particular instance, the "method" is stir-fry, and the "flavor profile" is Asian.
I will start by describing the process of creating a good stir-fried dish. You need the appropriate tools: A good, heavy wok with a handle, a very sharp santoku or chef's knife, a cutting board, and a broad, curved spatula (I use a large bamboo spatula). I would add that a gas range with a high BTU flame is helpful for controlling the high heat, but you can certainly stir-fry successfully on most any range. You will need to use an oil with a high smoke point as you need to cook the food in a very hot pan. Peanut and canola oil work well. I keep sesame oil in my pantry, and use it in stir-fry frequently, but it must be used in combination with an oil with a higher smoke point. I think of sesame oil as more of a seasoning.
Unless you are cooking a small quantity in a large wok, you will want to cook in batches. Preparation is key, as the cooking is done in 5-10 minutes. Using partially frozen chicken (beef, pork, etc.) will make thin slicing easier. Choose vegetables according to your family's taste, and cut into bite-sized pieces. I typically use one prep bowl for my protein, one prep bowl for vegetables that require a bit more cooking time like carrots and broccoli, and one prep bowl for vegetables like bok choy, napa cabbage, green onions, spinach, etc. that require very little time to cook. If I am using green onions, toasted sesame seeds, chopped cilantro, chopped peanuts... I have them prepped as well. I will also mix the ingredients together for the sauce, so that it is ready to go into the wok. If you are serving over rice, check instructions on the package, and plan accordingly. I like to use quick-cooking brown rice (10 minutes) when I'm in a hurry. Jasmine rice is wonderful, but we don't eat refined carbs on a regular basis. Jasmine requires about 20 minutes.
So, what is meant by "Asian flavor profile"? In very broad terms, I would say ginger, garlic, soy sauce, chile for heat, and a bit of rice wine or mirin for seasoning would be typical. Of course the variety in Asian cooking is amazing! A Thai flavor profile might include peanuts/peanut butter, coconut milk, fish sauce, kaffir lime leaves, cilantro, basil, curry paste, etc. A Vietnamese flavor profile would probably include fish sauce, aromatics such as star anise and cinnamon stick, chiles, and fresh herbs. For more on stocking your pantry for Asian cooking, see my post Your Well-Stocked Pantry... and Fried Rice.
On this particularly rushed evening, I relied on my well-stocked pantry once again. I had picked up haricots vert (French green beans) and multi-colored bell peppers at the market a couple of days earlier. I keep chicken breast in my freezer at all times, so I knew I had the chicken. I don't like to thaw in the microwave unless it is absolutely necessary, but it works in a pinch. I thawed my 1 pound package while I started prepping the other ingredients. The haricots vert required nothing more than a good rinse and a quick parboil. This step results in a more tender bean. If you like them really crisp, you can skip this step. I love lots of color on the plate, so I used a red and a yellow pepper. I keep sesame seeds on hand, and after a quick toasting in a dry pan, they're set aside for garnish along with the chopped green onions. I started my rice, thin-sliced the chicken, whisked the ingredients together for the sauce, and I was ready to go...
Heat the oil(s) in a wok over high heat. Turn on your exhaust vent. Add chicken (or other protein), ginger, and garlic. Using your large, curved spatula, stir the contents of the pan often to keep it from burning. Do not over cook. When the chicken is lightly browned and cooked through, removed from the wok and set aside. Add a bit more oil, and the green beans and peppers. Stir-fry about 2-3 minutes over high heat. Add the chicken back into the wok. Stir to combine. Pour the combined sauce ingredients over the top. Stir well. Reduce heat to medium, and allow it to bubble until the sauce thickens. Serve over rice and garnish with green onions and toasted sesame seed. If I focus, I can get this on the table in less than 30 minutes... It is super-tasty, and always pleases my hubby! Click here for Stir-Fried Chicken, Green Beans, & Peppers.
- Remember that frozen ginger is easy to grate with a microplane. Remove skin with a paring knife first.
- Chinese soy sauces can be confusing! For more info, check out my Cooking Terms page.
- Get all of your ingredients prepped, and sauce ingredients combined prior to starting.
- You can modify these basic ingredients with protein and vegetables of your choice.
- Learning "the method" gives you greater flexibility and more options in getting a healthy meal on the table.
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