All the Details

A few of weeks ago in a fit of rage I lit into some Internet moron for what I thought were the following offenses:

1. Not being able to follow simple directions from Mark Bittman about how to make a simple stir fry.

2. Drastically overestimating the cost of the endeavor, being unfamiliar with the notion of “amortization”.

In retrospect perhaps I was a bit unfair to the poor woman. It became clear to me that Bittman had left out a lot of important details that experienced cooks tend to take for granted. Since I am a software engineer, dealing with apparently insignificant details is my professional business, so I thought maybe I could help clear things up. So here is a simple stir fry recipe with every single possible detail included, so you can get it right the first time and then repeat it later to amortize your efforts.

You will need the following non-food items:

1. A kitchen stove with one working burner.

2. A good chef’s knife. You can get a decent one fairly cheaply at a restaurant supply store.

3. While you are there, get a 12 inch non-stick skillet as well, with a lid. Wearever makes a good one that will last you a long time.

4. One mixing bowl, medium sized.

5. A good cutting board. I like wood, but those new ones made out of recycled skateboards are OK too.

6. If you want rice, get a rice cooker.

7. A large serving platter.

You will need the following food items:

1. 3/4lb flank steak. This comes in a nice slab that is easy to slice.

2. 2 tablespoons of soy sauce.

3. 2 tablespoons of sherry, or white wine, or red wine. If you have no wine, I’m not sure what to do for you. I wonder if other booze would work. Maybe beer. Or whiskey.

4. 1 or 2 teaspoons of corn starch. You might have to buy a whole box.

5. Some napa cabbage. The best thing is to get about four of the mini- cabbages at the Chinese stores. These are the best because they are the easiest to cut up. One of the worst things, in retrospect, about the Bittman recipe was that he told you to use broccoli, which is the single worst sort of vegetable to prep for stir fry. If you can’t find those, get a normal sized napa cabbage. one will probably be big enough. If you feel like being adventurous you can also use any of the following: baby bok choy, baby chinese broccoli, broccolini, bean sprouts, or almost anything else that can be cut up small and cook relatively quickly.

6. 2 cups of rice for the rice cooker.

7. Some water.

8. Salt and pepper, a large pinch of each.

9. Optional: garlic and ginger diced really small.

10. Some cooking oil. It doesn’t really matter what kind.

First, start the rice. Follow the directions in the manual for how much water to add. Turn on the cooker.

Next, prep the steak. Usually you want to take your knife and first cut the thing in half lengthwise with the grain of the meat. The grain of the meat is easy to see. It’s made up of long vertical strips. Now take each half and carefully slice it across the grain into pieces as thin as you can make them. Put the meat in the bowl. For more tips, check out this youtube video on how to cut the beef.

Now add the soy sauce and the wine to the bowl. Mix. If you have the ginger, mix that in too.

Let that bowl sit in the kitchen while the rice cooks. If the rice has already cooked before you are done cutting, don’t worry, it will keep. Move on to the cabbage.

The cabbage is really easy. If it’s a small one, lay it down on the cutting board on its side and pretend that it’s a gigantic sausage. Now chop the sausage into rounds about an inch thick. Then cut each one in half. Presto, small pieces of cabbage perfect for stir frying.

If it’s a larger one, then peel the leaves one by one and cut each one up into little pieces. Then, when the cabbage has shrunk enough you can do the sausage thing. When you are done you should have a big pile of cabbage pieces.

OK. Now wait for the rice to cook. Go play Halo.

When the rice cooker is done, put your skillet on the stove and turn the heat on medium high to high to get it hot. While the pan heats up, add a teaspoon or two of corn starch to the meat and mix it up. When the pan is hot, add the oil and then the meat. If you are using the garlic, add it to the meat now. Turn the heat to medium high and stir the meat around. You want a constant level of smooth motion to get the pieces of meat to cook on all sides. But you can stop once in a while for a short rest. You’ll be able to tell the meat is done when it loses its red color. Around the time this happens it will also start to eject some liquid into the pan resulting in a nice sauce. At this point pick up the pan and toss the meat back into the mixing bowl.

Now put the pan back on the stove and let it get hot again. Add a bit more oil and then throw in the cabbage. Don’t overfill the pan. You need to leave room to move the veggies around. If you don’t use all of it, don’t worry, save the rest for later. Throw the pinch of salt and pepper over the cabbage and then pour in a tablespoon or two of water. You should get a nice bubbly steaming action going, and at that point cover the pan. Count to 30 seconds. Take the lid off and stir the veggies around again. Now put the lid back on again. Count to another 30 seconds and repeat. Keep doing this until the cabbage has wilted and the white parts are soft. Make sure the liquid does not burn off.

When the cabbage is done, add the meat back on top of it. Mix this around in the pan. Then turn the heat off. Put the food on the platter. Serve with rice.

Hopefully this clears up some of the details involved in making a basic stir fry dish that might have been missing from existing recipes on the Interweb. If this helps you out, let me know.