Although I had planned to work right up to just before my first child was born, medical conditions required me to go on maternity leave a month before then. Those four weeks were the one and only time in my adult life that I had no responsibilities other than making supper. It was a memorably idyllic time for me as I waited for my baby to be born while I went through stacks of cooking magazines and cut out recipes to try.
Since I was supposed to stay off my feet, after I finished cutting out recipes, I gravitated toward the TV. At the time, we didn’t have cable—there was no Food Channel for me to watch. Every afternoon, though, I would watch two favorite TV shows—daily reruns of Perry Mason and a new Canadian cooking show, Stephen Yan’s Wok with Yan (not to be confused with Martin Yan of Yan Cook Cook).
Stephen Yan wasn’t just an excellent Chinese cook—he was a stand-up comedian! He would always wear an apron with a humorous saying about woks—Over Wok, Underpaid; Danger, Men at Wok; Stuck between a wok and a hard place; and so many more. In addition, he always had the audience and me laughing at his zingy one-liners: Unexpected company coming? Cut the meat in smaller pieces! It took me several shows to realize that his “wonder powder” (Bet you wonder what it is!) was actually corn starch.
Once I realized that there were some really simple basic techniques and Chinese seasonings and sauces, I became quite adept at cooking Chinese without a recipe. Stir fries are so easy and lend themselves to a variety of meats and vegetables which are interchangeable. Since I always have a well-stocked pantry which includes Chinese ingredients, it doesn’t take much for me or Roger to stir fry some meat and whatever vegetables are on hand and enjoy a Chinese meal. Growing up, our kids referred to it as mom’s and dad’s stir fry.
If you don’t own a wok, I highly recommend that you get one along with a long-handled spatula. Then all you need are a few Chinese ingredients such as sesame oil, oyster sauce, Chinese cooking wine, rice vinegar, and soy sauce, all of which are available in the Chinese food aisle of your local supermarket. You can also buy the baby corn you see in Chinese dishes as well as water chestnuts and bamboo shoots. I like to buy fresh Chinese peapods in the produce section and add those to my stir fry. But, honestly, all you need are the meat and vegetables of your choice along with a few simple seasonings and you’ll be well on your way to a really great home-cooked Chinese meal.
One year ago: Beer and Brown Sugar Kielbasa and Sauerkraut
Chinese Stir Fry aka Mom’s & Dad’s Stir Fry
The quantities and types of meat and vegetables are merely suggestions. If you are cooking for more than four people, you will most likely need to cook two batches of both meat and vegetables because, otherwise, the wok will be too full to properly stir fry.
- Vegetable oil
- 1 to 2 cloves garlic, either minced or crushed
- 3 to 4 thin slices of ginger root, minced
- 1.5 – 2 lbs. chicken, beef, or pork sliced into thin pieces; 1 to 2″ long, approx. 1/2″ wide, approx. 1/4″ thick
Add anywhere from 1/4 to 1/2 cup of any or all of your favorite vegetables.
- Any color bell peppers
- Pea pods
- water chestnuts (canned)
- Baby corn (canned)
- Bamboo shoots (canned), etc.
All fresh vegetables should be cut into bite-sized pieces that will be easy to stir fry. A general rule is to try to cut your vegetables in the same manner in any dish; e.g. diced or in thin strings.
- Oyster sauce
- Sesame seed oil
- Chinese rice wine
- Soy sauce, optional
VEGETABLE SEASONING – Mix ingredients together to blend
- 2 tbl. rice wine
- 1/4 tsp. sugar
- 1/8 tsp. salt
OYSTER SAUCE – Mix ingredients together to blend
- 1 1/2 tsp. corn starch
- 3 tbl. water
- 6 tbl. oyster sauce
- 1/2 tsp. sugar
- 1 1/2 tsp. sesame oil
Put cornstarch in small bowl; then add water slowly, whisking all the while—otherwise it will clump. Add oyster sauce, sugar and sesame oil and whisk to combine.
Special Cooking Equipment
- Chinese wok
- Long-handled spatula
Heat your wok on high for a couple of minutes. Add approximately 2 tablespoons of oil to the pan and swirl it around and up the sides of the wok. You should see the oil shimmer.
Add the vegetables of your choice and stir fry for 2 or 3 minutes if you like your veggies tender crisp or a few minutes longer if you prefer your veggies softer. Add the vegetable seasoning when the vegetables are just about to your liking. Stir fry for an additional 30 seconds to mix in the seasoning; then remove the vegetables to a holding bowl.
Add another tablespoon or two of oil to the wok, and add the garlic and ginger root. Stir fry for 30 to 60 seconds and immediately add your choice of meat. Keep things moving quickly with your spatula so that the aromatics do not burn. When the meat is no longer pink, drain off any excess liquid released by the meat—if any. Add the vegetables back in and then add the oyster sauce. Stir fry for another minute to combine the meat and vegetables and distribute the oyster sauce.
More Fran’s Notes