Every now and then I crave beef, and in keeping with a healthy diet, I allow only 4 ounces meat per portion. Given that a 4-ounce steak looks meager on the dinner pate, I stretch it by slicing it thin and stir-frying it with a bunch of scallions and a handful of bean sprouts.
Yield: 4 Servings
1 pound beef sirloin or flank steak or 2 cups leftover pork, lamb, or beef roast cut in strips (see step 1)
1 clove garlic
1 bunch scallions (green onions)
4 cups mung bean sprouts, 1 head shredded romaine lettuce or escarole (4 cups), or 2 cups leftover steamed vegetables
1 tablespoon Oriental sesame or vegetable oil
1 teaspoon sugar
¼ teaspoon dried lemon peel
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1. Cut the steak into strips about 2 inches long and ¼ inch wide. Mince the garlic. Thinly slice the scallions including most of the green tops. Shred the lettuce if using.
2. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add the beef (either fresh or leftover), and stir-fry for 1 minute. Add the garlic, sugar, lemon peel, soy sauce, and vinegar and stir-fry 30 seconds longer. Stir in the bean sprouts or lettuce and the scallions and stir-fry until the beef is barely cooked and the vegetables have just wilted, about 10 seconds more. Remove the skillet from the heat and season to taste with salt and pepper.
Omit the garlic. Substitute a fat bunch of fresh cilantro or parsley, minced, for the scallions.
To make the dish taste less Chinese, substitute ½ to 1 teaspoon of a prepared condiment such as pesto, black olive paste, chutney, or chili paste for the sugar, lemon peel, soy sauce, and vinegar in step 2.
Anatomy of a Stir-Fry:
What we call “stir-fry” in our house is a dinner that makes use of odd bits and pieces of leftovers, quickly sautéed in a skillet. The following recipe should be thought of as a model only.
When creating your own recipe, count on 4 ounces meat and 1 to 2 cups vegetable per person. Then dice, slice, or mince the ingredients. The smaller they’re chopped, the quicker they cook.
Use oil for stir-frying because the heat must be high to keep the food from steaming. Only oil can take that kind of heat.
Always begin by stir-frying those ingredients that take longest to cook, for example, raw vegetables. Add other ingredients, in sequence, ending with those that are fastest to cook. Garlic should go in toward the end, after the meat is almost done, because it burns and turns acrid over high heat.
Next add the raw meat. Beef and lamb are done in a few minutes and can be served on the rare side, whereas pork takes longer because it must be cooked through.
When the meat is almost cooked, add whatever precooked or thawed frozen vegetables you are using. If you’re reheating leftover cooked meat in a stir-fry, then the meat and these vegetables should be added at the same time.
The last touch should be a seasoning fillip of some sort, like soy sauce and rice vinegar or a teaspoon of a prepared condiment. Minced herbs should be stirred in, off the heat, at the last minutes to preserve their fresh spark.