Thursday, May 31, 2007

Chicken and Vegetable Stir-Fry

Stir-fried vegetables, served over rice or ramen noodles, is a staple for my family. They're simple, quick, tasty, and healthy. If I've got some chicken, pork, beef, or some other meat hanging around I'll throw that in, too. A favorite with me and the kids is to skip the meat and add firm tofu instead.

I'm so glad my kids like tofu!

The secrets of stir-frying, as I see them, are four fold:
  1. Cut the meat (or tofu) and vegetables small enough to fit on a fork (or pick up with chopsticks), and thin enough to maximize the surface area.
  2. Use high enough heat to cook the vegetables quickly, but maintain crispness.
  3. Cook each ingredient only until it's done, and no more. You want each ingredient to be cooked to it's own perfection. This may involved cooking each ingredient separately, and then recombining them to heat through in the end.
  4. In order to do points two and three effectively, you've got to keep the food moving in the pan. That's why it's called stir-frying, for heaven's sake!

One of the great advantages of a stir-fry is that you can use whatever you have on hand. You don't need to make a special trip for ingredients, unless you want to of course.

Here's what my daughter and I made together a couple of Sunday's ago:

Chicken and Vegetable Stir-Fry


2 boneless chicken breasts
2 tbsp cornstarch
1/2 yellow onion, chopped (I prefer using green onions, but we didn't have any on hand).
1 cup baby carrots, cut into thin strips (With full sized carrots, cut into thin slices on a bias. This makes pretty ovals that are easy to handle with chopsticks.)
Two stalks of celery, chopped
1 can (6 oz.?) of sliced water chestnuts
1 green pepper, rough chopped
1/4 cup sherry
1/4 cup low sodium soy sauce
3/4 cup water
1 cube chicken bouillon
1/2 tsp ground ginger (fresh is better)
2 cloves garlic, minced
Peanut oil

Rinse the chicken and cut into 1" pieces. Toss with 1 tbsp of the cornstarch to coat, and set aside. Cut the vegetables and set aside in individual dishes (My family washes and reuses plastic sour cream tubs for this).

Heat the water, and dissolve the bouillon cube in it. If you've got some chicken or vegetable stock on hand, that would be better.

Heat a wok or large non-stick frying pan on medium high heat. Add about one tbsp of peanut oil to coat the bottom of the pan. Because we are going to cook each ingredient separately, you may need to add more oil from time to time. Just try not to overdo it.

Add the onions and garlic, and cook until the onions just start to get a bit brown. Remove from pan and set aside.

Reduce heat to medium and add chicken to the pan. You may need to add more oil. Add the chicken/cornstarch mixture to the pan and cook until it's no longer pink inside, and the outside is just a nice golden color. Remove from pan. Make sure you put it in a clean bowl, not the one you mixed it up in. We don't want to risk getting salmonella, here.

Cook the other vegetables, one at a time, removing them after they have been cooked through, but still a bit crispy. It's better to undercook them than overcook them.

De-glaze the pan by adding the sherry. When it quits bubbling quite so hard (showing that the alcohol has been evaporated), return all the ingredients to the pan and gently stir together.

Now that the bouillon or stock is cooled, mix the bouillon with the soy sauce, ginger, and remaining tbsp of cornstarch. Add the mixture to the pan. Cook, while stirring, until the sauce is thick and bubbly. Add salt or soy sauce to taste.

Serve over cooked rice or noodles in individual bowls, and enjoy!

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