Dragon? Tastes Like (Stir-fried) Chicken
By Deborah Salomon
Special to The Pilot
Chinese New Year (of the Dragon) falls early: Jan. 23.
I fell in love with Chinese food as a child when, once a year on my birthday, my parents took me to Ruby Foo's - the oft- imitated, never equaled Manhattan Chinese fancy food palace.
I ordered the same thing: wonton soup and pressed duck. Boneless filets of duck breast were stuffed with something divine, coated with chopped almonds, seasoned with the omnipresent ginger and garlic and fried.
At age 8 I had found my all-time favorite food, which, sadly, has disappeared from menus.
Later, I discovered snow peas, water chestnuts, dumplings and perfect steamed rice.
Melting-pot cities have nonstop neighborhood Chinese restaurants, most so Americanized that Asians won't eat there. Chinatowns are better.
But when the urge hits I bring it home. This means stir-frying, China's gift to multinational food preparation. Stir-frying became a '90s food fad, which has declined, all too often, into a pile of soggy, oily chunks. Basically, stir-fry is another term for saute except heat will be higher. Asian cooks splash quite a bit of oil into their deep-sided woks. I never owned a proper wok - not much good without a gas stove, which provides quick, intense heat that surrounds the vessel. Still, even drab vegetables benefit from fast browning in a film of oil. The operatives are heat and fast or else the food's natural moisture steams it.
Take zucchini, that most tasteless vegetable. Slice it uniformly paper-thin. Heat a skillet hot but not quite smoking (exhaust fan essential). Wipe skillet generously with peanut oil. Add zucchini in small batches. Shake often until blackened on the edges; turn. When all slices are done, sprinkle with pressed garlic and low-sodium soy sauce.
Do the same with yellow squash, sweet or white potatoes (don't peel), green beans, carrots. Celery takes on another dimension. Spinach is fantastic stir-fried, as are peeled broccoli stalks, angel hair cole slaw from a bag (add grated carrot and chopped scallion) and diagonal asparagus cuts.
Stretch one chicken breast into three servings by placing in freezer for 30 minutes, slicing very thinly across the grain. Stir and toss in the skillet until crunchy on the outside. Works with London broil, too. Be careful with fish; chunks of catfish, tilapia, tuna or swai hold up to searing. Others fall apart.
Don't be tempted to pour oil in the skillet; use either spray or wipe with a paper towel dipped in oil. Never crowd. The hot, oiled, nonstick surface sears meat. Add a bit of sauce when the meat is done and remove from fire immediately. Sauce will warm without ruining the searing, which seals in juices and flavor.
My favorite skillet is "professional weight," from T.J. Maxx, with a heavy, flat bottom, almost-straight sides and a thick nonstick coating. I wipe it with a wet sponge and dry well after using unless something sticks. Then, a plastic scrubber.
Got leftover cooked rice or noodles? Stir-fry them. The flavor and crunch suggest "fried" without the fat calories. Stir-fry thin slices of turkey smoked sausage until well-browned; float in pea, lentil, vegetable, or black bean soup.
Stir-frying is the backbone of my vegetarian cooking. A plateful of brightly colored stir-fried veggies tossed with a pungent sauce served over rice or couscous, and you won't miss the meat.
Contact Deborah Salomon at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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