I often make a generic “stir fry” to which I add various Asian seasonings we stock in the kitchen regularly. It’s a great way to use some assorted vegetables from the farmshare, and whatever protein you have lying around ready to use. But I rarely try to make it from a recipe – once you get the basic idea of cooking fast over high heat, it hasn’t seemed necessary.
I can’t really explain why last night I turned to the Joyce Chen cookbook we have, published in the 1960s, when Joyce Chen was doing for Chinese cooking a little bit of what Julia Child did for French cooking : “Hey people, this isn’t scary to cook and tastes good, not weird!” So by using this cookbook, I guess am being “authentic” to what Chinese people 40 years ago though American people 40 years ago would be willing to eat. Kind of like the takeout Chinese food I grew up with, but with mostly very good ingredients.
I had defrosted 2 chuck steaks from Chestnut Farms – they are shaped like steaks, but cut from a part of the cow that is not super tender without marinating or slicing very thin. And I had ginger from Old Friends Farm, which the Brookfield Farm folks offered to deliver with our shares last week. It seemed like it would be a good match for stir-frying – the recipes called for flank steak, which is also not a super high end steak, but not what I had. There were recipes for beef with pea pods, beef with green peppers, and beef with mushrooms – all with the exact same sauce : ginger, soy sauce, sherry, sugar, salt, corn starch, MSG. So it was not stretching it too far to use an assortment of vegetables instead. We had the last of a head of cabbage from Brookfield Farm in the fridge, as well as its newer sibling, so the old piece needed to get used up. I used a green pepper, some celery, and carrot, too. I had enough green peppers that I could have made beef with green peppers, but then the peppers would have overwhelmed the reluctant pepper eater. (He is not the 4 year old in our household, by the way.)
Because I like contradiction, I took all of this good stuff and then followed the sauce recipe pretty exactly with it – I added a lot more fresh ginger, much of it grated, but other than that I added everything – the corn starch, the sugar, even the MSG! (Yes, I like the umami stuff even if it is artificial, and even if I am cooking from scratch.)
The main change from the way I usually stir fry is that you cook the vegetables on their own in oil over high heat, then remove them and cook the meat together with the starchy sauce, then add the vegetables back in. The surface of the meat got that shiny iridescent look all over it, and the sauce was clearly the same brown ginger sauce as your classic takeout Americanized Szechuan Chinese food — only it all tasted more like the food it came from.
Some days, though, I still want to call for delivery. (Besides, then I can get Peking Meat Sauce noodle soup instead of Beef With Vegetables.)