The key to a great stir-fry lies in a few ground rules.
Number One: Don’t even think of turning on the heat and pulling out your wok if all your veggies and proteins aren’t prepped.
Number Two: Rely on a quick marinade to make proteins sing.
Number Three: Stir-fry pork, beef, chicken, seafood or tofu after you have stir-fried your perfectly chopped veggies. Keep the two separately stir-fried and mix it all together at the finale.
What makes stir-fried veggies so deliciously tender-crisp? Even size. Chop each carrot into a match-stick or uber-thin slice, preferably on a slant. Cut every broccoli or cauliflower floret as if identical. Shave off slices of Napa, green or purple cabbage.
If cutting veg isn’t your thing, you can go for bigger pieces, just make sure they are all the same size to ensure even cooking. Onions, bell peppers and bok choy stems stir-fry effortlessly if cut into equal-sized quarters or eighths. Green onions taste great cut into two-inch pieces. So do leeks. Green beans, snow and snap peas simply need stems removed.
Whether it is tofu, ground pork or sliced beef, all will taste better if they are marinated in soy and sherry for at least 10 minutes. I keep half pound portions of pork tenderloin, flank steak or boneless chicken thighs tucked away in my freezer. All are easier to slice thinly when partially frozen and can defrost fully while marinating.
A tablespoon of corn starch in a marinade will help thicken a stir-fry’s essential sauce. Nobody likes an oily stir-fry yet many stir-fry beginners add too much oil to the equation. The trick is to heat a dry wok on high heat (preferably gas) add oil (preferably a neutral organic one) and swirl it around to cover the wok’s sides, then start tossing in ingredients, very quickly.
Said ingredients must be ready within reach from the stovetop, including water or stock, essential for steaming vegetables once the wok gets dry, a phenom that happens within the first few minutes of your average stir-fry. Splash in half a cup of water or stock, put the lid on and let your stir-fry cook itself, gradually adding veggies starting with the longest-to-cook ones.
Seasoning is essential to taste and rare is the stir-fry in my kitchen that doesn’t contain freshly grated ginger and garlic. Because they are grated and cook in an instant, these seasonings can be added into the protein’s marinade or tossed in at the very beginning, stir-fried for just a few seconds before adding longer-cooking, bigger pieces of veggies such as onion, cabbage, peppers, broccoli, cauliflower, bok choy stems, Gai lan stems, chayote or kohlrabi.
The last thing I might throw into a stir-fry is sliced leaves, bean sprouts, snow peas or freshly chopped herbs. In the case of this recipe, I tossed in whole basil leaves just before sliding the entire event on to a big white platter.
Stir-Fried Pork with Peppers and Black Bean Sauce
Serve this on steamed rice or noodles.
1/2 lb/200g pork tenderloin, thinly sliced against the grain (or firm tofu)
1 Tbsp corn starch
1 Tbsp soy sauce
1 Tbsp cooking sherry or wine
1/2 tsp sambal oelek *optional
1/2 tsp sesame oil
1/2 tsp granulated sugar
Freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup neutral oil, divided in half
1-inch knob ginger, peeled and finely grated
2 cloves garlic, finely grated
1/4 cup fermented black beans or 1 tbsp Lee Kum Kee black bean and garlic sauce
4 green onions, sliced into 2 inch pieces
1 small red onion, cut into eighths
2 bell peppers, thinly sliced
2 cups green beans, topped and tailed
1/2 cup water
8 leaves fresh basil or mint
In a medium bowl, combine sliced pork and corn starch. Add soy, sherry, sambal oelek, sesame oil, sugar, black pepper and set aside to marinate at least 10 minutes.
Heat wok on high. Add 2 tbsp oil and swirl around the sides. With a large Chinese spatula/shovel stir-fry ginger and garlic for 30 seconds, add black beans, green onions, red onion, bell peppers and green beans. Stir and cook until wok gets dry, add water, drizzling around the sides of the hot wok, stir until combined. Put the wok lid on. Wait until veggies are tender crisp, about 2-3 minutes. Transfer to platter.
Return the same wok to high heat, add remaining 2 tbsp of oil, swirl around sides. Add marinated pork or tofu, stir fry until golden brown, adding a tablespoon or more of water or stock if wok gets dry. Add reserved vegetables and fresh basil or mint. Stir to combine. Transfer to platter and serve immediately.