Stir-Fry Success

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.

Shanghai Bok Choy

Whether it is green stemmed Shanghai bok choy or “regular” white-stemmed bok choy this vegetable is meant for the wok. Baby or full size, bok choy stir-fries beautifully when it is washed and chopped in similar sized pieces. Stir-fry the thicker stem portions first and toss in the chopped green leaves afterwards. Because greens release a lot of water while cooking, no extra water or stock is needed, but you will need a cover to steam until just done. 

2 tbsp oil  

1-inch fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated

1 lb/400g bok choy

1/2 tsp sea salt

Wash and prep the bok choy and ginger, arranging in bowls or plates beside the stove-top. Heat the wok on high.  Add oil, swirl to cover the sides of the wok and toss in ginger. Using a large Chinese spatula, stir for 10 seconds then add the chopped bok choy stems and sprinkle with salt. Stir-fry about 2 minutes or until slightly tender. Add all the chopped leafy ends, mix and cover. Leave to steam 1 or 2 minutes or until leaves are wilted and stems still firm but deliciously tender.

Smeared Cauliflower

Ginger Turmeric Smeared Cauliflower

Make this a vegan one-pan meal with the addition of chickpeas.  Serve with hunks of whole grain bread and a leafy green salad. 

Paste: 

2 tbsp olive oil

2 tbsp water

1 cooking onion, small, peeled and quartered

1 inch ginger, coarsely chopped

I inch turmeric, coarsely chopped

1 large clove garlic

1 tsp coriander powder

¼ tsp hot chili flakes

1 tsp cumin seeds

Salt and pepper

1 tbsp olive oil

1 head cauliflower, rinsed whole, cut into steaks, loose greens

6-8 grape tomatoes, sliced in half

1 cup chickpeas * optional

Preheat oven to 400 F

Whirl oil, water, onion, ginger, turmeric, garlic, coriander powder, hot chilli flakes, cumin seeds, salt and pepper in a small food processor.  

Brush oil evenly over the bottom of a rimmed baking sheet. Scatter cauliflower steaks and pieces and smear on paste with a spoon or basting brush. 

Bake 40 min. flipping halfway through.

Chinese Steamed Fish

As we usher in the New Chinese Year today, let’s eat fish!  Not only is fish a fine food to eat on Friday (especially if you’re Catholic) but if you’re speaking Mandarin, fish (鱼 yu) symbolizes prosperity, because  yu is a  homonym for surplus.

Steaming is a healthy and delicious way to cook fish creating a sumptuous sauce to spoon over rice.  Moreover, steam heat is gentle yet fast.  Cooking is done in 8-10 minutes.  Once your fillets pass the flake-test,  you can leave your fish covered in the steamer and it will stay warm while you set the table or finish stir-frying some Chinese greens like bok choy or gai lan.

Chinese-style steamed fish

1 lb/450 gm       sea bass, cod, salmon, haddock, tilapia or halibut fillet, cut into 4 pieces

Sauce:

2 TBS    black bean and garlic sauce OR 2 tsp soy sauce

2 tsp      toasted sesame oil

2 TBS      water

2 TBS      Japanese mirin or cooking sherry

1 three-inch knob ginger, peeled and thinly sliced into matchsticks

3 green onion OR 1 small leek, thinly sliced lengthwise

2 TBS      fresh coriander, chopped

Mix sauce ingredients in a small bowl.

Place fillets in a heat-proof dish that will fit inside an aluminum or bamboo steamer. (Or, create your own steamer by placing a rack set in a large skillet.)

Using a spoon, place an equal amount of sauce on each fillet. Sprinkle over with ginger matchsticks and green onions or leek.

Bring several inches of water to boil in the steamer. Wearing oven gloves, place the dish with fillets into the steamer.

Cover and steam 8-10 minutes on high, or until the fish flakes at the touch of a fork and is opaque in the middle.

Garnish with fresh coriander and serve over steamed rice.

© 2015 Madeleine Greey

Cookies! White choc macs

Fine baking is all about good ingredients and a reliable recipe.  That’s why I turned to one of my baking idols, Bonnie Stern, for this cookie recipe’s foundation.

Desserts, first published in 1988 and revised ten years later, is over 200 pages of sweet perfection. My revised paperback edition is well-loved, covered in stains and filled with dog-eared page after page of handwritten notes.  I found “Triple Chocolate Chip Cookies” on page 108, where I had scribbled “Great!” 20 years ago and made plans to substitute half the chocolate with macadamia nuts.

Mac lovers have a thing for these nuts from Hawaii and you’d think I’d have no trouble finding them on Vancouver Island, just 2,361 miles away…  After two supermarket scans, I had given up all macadamian hope until David pounced on two bags at Country Grocer in Cobble Hill.

Bonnie wrote this recipe after lunching with “Mr. Chocolate Himself” (Bernard Callebaut) making me woeful not to have a chunk of his white stuff in my cupboards. I had to make do with PC white chocolate chips.

Luckily, butter fared better. Freshly purchased from Cow-Op, I had a glorious half-pound of Avalon organic unsalted butter that was whipped into a frenzy by Krystal, driving our cookie operation inside the KitchenAid mixer.

Ten minutes earlier, Krystal had placed two cold eggs from the fridge into a bowl of warm water to gently warm them up to room temp for the bake. I knew Promise Valley’s farm stand eggs were the finest and freshest I could find, their deep orange yolks ready to enrich this already rich mix.

For added flavour and a hint of nutrition, I substituted all-purpose with True Grain’s Sifted Spelt. Whether it’s sprouted, whole or sifted, spelt doesn’t disappoint in chocolate cookies.

This recipe delivers gooey, sugar-loving smiles and zillions (okay, just 50) cookies. If you can, hide some in the freezer — a tactic I’ve employed too often to really call successful any more.

Macadamia White Chocolate Chip Cookies

1 cup/2 sticks               unsalted butter, softened

1 cup                              brown sugar

½ cup                             granulated sugar

2                                     eggs, room temp

1 ½ tsp                          vanilla extract

1 tsp                              water

2 cups                           whole, sprouted or sifted Spelt

1 tsp                              baking soda

½ tsp                             sea salt

1 cup                             white chocolate chips or shredded

1 cup                             macadamia nuts

Preheat oven to 350 F

In a mixer using the whisk attachment, cream butter, brown and granulated sugar on high for about 2 minutes or until very light. Mix in one egg at a time. Mix in vanilla and water.

In a medium bowl, whisk together spelt, soda and sea salt.

Add flour mixture to creamed butter in mixer using paddle attachment until combined.  Add white chocolate and nuts until just combined.

On a baking sheet lined with parchment, drop cookie mix by the teaspoon and gently roll into balls.

Bake 10-12 minutes or until golden brown. Leave on baking sheet for 5 min. before transferring to a cooling rack.

Finding Spot Prawns

It was the Insulation Guy who got me started on the Spot Prawns. He’d just removed his gloves to down a glass of water and was looking around my kitchen, sniffing out my latest exploit, staring at rows of hot and boiled jam jars clicking shut in BerNARdin burps.

“You like to cook?” he asked.

I laughed.

“Lucky living here, then! All the blackberries you could eat in a lifetime. I’ve got a secret spot where there’s so many I can fill the back of my pickup truck in an hour.”

Classic.  Every foodie forager on Vancouver Island seems to have a fabulous tale like this. Insulation guy had barely taken a breath before he started in with more.

“And the Spot Prawns… well geesh, they do a huge run, right over there,” he said, pointing out my kitchen window. “Near Salt Spring. We haul out hundreds during the season.”

“How?” I asked.

“We drop traps and pull ‘em up!”

He licked his lips and rubbed his hands together, savouring the thought.

“It’s like manna from the heavens.”

I didn’t see Insulation Guy again but kept thinking about those prawns. Yes, I braved thorns as big as nails and picked buckets full of blackberries, but we had neither boat nor trap to pull any semblance of seafood from the ocean.

Then our friend Dan motored into the Ladysmith marina wearing his trademark grin and aviation sunglasses.  We were off to spend a night at their cottage on DeCourcy, a nearby gulf island where everyone has a generator and a heart-stopping view of the surrounding mountains.

“The tide is low,” yells Dan over the boat’s motor. “So, we’ll just wave at Annabelle and the kids as we pass by the cottage then park the boat around the back.”

Low and high tides, undercurrents and water depths are the common language of any BC boater and Dan loves every drop. Whenever he’s behind the wheel, he’s smiling ear to ear. No matter if the boat thunks and crashes against oncoming surf or the wind slaps like an ice-cold face cloth, he’s blissed.

“My friend John lives over there,” he shouts, pointing to a rocky outcrop barely larger than a hockey rink.

“And this place? Bill built this. Incredible, isn’t it? And all by himself!”

I can barely see the outline of a structure. We are whipping by another stony outcropping. Rocks. Trees. Water. Land of the adventuresome. Dan is a great guide knowing every nook and cranny, not to mention all the locals and their stories. But it’s lost on me. The boat’s motor is loud, and wind is whistling through my ears, until I catch a fragment.

“You pull what?” I ask.

“We pull our prawns right over there. We’re having them for supper!”

I’d heard tell of Spot Prawns in Toronto, decades back, when trendy chefs first jumped on this wild, BC treasure. Once or twice I’d seen them dancing inside live tanks in Chinatown, looking more like insects than fish. But it was on Dan’s boat where I learned the little critters walked into baited traps plunged at least 200 feet below, the rope’s end marked in the choppy waters by a bright buoy.

One hot summer day we went with Dan’s family for an exciting “pull” as son Hogan tugged the cage trap out of the water, grabbing the rope hand over hand, predicting (or boasting) a good haul of “at least 60”.

Hogan guessed it right but took no interest in the gruesome act that followed: On-site head removal. His nine-year-old sister Naomi was a seasoned pro, twisting them off briskly with each snap of her wrist, tossing dislocated craniums into the sea over her right shoulder as her left hand dropped  still squirming, headless prawns into a pail of sea water at her feet.

Dinner was an intoxicating feast of lime and cilantro marinated shell-on prawns, flash-fried for two or three minutes until perfect pink by chef Annabelle in the kitchen her father had designed, every wall another floor-to-ceiling window overlooking DeCourcy’s rocky coast and glistening sea below.

Once Insulation Guy and Dan’s prawn pull had whetted our addiction, David and I began to search for more sources.  We went on a road trip to French Creek Seafood Ltd and gasped at the price of their retail prawns, double the easy $20 cash asked by the First Nations fisherman with a freezer chest in the parking lot. Closer to home, we scoured the commercial fishing docks at Cowichan Bay and came upon a boisterous, beer drinking bunch just finishing a day’s work.

They had nothing to sell, yet were full of empty promises, “Tomorrow. Same time!”

(Nada. We were dumb enough to return.)

Prawn-duped time after time, David and I finally met our culinary saviour. Bugs.

I won’t tell you his first or last name or where he pulls them… or how. After four, newbie years on V.I., we have come to learn some of the island’s food codes.  We abide faithfully, if we want to stay sated.

Once in a while Bugs’ unidentified wife hands me a parcel the size of a basketball, tightly taped  in a sheet of foamy PVC then she winks. These prawns are headless and packed in solid ice, all curly and brown-pink. They take a few hours to thaw in my sink, surrounded by water in a silver bowl.

Photo by Emma Barrett

It’s an easy shelling endeavour when both David and Krystal dig in to help. I suggest leaving tails on but am quickly out voted. The shells are surprisingly prickly, a reminder of their wildness, like blackberries. Each have bright white spots on the first and fifth abdominal segments, according to BCprawns.ca and a translucent red-orange carapace with white stripes on the thorax. And this fun-fact: Every spot prawn starts life as a male and transitions to female in its fourth year- a piece of trivia worth dropping among LGBTQ circles these days.

Spot Prawns have 10 pairs of legs, five for swimming and the rest for walking, all of which come in handy when escaping an octopus, one of their biggest predators. Human predators, whether it be recreational harvesters like Bugs or eager eaters like me can eat prawns raw or cooked. Many prawn aficionados insist on cooking in the shell to enjoy a moist and juicy feast. There are dozens of ways to prepare this delicacy but we all agree on one vital standard: the shorter the cooking time, the better.

Photo by Emma Barrett

Which leads me to stir-fries and the wisdom of Cantonese cuisine when it comes to seafood. Think freshly grated ginger, cooking wine, a little garlic and fermented black beans. These babies have a salty bite and depth of flavour that magically enhances each sweet Spot Prawn mouthful. Luckily, Lee Kum Kee in Hong Kong bottles black bean and garlic sauce and it’s easily sourced in most supermarkets. But user beware. Fermented black beans from a bottled garlic sauce or in dried form can overwhelm. Start small. You can always add more afterwards when tasting for seasoning.

Oh, and another thing — Never ever divulge more than the code name of your Spot Prawn supplier on your blog unless you really want to express deep gratitude to Bugs, in a local Vancouver Island kind of way.

madofood.com/…inese-braised-pork-belly/ ‎

Spot Prawns in Black Bean Sauce

The trick to a great stir-fry is to cook the protein and vegetables separately, combining both at the finale with lots of built-in sauce.  BC Spot Prawns or shrimp are juicy and firm when quickly flash-cooked but toughen and dry out with every crucial minute of over-cooking.  Serve this over steamed rice or rice noodles. It also works as an Asian baozi filling.  Serves 4.

2 tbsp  neutral oil, (ie canola, sunflower, safflower)

2 yellow onions, cut into 1/8ths

3 sweet bell peppers, green, yellow, red, tri-colour, cut into 2-inch chunks

1 tbsp neutral oil

2 lbs Spot Prawns or shrimp, shelled

3  garlic, finely grated or pressed

1 inch pc fresh ginger, finely grated

2 spring onions, cut into 2-inch chunks

1/4 cup sherry

1 tbsp black bean and garlic sauce OR ¼ cup fermented dried beans

1 tsp soy sauce

1/2 cup stock or water

¼ cup chopped fresh coriander

Heat oil in a large wok over high heat, add onions and peppers and stir-fry at high for 3-5 min or until seared and tender.  Transfer to a plate and reserve.

Using the same wok over high heat add oil, garlic and ginger. Stir fry for 30-60 seconds, add spot prawns, cooking until just done. Use spatula to create a well in the wok, add sherry, black beans or sauce, soy and stock or water.  Stir 30 seconds, incorporate spot prawns and reserved vegetables. 

Serve immediately, garnished with chopped coriander.