I spent too much of my life making mediocre stir fry. Admitting it is hard.
Jars of Kan Tong and tough, awful, shudder-inducing supermarket beef strips. Honestly, if you’re homemade stir fry doesn’t give you the same joy as the Dad in The Castle sitting down to dinner every night, read on, you’ve got some learnin’ to do.
Here are my three tips to stir fry supremacy:
The supermarket label which reads ‘stir fry beef strips’ could only be described as the single most egregious case of misleading conduct in the entire history of legal precedent. Did I emphasise that point enough?
Thus far I am yet to find a use for those ‘things’. I’ve cooked them in a slow cooker stroganoff for eight hours and they seem to get tougher and LESS flavourful. Honestly, it made me contemplate tofu…
(Jokes. Tofu and I are friendly.)
Here’s what you do: Buy yourself a couple porterhouse steaks. Pop them in the freezer for an hour so – you want them firm but not frozen. Take them out and slice against the grain, on a diagonal, into thin, flat strips. Just like the ones in almost every Asian restaurant.
Congratulations. You’ve already taken your stir fry from zero to eleven.
What’s the main difference between your homemade stir fry and the one at your favourite take away? Their meat is SO ridiculously tender. How do they do it?
A lot of mainstream stir fry recipes will tell you to marinate your meat but their focus is on flavour and there’s a key ingredient they’re usually missing: Chinese Rice Wine. The day I discovered this was the day I started a Journey.
Cue: “Just a small town girl… livin’ in a lonely world…”
Particularly good with beef but it also works with other meats, the rice wine acts to *insert science words here* and – ta dah – deliciously, tender meat.
I’m not saying you have to go out and buy a bunch of food styling props but stir fry is one of those dishes where the way your prepare the food actually changes the… ready for a real MasterChef term here? ‘Mouth feel‘ of the dish.
How you chop your veggies makes a difference as to what ends up on each forkful. I love long, thin strips. Usually means I get all the flavours in one bite rather than an enormous hunk of capsicum.
Resist the urge to be a 1980s cookbook and use 1/16th of a sprig of coriander. Chop a pile and go all Jamie Oliver on that dish. Don’t stop at mainstream herbs either. Grab yourself some fresh Thai Basil (as in the recipe below) or kaffir lime leaves. Plus a wedge of lime, sprinkle of shallots – fresh or fried – and some chilli always add a tonne of flavour.
And add them LAST. Nobody wants to play ‘guess what this used to be’ with wilted herbs in their dinner.
Now you’re just moments away from mastery with my favourite stir fry recipe.
Chilli Basil Beef is one of the combinations I look forward to every year as the ‘Thai basil’ comes into season in my herb garden. It’s fresh and spicy. Thai basil is available at most Asian supermarkets during the summer or, if you have sunny spot, whack some into a pot and never have to buy it again.
Chilli Basil Beef Stir Fry Recipe
- 2 beef, porterhouse steaks that have been in the freezer for about an hour
- 1 tablespoon Chinese Rice Wine (don’t leave this out!)
- 1 teaspoon cornflour
- 1 teaspoon sunflower oil plus 1 tablespoon for frying
- 1 red capsicum, sliced into thin strips
- 1 small brown onion, sliced into thin strips
- 3 cloves of garlic, you guessed it, sliced into thin strips
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon oyster sauce
- 1 tablespoon fish sauce
- 1/2 teaspoon raw sugar
- 2 tablespoons water
- Large handful Thai Basil
- 3 birdseye chillis, sliced (optional)
- Boiled rice to serve
- Remove the steak from the freezer. It should be firm enough to slice into thin, flat rectangles. Go against the grain and slightly on the diagonal.
- Place the beef into a bowl adding Chinese Rice Wine, cornflour and oil. Stir and allow to marinate in the fridge for at least half an hour.
- In a separate bowl combine your three sauces, water and sugar – you want to have everything ready so that you can stir fry quickly without anything starting to ‘stew’ or burn.
- Heat the oil in your wok and cook the marinated beef in two batches, remove and place aside.
- Fry off your capsicum and onion allowing them to get a tiny bit of blackness.
- Add your garlic and fry for only a minute before returning your meat to the wok.
- Pour over your sauce mixture.
- Throw in the Thai Basil and chilli. Serve immediately over plain, boiled rice.
Recipe is an amalgamation of standard Chilli Basil Beef recipes that I have come across over the years.