Monday, December 12, 2011

Chicken & Broccoli Stir-fry

A successful stir-fry requires a number of things:
  • You need to have everything ready before you start cooking. Things happen fast with a stir-fry because it is a high-heat cooking method. If you don't have every ingredient measured and ready to go, things will go south quickly. Garlic burns, meat overcooks. Not pretty. Having everything ready to go is called "mise en place." It's French for putting in place. Mise en place is how restaurants can turn out hundreds of from-scratch meals in very little time. And, it's not just for restaurants. It will make you a better home cook.
  • You need to cut your raw ingredients in similar bite-sized pieces. Food needs to cook quickly and if there are big hunks of meat or broccoli in your stir-fry, or if everything is cut in very different sizes, it will not cook quickly nor will it cook evenly. You want the meat and veggies in equivalent bite-sized pieces.
  • You need to use really high heat. A stir-fry cooks in 10 minutes or less. For that to happen, you need to get your skillet or wok as hot as you can. Of course, because you are working with very high heat, you have to be on top of what's going on. No answering the phone. No digging through the fridge for ingredients (see first bullet again). It also means that you need to keep stirring the ingredients to keep things from burning. There's a reason it's called stir-fry. The high heat is also what makes it taste so good, so don't be afraid. 
This is about as simple as you can get in a stir-fry. It's not sophisticated but it's quick and filling. Future posts will feature other stir-fries with more complex flavors.

Chicken & Broccoli Stir-fry
(serves 2-3)

1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon dry sherry or Chinese rice wine (see Note)
¾ pound skinless boneless chicken breast, cut into slices about ¼" thick, 2 x 1" long and wide (see Variations)
½ pound broccoli, cut into bite-sized florets, stems peeled and sliced 1/4" thick (see Variations)
1 ½ tablespoons vegetable oil
½ - 1 teaspoon minced ginger, depending on your love of ginger
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tablespoons chicken or vegetable broth
additional soy sauce, if desired

Combine soy sauce, cornstarch and dry sherry in a medium bowl. Mix enough to dissolve cornstarch. Add chicken breast and toss to coat meat with marinade. Marinate in the fridge for 10-30 minutes. Drain chicken pieces, reserving 1 tablespoon of marinade.

Heat oil in skillet or wok until very hot. The oil will shimmer and ripple (but not smoke) when it's hot enough. Don't walk away while the oil is heating up because it can go from hot enough to bursting into flames quickly. [If this ever happens to you, don't panic! Cover the pan with a lid and remove from the heat. Do not remove lid until pan has cooled.]

Add chicken to skillet and immediately start stirring it around. Stir fry for a few minutes until chicken begins to brown. Add ginger, garlic and broccoli. Stir fry for another 5-6 minutes until broccoli is done to your liking.

Add broth and 1 tablespoon of reserved marinade. Cook for 30 seconds. The sauce should boil and thicken somewhat.

Serve with rice, passing soy sauce if additional salt is needed.

Note: Though we don't generally recommend cooking sherry, if you aren't old enough to buy actual sherry, it will do if it's all you can get. Just remember that it has a lot of added salt so you probably won't need additional soy sauce. You can also find Chinese cooking rice wine in most Asian markets, but it also has salt added.

Variations: Beef, pork, shrimp, scallops, or tofu can be substituted for the chicken. They will all cook in about the same time if they are cut into a similar size. Jumbo shrimp should be cut in half lengthwise. Tofu should be cut into 1x1" cubes. Other vegetables can be used, such as bok choy, Napa cabbage, mushrooms, or green beans. Bok choy, Napa cabbage, and mushrooms will cook in less time, about 3 minutes. Green beans will take as long as broccoli to cook.

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