Prep, speed and heat: RecipeTinEats on how to stir-fry anything – The Guardian

November 10, 2022
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For Nagi Maehashi, confidence in the kitchen plus a little ‘Charlie Brown’ is the secret to a successful meal
Nagi Maehashi has been popping up at dinner tables around the country. She’s been at Christmas lunch with the perfect summer salad, with exhausted parents as they sneak veggies into midweek staples and she’s impressed in-laws with a flawless lemon slice.
It’s the culmination of years of work on RecipeTin Eats, the food and recipe blog she started with a $50 WordPress account.
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The day it launched, the site received two clicks: from Maehashi and her mum.
A month later she put up her recipe for an “all-purpose stir-fry sauce” – which she calls her Swiss army knife of stir-fry sauces. It was shared around Pinterest and her base started to grow.
Shortly afterwards, her recipe for cheese and garlic crack bread took off and has now been viewed about 200m times on Facebook.
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Now, the blog gets an average of 27m hits a month, has eight full-time staff, 972,000 Instagram followers and a food bank, and has spawned a cookbook: RecipeTin Eats: Dinner.
Over the years, Maehashi says, she’s seen Australian home cooks become more adventurous – with their palates and recipes. They want to know how to make a laksa that fills the stomach and feeds the soul, or recreate the perfect reuben sandwich they once had in New York.
“They want to create it at home. It’s really exciting to see it actually … I think the accessibility of recipes online has really opened up home cooking,” she says.
But she’s also aware of the perils involved in following online recipes. In fact, they are what motivated her to start her blog in the first place. “This sounds really awful but to be honest, when I started looking around at all these other recipe websites, some … were just really bad,” she says.
“You can’t just put soy sauce in a bunch of vegetables and meat and call it a stir fry. Like it’s just not going to be tasty.”
Maehashi wants everyone to make good food and make it well. One of her best tips for home cooks is to “get comfortable” cutting garlic and onion up quickly.
But then she quickly retracts the answer. “Actually, my number one tip for everyone in the kitchen is just to relax and enjoy it more.”
“I know that sounds ridiculous but I think that cooking is mostly about confidence rather than following a recipe meticulously.”
Here, Maehashi shares her recipe for stir-fry. It’s not a prescriptive manual but a choose-your-own-adventure guide based on preferences and what’s available in the fridge.
Serves 2
Prep 5 min
Cook 5 min
Be sure to have all your ingredients measured out and ready to toss into the pan because once you start cooking, things move fast.
To start
2 tbsp canola oil

Base flavourings
1 garlic clove
, finely minced
1 tsp ginger, finely minced (or more if desired)
Fresh chillies, finely minced
Stir-fries
5 cups add-ins
(raw proteins and vegetables)
3 tbsp Charlie all-purpose stir-fry sauce (recipe below)
⅓ cup water (85 ml)
Stir-fried noodles
4 cups add-ins
(raw proteins and vegetables)
3 cups noodles of choice, cooked (200g fresh or 100g dried)
3 tbsp Charlie all-purpose stir-fry sauce (recipe below)
⅓ cup water (85 ml)
Additional flavourings
Sriracha, chilli bean paste or other spicy addition
Sweet chilli sauce
Sesame oil
Substitute the water with pineapple juice or orange juice
Thai basil, garlic chives or coriander leaves
Chinese five spice

Saute the aromatics: Heat the oil in a large frying pan or wok over high heat. Add your choice of base flavourings and stir for 10 seconds until light golden.
Stir-fry: Add the stir-fry add-ins, starting with the ingredients that take the longest (eg onion, proteins, carrot go in first, leaving leafy greens like cabbage and Asian greens until the end). Stir constantly or they will become watery.
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Noodle option: Add the noodles (if using).
Add the Charlie stir-fry sauce plus water, any additional flavourings you’re using and leafy greens.
Reduce sauce: Gently toss to combine and cook for about one minute. The sauce will become a thick, glossy sauce that coats your stir-fry.
Serve immediately! Serve stir-fries over rice. The noodles can be divided between bowls and served as is.
Notes
Always mince garlic with a knife for stir-fries, rather than using a garlic press, which makes the garlic paste-like so it burns, spits and sticks to the wok.
Protein suggestions: Finely sliced chicken, pork, beef, medium whole prawns or even minced meat.
Vegetable suggestions: Sliced onion (I almost always use), carrot, capsicum, zucchini, Asian greens (separate stems from leaves, put stems in first as they take longer to cook), cabbage, mushrooms, bean sprouts, broccoli and cauliflower (steam before use), baby corn (canned or fresh), bamboo shoots (canned).
Noodle options: 200g fresh noodles (from the fridge), such as Hokkien noodles; 125g dried noodles (egg, wheat or rice noodles); two large or three small ramen cakes.Prepare them as per the packet directions.
Makes 1½ cups (375ml), enough for 16 serves
Prep 5 min
Cook Nil
Here’s my Swiss army knife of stir-fry sauces. It’s a classic Chinese brown sauce that has enough flavour to use just as is, but is also neutral enough as a base you can build on with other added flavours.
“Brown sauce” sounded a bit ick, so I ended up always calling it “Charlie” – as in Charlie Brown. Charlie is my trusty sidekick for so many different quick stir-fries. Keep a stash of this stuff on hand in your fridge like I do. It’ll save you time and again when you need to whip up a weeknight dinner in a flash.
½ cup light soy sauce (125 ml)
½ cup oyster sauce (125 ml)
¼ cup Chinese cooking wine (60ml)
¼ cup cornflour (30g)
1 tbsp white sugar
2 tbsp sesame oil
1 tsp white pepper (or more!)
Place all the ingredients in a jar and shake well to combine. Store Charlie in the fridge and shake well before use.
To use, mix three tablespoons of Charlie with one-third cup (85 ml) water to make a stir-fry or stir-fried noodles for two people.
This will last in the fridge for six weeks or more, subject to the shelf life of the ingredients used. Shake the jar every couple of days to prevent the cornflour from settling and hardening on the base of the jar. Not suitable for freezing.
Notes
Light soy sauce can be substituted with all-purpose soy sauce though the sauce will be darker in colour.
Chinese cooking wine can be substituted with low-salt chicken stock, though this will reduce the shelf life of the sauce to one week.
This is an edited extract from RecipeTin Eats: Dinner, by Nagi Maehashi. Available now out from Pan Macmillan Australia ($49.99).

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