Best Stir-fry: Pepper Beef and Mangetout

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To master the art of stir frying is the way to cooking great tasting and healthy food in a hurry.

The key, as in all cooking, is in the preparation. If everything is ready to add before you begin, the food will be on the plate in minutes. Don’t bother and you’ll be a stressed out wreck before you can even pick up your chop sticks!

To get started, this is definitely one of my favourites. It’s a version of a dish that is popular in Chinese restaurants in the West. The bonus is that you really can’t cook as tasty a dish as this so simply. And this recipe is extra versatile because it’s possible to substitute any fresh vegetable for the mangetout, aka snow peas.

To get the best out of these ingredients you really should put the effort in to find some authentic Shaoxing rice wine. It is one of the most famous varieties of huangjiu, or traditional Chinese wine, and is available in most good sized supermarkets. If you find this impossible, then you can use a dry sherry instead.

Stir-fried Pepper Beef and Mangetout can be served with either plain steamed rice, or noodles (I like Fine Egg Noodles).

This recipe serves four people.

INGREDIENTS

450g beef steak, sliced

2 teaspoons light soy sauce

2 teaspoons Shaoxing rice wine

2 teaspoons sesame oil

½  teaspoon salt

¼  teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 teaspoons cornflour

100g red or green pepper

3 tablespoons groundnut oil

225g trimmed mangetout

150ml chicken stock

2 tablespoons oyster sauce

METHOD

  1. The beef needs to be cut into slices that are thin and about 5cms in length. Then these should be tossed in a bowl with light soy sauce, along with Shaoxing rice wine, the sesame oil, pepper, salt, and the cornflour. When this has been mixed well it should be left to marinate for 20 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, cut the pepper into strips again about 5cms in length.
  3. Heat your wok (a large frying pan can suffice) until it is very hot.
  4. Add the oil until it’s hot and slightly smoking.
  5. With a slotted spoon, remove the beef from the marinade, and add it to the smoking pan and stir-fry for three minutes.
  6. Remove the beef slices, which should still be succulent, drain and reserve the oil.
  7. Wipe the wok clean, and reheat it.
  8. Return 1 tablespoon of the oil to the pan and add the pepper and mangetout when it is very hot.
  9. Stir-fry for two minutes. Then add the oyster sauce and the stock. Bring it all to a boil.
  10. Add the beef back to the pan and give it a good stir.
  11. Turn on to a warm serving plate and serve at once.
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The all-but-lost art of braising

Braised chicken and root vegetables

When our oven of six years gave up the ghost we had to forego roasting, baking, and grilling but we benefited by me relearning the all-but-lost art of braising.

There is plenty of tasty food that can be cooked on a cooker’s top! And a happy coincidence was that I knew we had a leftover half a celeriac, half a Swedish turnip, and some good-sized carrots occupying our fridge with some useful bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs, a load of onions, a couple of leeks and a pack of smoked bacon.

It had started turning cold as November was here and the clocks had gone back, so I decided to do some braising.

Braising is one of those styles of cooking that is too often overlooked in the modern kitchen. But there are few other techniques that ask so little yet give so much.

If you have patience and can remember just four simple steps your home will be filled with the most tempting of scents as a result of the braising process.

The essentials are a Dutch oven or a covered container for cooking casseroles made out of either earthenware or cast-iron (I use a Le Creuset pot!), and a wooden spoon to scrape the bottom without scratching.

Armed with your tools, it’s what you do prior to the braise that counts.

STEP 1: SEAR THE MEAT

Season the meat you are using on all sides. Pour the oil into your heavy lidded pot which should be set over a medium-high heat, then add your meat without crowding the pot. Take your time getting a deep color all over the meat. The meat should really be taken out and kept warm, but if you are in a hurry move onto the next step.

STEP 2: SAUTE THE VEGETABLES

Chop your onions, leeks, carrots, etc., in the drippings from the meat’s searing, stirring frequently over a medium-high heat. You should aim for caramel brown colour but don’t scorching the ingredients.

STEP 3: DEGLAZE THE POT

Add your braising liquid (wine, stock, water) stirring and scraping any of the browned bits that may have formed on the bottom of the pot with your wooden spoon. These are the flavour bombs, which when dissolved in the cooking liquid enrich the dish.

STEP 4: THE BRAISE

Return the meat to the pot along with any juices that have accumulated and the broth. As you’re braising the meat should not be submerged. You’re not boiling shanks!  Bring the pot’s contents to a simmer and cover.

This is what our dinner became.

BRAISED CHICKEN WITH ROOT VEGETABLES

INGREDIENTS

  • 3  slices uncooked smoked bacon, diced
  • 4   bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs
  • ¼ tsp each of salt and black pepper to taste
  • ½  lb (225 g) small potatoes
  • 1   medium onion
  • 2 small leeks
  • 1   medium carrot, peeled, cut into 2″ (5cm) pieces in half lengthwise
  • ½ celeriac
  • ½ turnip/Swede
  • a handful of mushrooms (optional)
  • 2  garlic cloves
  • 300 ml chicken stock
  • 125 ml dry white wine
  • A bouquet garni of fresh thyme
  • 2 teaspoons cornflour
  • Parsley for garnishing (optional)

DIRECTIONS

  1. Cut the bacon into pieces. Brown the bacon in the casserole dish over medium heat for 10–12 minutes or until crisp.
  2. Season the chicken with salt and pepper. Brown the chicken, skin-side down, for 5–7 minutes or until golden brown.
  3. Meanwhile, cut the potatoes and onions into wedges and thinly slice the garlic. Clean and cut the leeks into 1” pieces (and half the mushrooms if you are using them). Peel and dice the root vegetables.
  4. Add all the vegetables to the pot; stir in the stock and wine. Bring to a boil, uncovered, over medium-high heat.
  5. Cook covered on a lower heat, for a further 40–45 minutes.
  6. In a small bowl, mix the cornflour with a small amount of water.
  7. Stir in the flour mixture and bring the casserole to a boil over high heat. Simmer for 5–6 minutes or until thickened. Garnish with a sprinkling of parsley and serve.

Bon Appetit!