The Humble Stir-Fry…A Few Thoughts

I cooked a couple of meals in the wok really quickly recently, and reflected on how the results can be so satisfying with some handy tips that I’ve learned along the way.

Cooking in a wok was absolutely my go-to standard when I was a university student living at Burton and Garran Halls. After a long day of lectures and tutes, and hanging out with friends at the library and in the refectory, the hunger pangs would strike and the panicked question would arise…what to eat? Of course it would have to be quick!

I’d throw anything I had in the fridge together and toss it in a wok with oyster sauce. It all got a bit tedious after a while, and every stir fry tasted………the same. Thank goodness for  sweet Munif who cooked carefully at a stove near mine, creating delicious goat curries and chicken stews which he would kindly share with those around him. What a saviour!

I used to think that I could only make a good noodle stir fry if I’d made a special trip to the Asian grocery store and got my fresh bok choy, bean sprouts, bean curd and Chinese sausage ( lap cheong ).

Let’s face it though Izzy: we Aussies are pretty darn good at fusing cuisines. Now some of the ‘aunties’ in Malaysia might raise an eye brow, but really, there’s no reason you can’t make a yummy stir friend noodle dish without all of these Asian staples.

The one I made on Saturday is a good case in point. We felt like noodles. I had a stock of dried yellow noodles in the cupboard. But what fresh ingredients did I have in the fridge? Well, I had half a cold chicken, a nice green courgette, some snow peas, celery stalks and a big bunch of flat leaf parsley. Viola! Those were certainly good enough ingredients to conjure up a noodle dish.

An un-Asian stir fried noodle dish!

Well you know that I might run out of fresh air, but I am never short of a good supply of ginger, onions and garlic.  A good starting point for all tasty meals, I say.

So looks easy enough in the picture……………what are the steps again?

Ingredients I had in my fridge:

  1. 1 courgette/zuchinni, sliced thick
  2. a handful of sugar peas
  3. half a bunch of flat leaf parsley, roughly chopped
  4. a piece of cooked chicken, shredded
  5. onions, ginger and garlic
  6. oyster sauce, low sodium soy sauce, sesame oil

Other things you could use for a stir fry, which might not at first look obvious: some left over prawns, a few rashers of bacon, a handful of pork or chicken mince,  frozen peas or edamame, tomatoes, eggs, chickpeas, and fresh corn. Not all together of course! And if you don’t have Asian noodles, cook up some pasta and drain: works just as well!

So, some clear steps to putting it together:

  • cook your dried noodles in boiling water, and when al dente,  drain and keep aside in some cool water.
  • if you are using some meat or prawns or bacon, cut into bite sized pieces, and then toss in a hot, oiled wok with chopped ginger and garlic.
  • When it is fragrant and golden in colour, lift out of the wok and set aside.
  • heat the wok again, throw in some sliced onions if you like, and then the harder vegetables: carrots, frozen peas, etc and then the less hard veggies like zucchini, tomato and corn.
  • At this point, add the drained and cooled noodles, and some soy and/or oyster sauce ( about a table spoon each).
  • Stir everything well to coat with the sauce. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  • any leafy ingredient like the flat leaf parsley, some baby spinach or thin slices of cabbage should go in towards the end.
  • At the last minute, add the cooked meat mix and and serve
  • if you have sesame oil, a few drops makes for a lovely flavour stirred in at the end.

These simple steps will surely save you from what a stir fry can often become: a soggy soy flavoured mess.

This might all seem a bit obvious darling, so forgive me if I am being boring. It certainly was news to me when I started cooking, so I thought I’d just lay it all out here clearly anyway! Cheers, lovely girl.

Gone Green

Green right from the start: you wanted spinach and pesto, and as a baby you’d gnaw on the end of a bok choy stalk as happily as if it were an arrowroot biscuit. I am just back from the Cherry Street Asian market. It is HUGE as you know, and located right on a finger of the wharves down here, so the setting is pretty dramatic. Today was particularly stunning: on a drizzly cold day, a low cloud hung over the barn like building, and ship masts nearby loomed out of the clouds creating quite some drama.

Anyway, I am home now, laden with all ther good things that place has to offer: great pieces of fresh pork at ridiculously low prices, tender galangal, Chinese New Year cards (coming soon!) and LOTS of the best fresh veggies. Of course I am thinking of you, unloading the kai lan, bok choy and snake beans. You’d be so excited at this market harvest if you were here.  Also bought a plump pink pomelo, and a box of Japanese green seaweed salad. The pomelo is lovely and refreshing with lightly cooked prawns or  fish, tossed with some cilantro and toasted coconut.

Flying back from christmas in Australia, I always wonder how I can cook bettter. It ties in with all that New Year’s resolution stuff: cook more interesting meals, eat more healthily, etc.  I have been doing some research online about what types of food keep our metabolic rates ticking at a good pace.

The bottom ( pardon my pun) line is any kind of processed food slows down our metabolism. You could say in that department, our family’s been pretty good about daily meals being cooked from scratch with fresh ingredients, and we do eat a ton of vegetables. If anything, I know you’ll take the healthy eating up a notch.  Dad and I have often agreed that if we ever won the lottery, we’d hire a traditional South Indian cook and become vegetarian (with a dispensation to eat bacon from time to time!!). Haha- I’m sure all the true vegetarians out there would be horrified at the thought!

When you go past an Asian grocery store Izzy, do stop in.  Somehow, the veggies are always so fresh, and look like they’ve just arrived from the garden. Their bundles tend to be generous, and the prices low. The huge bag of kai lan I brought home was $2.49. You could feed all of Grouse with the one bag. How cheap is that! Some delicious kai lan on top of steamed rice. What could be nicer.

That seaweed stuff is pretty magic too. It is so packed with goodness, eat it when you can: add it to salads, or use it as a side with a piece of grilled fish or chicken. Here is the recipe for the kai lan with oyster sauce which you never fail to order at a Chinese restaurant. When I was in a foreign country aged 16, I had the sweetest housemate from Johor called Jit Jee. This is how she made kai lan, and I have followed her recipe ever since.

Kai Lan with Oyster Sauce

  • I  bunch kai lan
  • salt
  • three to four  tablespoons oyster sauce
  • three tablespoons soy sauce
  • one tablespoon chopped fresh garlic
  • 1 tablespoon cooking oil
  1. Bring a pan of well salted water to the boil
  2. Cut the stems off the leaf and make two separate piles of leaf and stem
  3. Throw the stems into the boiling water and cook for two minutes, then remove with a slotted spoon or tongs
  4. Now throw in the leaves and cook for barely a minute. Remove, drain thoroughly, and arrange the stems and leaves onto a platter
  5. Heat the oil in a fry pan and cook the garlic. Watch carefully as garlic burns eaily. As it begins to turn golden, add the oyster sauce and then the soy sauce. the micture will splutter. Reduce the heat, stir well and add a tablesppon of water if it begins to evaporate and stick to the pan.
  6. Turn off the heat, and pour the sauce over the pile of vegetables.