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Thursday, October 1, 2015

Vegan Stir Fry (with Chicken, heh heh heh)

I've been getting better with my stir fry dishes.

The trick, at least for me--what I've noticed at any rate--is to actually AVOID all those processed sauces and condiments.

I always had on hand, soya sauce, teriyaki sauce, hoisin sauce, and others... and I was always under the impression that I should use them to make my Asian dishes taste good.

Well, I've learned not to do that anymore.

Really, I'm surprised it took me this long to figure out, considering I learned the same thing with other types of cooking decades ago.  I have been balking at suckers buying ready-made sauces and condiments for what seems my whole life, so why would I think it OK to buy Asian condiments?

Anyway, I don't use them anymore.

Oh, I'll probably keep some soya sauce in the fridge for those times I want to sprinkle some over steamed rice... but in terms of using anything in the actual cooking or preparing of dishes, nope.

I've sort of gained the confidence to slowly phase a lot of that out over the years, and I've become gradually better at trusting my Asian cuisine abilities.  Really that does factor in greatly.  I would say I am a very confident Franco-Italian cook, and that could very well be the reason I can create some pretty awesome French and Italian dishes.

So, I suppose it stands to reason that as my confidence in my Asian cooking improves, so too will the quality of my cooking!

Let us hope, anyway!

So, another fallacy I've debunked when it comes to Asian cooking, is that it needs to be salty.  It really doesn't.  Especially if you use copious amounts of (the right kind of) herbs and spices.

Ginger is huge.  I like a lot of ginger on a good day, but I find that it works exceptionally well with Asian cuisine.

Otherwise, I'll float a few other options.  My favourite fresh green herb for stir-fry though, is parsley.  It's fresh and slightly tangy and works very well with all the veggie flavours in there.

The second trick, one I wholeheartedly endorse, and strongly, strongly suggest regardless of whether you're a beginner or an expert, is to flavour your rice.  Or whatever grain product you're serving under your stir-fry.  Flavour it. Just do it.  It doesn't have to be salty either.

The third and fourth trick, by the way, I will reveal later, but they both have become quite handy, so pay attention!  ;)

I NEVER cook rice or quinoa or couscous anymore WITHOUT bouillon in the mix.  Beef and Chicken bouillon are delicious, but Mushroom, Vegetable, or Miso bouillon are better for Vegetarians/Vegans.  Just be careful - sometimes there are animal products in there still, even though there really shouldn't be a need for them!

Personally, I'm a fan of vegetable stock, but mostly just because I tend to keep jars of the stuff that I have canned myself.

That said, I highly recommend Miso bouillon if we're talking Asian-themed rice.

Miso cubes are also vegan, BTW.

And very flavourful.

And that's why I used them for this stir fry!



And plus this way the rice doesn't end up overly salty.

Anyway... the rice is the easy part, and once cooked and fluffed, it can sit covered for quite some time and not really lose too much heat.

I start the rice first and then just turn the burner off once it's done.  Sometimes that's an hour or more before the rest of the meal is ready; it's fine with stir fry, because you're putting some really piping hot veggies on top anyway.

The next valuable thing I learned which helps immensely with stir fries, is not necessarily unique to Asian cooking, but is just generally a method of best practice for most cooking.

Prep work.

Having all your ingredients all laid out neatly in an organized fashion is HUGE people.

If you don't use prep bowls, what the hell is your problem?  They're there to help you after all.  You're just shooting yourself in the unprepared foot if you aren't using them.

So, prep is always a good idea, but it is (I would argue) absolutely imperative when we're talking about cooking a time-sensitive dish like this.  By this I mean something that involves your ingredients to be cooked at different times, heats, levels, etc.

This is the third trick I've learned with stir fry; DO NOT just dump all your ingredients in at the same time and cook.  That might save you some time, but it will most likely ruin your meal.

Instead, get everything ready first, in some prep bowls.  Yes, this is time-consuming.  But it really is going to make a difference.

Here are some photos of all my prep work, before it looked all nice and tidy in the above all-assembled photo.

Cremini Mushrooms:

Incidentally, can you spot my mushroom brush in there?
Heh heh heh heh...

I bought that from un petit magasin culinaire in Québec last year.  I love that it actually looks like a mushroom!  :)


Again, if you've never learned to keep your ginger frozen in the freezer, give it a try!  It's so nice to have fresh ginger on-hand all the time, and it grates very easily!


For this dish I ground up some Allspice and some Pink Peppercorns.  Both of which are dried fruit... isn't that cool?

Garlic, Shallot, and Green Onion:

Mince it all up.
(and don't skimp on the garlic.)

Next, chop your "hard" vegetables up so that they are all roughly the same size.  This is important.  You know what I mean by hard veggies.  Anything that takes a while to cook, and which is typically blanched or steamed.

I'm simply doing green beans and carrots, but two other biggies for stir fry are cauliflower and broccoli, so if you're using those, make sure they are all cut to be roughly the same size (not just to each other, but to ALL the other veggies as well.)  The simple reason here is just because we want them to all cook uniformly and for the same length of time.

You'll see.

Green Beans and Carrots:

Now comes the frying.

The above-mentioned third trick I've learned to make stir fries work out well... cooking everything separately and according to their own time.

And... getting flavour into the pan too... it's not complicated... just cook things in batches.

First up is the garlic and onion.

A generous portion of vegan becel goes in there.  I used to use sesame or walnut oil by themselves, but I've come to greatly like cooking with vegan margarine, and to instead splash a dash of sesame oil in later for flavour (you'll see).

So, that gets nice and sauteed.  But NOT golden.  You want to take this off the heat maybe a minute before you would normally.

And then is removed from the pan.  Yup, you heard me right.  Take that out, put it back into its original prep bowl, or start another bigger bowl, it doesn't matter, just make sure you scrape the pan of all those bits of minced garlic and onion.  We don't want it to cook anymore; on the time-senstive cooking scale I mentioned above, its time is done.

If you can squeeze some of the oil out, that's great.  I was able to just hold a spatula to the bowl and tilt it over the pan, and I got at least 75% of the oil.

Into that gorgeous flavoured oil go the mushrooms.  These can be cooked to your liking, but myself, I like really, really cooked mushrooms.

So I actually turn the heat up to medium-high, and let these fry for a good ten minutes.

I like my mushrooms golden and shrivelly (I believe that's the technical term... shrivelly).

You can put the mushrooms in with the onion and garlic you just cooked, and add the ginger at this point.  I just did that in the pan.

And then scraped the whole thing out into a large prep bowl, to be set aside for now.

The reason we're separating these, is because we don't want them to have the same level (or even type, really) of cooking as everything else.  So it doesn't hurt them to just sit for a few minutes while the other ingredients catch-up.

We have a gribbly-laden pan.

Which we want to deglaze.

So, let's pour in about a cup of fresh, filtered water, and a cube of bouillon (again, any would work, but I am choosing Miso again.)

Once the bouillon is nicely dissolved, pour in your 'hard' vegetables, the ones which you painstakingly chopped to be all the same size roughly.  This liquid--incidentally--is my fourth trick.  It's going to turn into this delicious, slightly thicker, super-flavour-packed, sauce which will be excellent when poured on to the rice at the end.  No need for condiments or processed 'sauces'.  This stuff is going to be awesome.

Toss these around a bit.  I love tossing a full heavy pan like this.  It's fun, and when people are watching it makes you look like a real culinary badass!


After a minute or two, and after much of the liquid has evaporated, put a lid on the whole thing.  Myself, I don't have a lid to fit this huge pan, so I had to cheat, and sort of put it inset.

The point is to just let it STEAM for the remainder of its cook time, so as long as you create somewhat of a seal, it's all good.

Turn the heat down to medium-low, or even low, and let these hard veggies steam for a good ten minutes or so.

At this point add your herbs and spices.  As with most spices and herbs, there is a large amount of room for creativity here.  I've used many different flavours.  Remember that the garlic and ginger are going to take centre stage though (remember culinary spatter's rhetoric on complementary vs. dominant flavours in a dish).

So, myself, today, I've opted for a splash of fresh parsley.

And of course the pink peppercorn and allspice blend.

I'm going to mix these first, add a pinch of truffle salt (any salt will work), and get them all uniformly mixed before throwing them into the pan.

But, after the 'hard' veggies have had a good steaming, you can add EVERYTHING else into the pan.  Including what you had saved before.

Now...give this a toss or two, and this is pretty much done and ready to pour on to a bowl filled with rice.

This is vegan.

But, as the post title suggests... I'm going to sneak in some chicken.

I like chicken in my stirfry... I'm sorry.

So, I fry that up (also separately... meat definitely needs to be afforded its own timeline).

So that it is nice and golden.

Again, note that each individual piece is relatively the same size; when cooked with adequate space between each piece, this ensures a uniform level of doneness.

Well, that's it, at this point you can throw everything into the pan and toss it about, like you see people do, and what is typically expected with 'stir-fry'.


Ready to spoon/ladle/pour on to a bowl of rice.

Which is what I did.


I know some of you might be saying... this dude has made extra steps for himself and made what can be a really simple dish into something overly complicated.

Well... you might be right, but this methodology has REALLY worked for me.

Like REALLY well.

Taking the time to ensure each differently-fleshed vegetable is cooked according to what it best needs  (what will make each type of veggie truly shine in its own right) really makes a difference.  

I promise.

A quick, medium-heat saute for the soft-fleshed garlic and onion, a high-heat sear for the mushrooms, a slow and low-heat steam for the harder-fleshed carrots and green beans, and then only after each has received this special treatment, toss them altogether in a pan.

Sure there are people who don't do this.  They may even make better stir fry than I.

But this is what I've taught myself to be the method of best practice for stir-frying, and one which works extremely well for me.

So, if you've had difficulty in the past with stir-fry, or if you're an expert already but looking to add a level of OCD to your final product, this methodology just might yield you some surprising results!


If not, hell, what do I know?