A Warming Autumn Stir-Fry
The pace of life in summer can be so relaxed that when autumn comes, it sometimes feels as if you've been shot out of a cannon. And that's doubly true for those of us with houses full of kids.
There are school drop-offs and pickups, after-school activities, get-togethers with friends, and all sorts of other demands on our precious time. Add to that the approach of Halloween with all its costumes, parties, decorations, and treats, and then holiday season planning and shopping after that, and family meals suddenly drop to the bottom of your to-do list.
If you stock your pantry with a few basics from the Asian food section of a well-stocked supermarket, however, you'll have everything on hand to make a stir-fried dinner that's surprisingly easy to prepare, especially when you consider all the complex flavors and textures it delivers. As the father of two little boys and two grown ones, I can also tell you that it's a dish your children will love.
Let's first consider the pantry ingredients you should have on hand. There's peanut oil, which I like for its high frying temperature and touch of richness; but any flavorless vegetable oil, such as soybean oil, will also do fine. You'll want a small bottle of shaoxing (pronounced "shaow-sheeng"), Chinese rice wine, used for its complex balance of savory and slightly sweet flavors; if you can't find it, you can substitute a good dry, but not too dry, sherry, such as an amontillado or a manzanilla. Add good-quality light soy sauce, mushroom-flavored soy sauce, and a small jar of Chinese black beans to your list, too.
The remaining ingredients should already be in your pantry, refrigerator, or freezer; you can even buy the steak ahead and keep it in your freezer, which makes it all the easier to slice thinly after you've thawed it in the fridge for a few hours. Any other items remaining on the ingredients list can be picked up on a quick swing through the market.
The stir-frying itself goes quickly in a large wok or saute pan. Which leaves only one thing you need to do in advance: marinating the steak in "brown velvet," a quickly assembled seasoning mixture that gives the meat rich flavor and, as the name suggests, a velvety texture when stir-fried.
But you can get that going before you head out the door to pick up the children from one of their after-school activities. Then, dinner will be ready to put on the table in less time than it takes you to steam a pot of rice to soak up the delicious sauce from your stir-fry.
CHINOIS STIR-FRIED ORANGE BEEF WITH CHILIES
1 pound well-trimmed flank steak, cut into thin, bite-sized strips