Wednesday 20 September 2017

High heat, a quick hand and plenty of fine chopping: Rachel Allen's top stir-fry advice

Test your culinary skills with a spot of stir-frying.

Rachel Allen prepares a pork stirfry. Photo: Tony Gavin.
Rachel Allen prepares a pork stirfry. Photo: Tony Gavin.
Rachel Allen's pork and ginger stir-fry. Photo: Tony Gavin.

Rachel Allen. Photography by Tony Gavin

The wok is the most versatile cooking pot. Across Asia, cooks use woks for deep frying, steaming, making sauces and cooking noodles. They don't need an armoury of different pots and pans in the kitchen. A medium-sized wok will make most meals in a household, and it is essential for that most versatile of meals, the stir-fry, which is a dish that can be adapted to practically any ingredient you have in the fridge.

Any recipe for a stir-fry need only serve as a guideline. That's not to say my recipes aren't carefully tested, but many of the ingredients can easily be replaced. If you have chicken in your fridge, you could happily use that instead of the pork fillet in the pork and ginger stir-fry recipe, opposite. While the green beans could make way for courgettes or even mushrooms. Once you've got to grips with the basics of stir-frying, you can either use up what ingredients you do have, or choose your own selection of great ingredients that work perfectly together.

A few basics of stir-frying include heat, ginger, garlic and soy sauce (as well as both stirring and frying!). A wok is certainly not essential to a stir-fry, but extremely useful. Woks can get very hot, which is definitely essential to a stir-fry. Using a really high heat means that the ingredients will not stew or steam, instead, they will fry and brown, which is crucial to the flavour of the final dish.

Ginger and garlic are two important flavourings to a stir-fry; they're strong flavours that are fried at the start and give a basis to all the ingredients that follow. The soy sauce, used in place of salt, is the other essential flavouring that gives a stir-fry its distinctive Asian taste.

Stir-fries are a convenient supper to make. For the most part, they're a one-pot dish. Yet, while fairly easy and certainly quick to cook, they do require a fair amount of chopping. Just consider it a good opportunity to improve your knife skills!

Pork and ginger stir-fry

Serves 4-6.

You will need:

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Rachel Allen's pork and ginger stir-fry. Photo: Tony Gavin.

6 tablespoons of sunflower oil

1 pork fillet, trimmed of all membrane, cut in very fine strips

1 teaspoon peeled, finely grated fresh ginger (see my Tip, above left)

4 cloves of garlic, chopped

Half to 1 red chilli, sliced (with seeds left in if you'd like it hotter)

1 large red onion, thinly sliced

4-6 tablespoons of soy sauce

3cm (1in) fresh ginger peeled and cut in matchsticks

2 carrots, halved lengthways, sliced, at an angle, very finely

1 teaspoon cornflour mixed with 2 tablespoons of water

1 large handful of chopped, de-stalked kale

Boiled rice

75g (2½oz) peanuts, toasted and peeled (or salted peanuts)

Handful of coriander leaves, chopped

Put a wok on a medium heat for at least 6-8 minutes to get really hot.

Once the wok is very, very hot, turn the heat up to high, then add half of the sunflower oil and very quickly add the pork strips, the finely grated fresh ginger, the chopped garlic and the sliced chilli. Stir and fry until the pork strips are golden on both sides, then remove to a plate.

Add in the rest of the sunflower oil, then add the thinly sliced red onion and 2 tablespoons of the soy sauce. Stir and fry for a few minutes until the onion is soft and golden, then add the ginger matchsticks and the sliced carrot. Cook again for another minute or so until the carrot is just starting to cook, but is still crunchy in the centre.

Add in the cornflour mixture and back in the pork strips and cook for a few seconds, adding in the chopped kale and more soy sauce for seasoning. When you're happy with the flavour, tip the stir-fry out on to the boiled rice, scatter the toasted peanuts or salted peanuts, whichever you're using, and the chopped coriander leaves over the top and serve immediately.

Crispy prawn Stir-fry

Serves 4-6.

You will need:

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

400g (14oz) Chinese egg noodles

2 teaspoons sesame oil

3 tablespoons groundnut oil

375g (13oz) raw, peeled large tiger prawns (about 500g (1lb 2oz) in weight with the shells on)

3 tablespoons plain flour

2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped

2 teaspoons peeled, finely chopped fresh ginger

1 red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped

1 carrot, peeled and cut into fine strips

110g (4oz) green beans, topped and tailed and halved

2 teaspoons dark soy sauce

1 teaspoon caster sugar

Bunch of spring onions, sliced

110g (4oz) beansprouts

2 tablespoons toasted cashew nuts, chopped

Bring a large saucepan of water to the boil with 1 teaspoon of salt and cook the egg noodles for 3-4 minutes, or by following the instructions on the packet, until they are tender. Drain them well and return them to the pan. Drizzle the sesame oil over them and toss to coat the egg noodles. Cover the noodles to keep them warm and set aside in the pan.

Pour 2 tablespoons of the groundnut oil into a wok or large frying pan on a medium-high heat. Season the raw tiger prawns with salt and freshly ground black pepper and coat them lightly in the plain flour, shaking off any excess. Fry the prawns for 2-3 minutes until they are golden and cooked through. Set aside to keep warm, but do not cover.

Add the remaining groundnut oil to the wok or frying pan. When it is hot, add the finely chopped garlic and the finely chopped fresh ginger and stir-fry for about 30 seconds until they are just golden. Tip in the finely chopped chilli, the strips of carrot and the halved green beans and stir fry for a further 3-4 minutes. Season with the dark soy sauce and the caster sugar. Add the noodles and all but a handful of each of the sliced spring onions and the beansprouts and stir-fry for 1 minute more.

Divide the noodle stir-fry between warm plates or bowls, to serve. Arrange the prawns on top and sprinkle over the remaining spring onions and beansprouts. Scatter with the chopped toasted cashew nuts and serve immediately.

Stir-fried tofu with noodles

Serves 3.

You will need:

2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil

1 tablespoon peeled and finely chopped fresh ginger

4 cloves of garlic, chopped

½ red chilli, de-seeded and chopped

4 spring onions, sliced

400g (14oz) tofu, cut in 1½cm (¾in) cubes

2 small pak choi, shredded into 1cm (½in) slices

250g (9oz) rice or soba noodles

4 tablespoons light soy sauce

1 tablespoon Chinese rice wine or dry sherry

1 tablespoon sesame seeds

2 tablespoons chopped fresh coriander

Set a wok or large, non-stick frying pan on a high heat and pour in the toasted sesame oil. When the oil is very hot, add the chopped fresh ginger, the chopped garlic, the chopped chilli and the sliced spring onions and stir-fry quickly for 30 seconds or until the garlic begins to turn golden.

Add the tofu cubes and stir-fry for a further 4-5 minutes or until they begin to brown around the edges, then add the shredded pak choi and stir-fry for a further 2-3 minutes or until the pak choi is wilted.

Meanwhile, cook the rice or soba noodles, whichever you're using, according to the instructions on the packet.

Add the soy sauce and the rice wine or dry sherry, whichever you're using, to the tofu mixture, along with half the sesame seeds and half the chopped fresh coriander. Cook for a further 2 minutes then divide the cooked noodles between individual bowls, spoon over the tofu mixture and sprinkle with the remaining sesame seeds and chopped fresh coriander.

Rachel recommends

If you’re going to be doing much stir-frying, I would urge you to buy a wok. They really are so versatile. You can buy very cheap but still really useful woks at almost any Asian food shop. They are light and beautiful and will soon be a much-loved addition to your kitchen. You needn’t buy a non-stick wok, as over time a wok will develop its own non-stick coating. To do this, the wok must first be “seasoned,” by rubbing it all over with a little sunflower oil before using. After that, it’s important never to wash your wok with washing-up liquid, only with water and some elbow grease. The wok will quickly develop a coating that works just as well as any non-stick wok.

Rachel's tip

To peel fresh root ginger, try using the tip of a teaspoon rather than a peeler. This is not only an easier way of peeling ginger, but it is also much less wasteful, as you remove less of the ginger’s flesh in the process.

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