Friday, August 27, 2010

Stir-Fry Friday

So this past Friday I was faced with a common dilemma: 3 boneless skinless chicken breasts and zero inspiration for how to turn them into a tasty meal. I was in a rut.
Luckily, tho, my rut had a plethora of interesting fresh herbs either growing or in the fridge, including basil, cilantro, thyme, and mint. So really I could go in any geographic direction I chose.
And I chose Asian, leaning toward Thai. (I think.)
I had on hand carrots, garlic, soy sauce, sesame oil, ginger, and pasta (since most of those are in my pantry or fridge at all times) as well as limes, because it is still Summer and one must always have fresh limes on hand for margaritas. Always.
I decided to pick up the following from the store: sugar snap peas, scallions, and a jalapeño pepper or two. Now I was set for a seriously tasty supper that was nowhere near what I usually serve up.
(Read: outside of comfort zone)

This will be some of the worst photography, as I kept forgetting to take pictures and then was too rushed to really focus properly...
I peeled and chopped about 6 carrots into some sort of stick, something between what you would snack on with a crudité platter and a matchstick. I wasn't being terribly precise. The mentality was that they would cook as quickly as the sugar snap peas.
I also used a microplane on two enormous cloves of garlic, about 2 tablespoons of fresh ginger, and I minced about half a seeded jalapeño pepper. (Add more if you like your meals spicy. I was just aiming for a general warmth down the throat, and nailed it.)

In a couple tablespoons of peanut oil (or grape-seed oil, or vegetable oil) I sautéed the chicken until almost fully cooked through, and then added the garlic and ginger. 
Once that had cooked off a bit, I added the minced jalapeño, 1/4 cup of soy sauce, as well as 2 teaspoons of sesame oil, and 2 tablespoons of fresh lime juice.
If there is not enough liquid in the pan for your liking (remember there will be pasta in there later soaking up the sauce) you can add another 1/4 cup of either chicken stock, or just water.

While all of that was happening I had a pot of water on the boil, and was blanching my carrots and sugar snap peas, ready to stir fry them in turn. 
Once they had cooked for about 5 minutes I took them out of the water, brought it all back up to a boil, and cooked my capellini for 2 and a half minutes.
(As I was cooking 3 chicken breasts, I made enough pasta to serve about 3 people.)

Once the pasta is cooked, add it to the pan of chicken, cook for an additional minute, and add about 1/4 cup of chopped fresh cilantro and chopped scallion. Then either plate it up or just set it aside. I had to plate it up as I needed my frying pan for round 2.

In the same pan, without even washing it, I added another splash of oil, one clove of minced garlic, and about a teaspoon of fresh ginger I'd grated on the microplane. (Sound familiar? This is basically a quicker version of what I did to the chicken in smaller proportions and sans jalapeño.)
Once the garlic and ginger have become aromatic (about a minute) I added the vegetables,  another 1/4 cup or so of soy sauce, barely one teaspoon of sesame oil, and a spritz from a lime wedge.
Toss to combine, and top with another 2 tablespoons of fresh chopped cilantro.

I finished the dish with some black sesame seeds I found in my spice cabinet, extra cilantro and scallion, and a wedge of lime.
I chose to serve the vegetables on the side, but you could combine the whole thing like a proper stir-fry if you wanted to. Either way, this dish was packed with flavor and a really enjoyable change-up from my usual go-to dinner solutions. It also provided some tasty leftovers.
I urge any avid cooks out there to expand outside of their familiar recipe zone once a month or so. After you get a feel for ingredients that you use less often, you'll find yourself incorporating them more and more often with more confidence and turning your kitchen into your own Fusion Food Café.
I've been experimenting with jalapeños of late because I've never been one for spicy food. But now I'm finding ways to use them sparingly and (literally) spicing up some of my more traditional meals.
Go nuts!


BenTheMan said...

You should make this again, but if you want to Thai it up even more:

Get some galangal instead of the ginger, and go 50/50 with soy and fish sauce. Lemongrass would be nice, but not necessary. And if you can find Thai hot peppers or serrano chiles you'll be in the zone (just remember to seed them as they're exponentially hotter than a jalapeno.)

Of course, if you have a food processor you can make your own curry paste (which you can freeze) and open up your options even more.

RocknRollGourmet said...

Fish sauce and Thai chiles are DEFINITELY outside of my comfort cooking zone! I'll work my way up to them eventually, tho. I've been thinking about adding fish sauce and rice wine vinegar to my pantry.
Tho maybe not the hotter chiles... I avoid masochism when possible.

BenTheMan said...

Hey, (effectively) giving up meat has forced me to look for new cuisines that are natively vegetarian. It's been a real pain in the ass to learn all new techniques, but now most of the time my house smells like a woodfire pizzeria, Thai restaurant, or Indian cafe.

RocknRollGourmet said...

Sounds good. Mayhap you should start a new blog to match your new ideals. Give the rest of us some inspiration!

Chuck said...

Well you promised this post and came through with flying colors! This sounds absolutely tasty and will be something I think my wife will like...we shall see this weekend! Thanks.

Jennifer said...

If you do try fish sauce, make sure to never put in directly into a hot pan alone. It will get into your pots without a buffer (other liquids, generally). If you want to try Vietnamese cooking, I'll send you the recipe I use for pho (noodle soup). It's very customizable for those among us who don't like some foods.