Cook Date: November 10, 2020
If you’ve been following my blog over the past year, you know I’m enamored with Amanda Biddle of the Striped Spatula cooking blog. I used some of her technique making corned beef and cabbage, I stopped my search for the perfect Bolognese pasta sauce when I tried hers, and her cream of mushroom soup with homemade croutons is amazing. So when I saw her post on beef with broccoli stir fry, I was all in. [Update November 13, 2020. I neglected to add the link to The Striped Spatula recipe. It’s there now]
A couple of weeks ago I cooked pork chops with apple and cider from a NY Times recipe. At the time I groused a little bit about buying a huge bag of potato starch so I could use 2 teaspoons of it (I could have used corn starch without too much of a flavor change). So I balked a bit when I realized Amanda’s stir fry recipe called for four ingredients I don’t usually have in my pantry. I found exactly zero of the items at my grocery store and planned to fake it. Then I read her blog post on Chinese-inspired pantry essentials and determined a trip to our local Ranch 99 Asian grocery store was required.
I’m glad Amanda’s post had pictures of her recommended items. Look at the picture above and you’ll notice there isn’t a lot of English on the labels. I spent at least 10 minutes – closer to 15 – looking closely at each type of rice wine on the shelves. Three or four type were almost identical and I had to carefully compare the vertical Chinese characters to get the right bottle. At my usual grocery store, there are just one or two soy sauces available; but at Ranch 99 there is a quarter of an aisle devoted to the stuff. And “light” soy sauce does not refer to low sodium – it refers to how it is made. While I do usually have oyster flavored sauce, the Lee Kum brand is the real deal.
I’m going to label the rice wine so I’ll know what it is in the future. But I’m glad I got a big bottle. I have a number of recipes that call for rice wine, but the closest I have found in the grocery store is “sweet cooking rice seasoning”. In the last couple of years, Kikkoman changed the name from “wine” to “seasoning”; it’s not drinkable. In order to get real rice wine you need to shop in an Asian market that has an alcohol license. I made an okay teriyaki steak last summer using the seasoning; I can’t help but think the real wine would be an improvement.
I was getting excited for the adventure. Being a stir fry, I knew i had to get all the items prepped before I started to cook. I normally do this but I was extra careful this time.
A quick note about the photography. To get a nice suffused light with minimal shadows, I use two flashes that are diffused. Looking at the picture above, I have a flash mounted in a large soft box over my left shoulder, while over my right shoulder there is a flash pointed backward into a reflective umbrella. Using this setup I’ll usually get a hotspot or two; but the glass bottles with dark liquids inside really set up a mirror. You can see the two flashes reflected in the rightmost three bottles above. Here is a closeup.
(Click on the image for an even closer look). You can clearly see the softbox on the left and the flash shooting into the umbrella on the right. From this angle, the softbox produces a much more diffused light.
Back to cooking…
There are actually two sauces for this dish. We “velvet” – aka marinate – the steak with cornstarch, light soy sauce and the rice wine.
The recipe calls for flank steak which requires special attention when carving. It has a strong grain running crosswise.
The knife shows roughly how to cut it. If you cut it with the grain instead of across the grain, you’ll be giving your jaws a workout when chewing. I cut the meat in half from left to right to make 2 thinner strips. Then cut crosswise into very thin pieces.
While the meat marinated, I put together the sauce.
Finally we are ready to cook. After removing the flank steak from the marinade, I patted it dry, and mixed all the sauce ingredients together. I had already cut the broccoli florets free from their stalks.
I used to have a wok, but America’s Test Kitchen – and The Striped Spatula – says using a large nonstick skillet is easier and just as good. First I browned the meat in two batches.
Remove to a bowl, add a bit more oil and sauté the broccoli florets.
Once the broccoli is bright green and just tender, add a bit more oil, and sauté the garlic and ginger until it is fragrant. Oh, it smells SO good. Add back the meat and pour the sauce around the pan and simmer until thickened.
Serve with/over some jasmine rice and dinner is served.
Looking through this post I see why some people think the things I cook are difficult to make. It’s not hard at all – baking is difficult – but it does take some time and patience. Was all that prep worth the effort? On the night we ate it, we said “maybe not”; three stars, but too much effort for the result. For all the delicious smell and great ingredients, it lacked a special punch. It was good, but not as good as I’ve had in a restaurant. It could be that since I was using my extreme low-salt homemade chicken stock the dish didn’t have enough salt in it – salt is a flavor enhancer.
Then last night we had it for leftovers and it was much better. I’ve noticed this before with dishes like pasta meat sauce and chili and my attempts to make the best coney sauce. So I did a little investigation. The Gastro Obscura website gives a few reasons why this sometimes happens. The site references Cooks Illustrated and Alton Brown; people who make an effort understanding the science of cooking. Alton Brown thinks it could be related to cooling the dish after cooking. However it is accomplished, the proteins breakdown which can
“enhance savory, meaty, umami taste, or reaction of amino acids with sugars to produce new flavor molecules by the Maillard reaction (browning), which can occur when the leftovers are reheated.”Gastro Obsura https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/food-better-leftovers-next-day#:~:text=According%20to%20the%20Institute%20of,when%20the%20leftovers%20are%20reheated.%E2%80%9D
So, it’s hard to give a rating. It was 3 stars the first night, and 4 stars as leftovers. If I decide to make this for company, I’ll make it a day ahead of time and heat it up for dinner.
Rating: ★★★ or ★★★★. Sorry to be so wishy-washy.
So, stir fry is kind of my jam for the moment. Last Sunday I made another stir fry dish: our favorite tofu with garlic mushroom sauce for our Sunday dinner with the family. Now, if you are going to tease me for my tofu recipes – I’m looking at you Jim, Terry, Jan, Diane and Mike – you need to make this before getting on my case. It is delicious – I kid you not.
Next week I’ll be making a Thai green curry dish. Oh, and I’ll also take on another NY Times recipe – this one for pasta with mushroom ragu. Stay tuned.