Dry Beef Stir-Fry

If there’s one thing I miss living out in the woods, it’s that I can’t get Chinese food delivered to my house. The closest real Chinese restaurant – I’m not counting the Jesse Wong’s about ten minutes away – is about fifteen miles down the road, and it’s the only one left of four or five that were here a decade ago. (And it’s much more focused on takeout and delivery than on eating in; it has three Formica tables with plastic chairs that probably date back to the Nixon administration.)

The beauty of stir-fry, though, is that it’s quick and easy to make at home. You’ll need a wok or a skillet, a sharp knife, a cutting board, a spatula, a plate and bowl, and a stovetop – that’s it. Even the ingredients are easy to find.

As an aside, let’s talk about woks and skillets for a minute. If you have a large skillet, ten inches or more at the base, you can easily use it for stir fry, but you’re going to lose some of the effect of the wok. Personally, I love my wok, and if I can get away with using it to cook something I will. But when you’re cooking stir-fry, some woks and skillets are better than others: specifically, you want a steel or cast iron pan for cooking stir-fry. This isn’t elitism or me being in bed with the Cast Iron Wok Industry; it’s a matter of safety. Stir-frying is done at really high temperatures, and it’s possible that if you have a non-stick wok, the heat will cause the coating to come off the wok – and you don’t want Teflon in your stir-fry.

If you have a thermometer that measures high enough – a candy thermometer ought to do – turn your burner to its highest setting and measure the temperature of the air as close to the coils or flames as you can get it without touching. If that temperature is below your wok/skillet’s safe cooking temperature, you’re fine. Otherwise, consider shelving this recipe until you can put your hands on a carbon-steel or cast-iron wok or skillet. (If it helps, they can be had from Amazon – so being in a small town isn’t an obstacle! – and while they’re more pricey than a non-stick version, carbon steel and cast iron last forever if you take care of them. They do need to be seasoned, though – but that’s easily taken care of.)

Anyway – back to the cooking! This recipe serves 2-4, and is delicious over rice or noodles (although it does not, as a dry stir-fry, produce much sauce at all) – and it’s a great quick dinner, because it takes less than 30 minutes from start to finish. (Even less if you’ve done the prep work in advance!)

Prep time: 5-15 minutes
Cook time: ~10 minutes

Ingredients

  • 12oz flank steak – if you can’t find flank steak, skirt steak is okay
  • 1 medium green bell pepper
  • 1 medium red bell pepper
  • 2 carrots, peeled and beheaded
  • 2 celery stalks
  • 1 small yellow (not vidalia) onion, or 1/2 medium
  • 1 medium jalapeƱo pepper
  • 1 Tbsp minced ginger
  • 1 tsp minced garlic
  • 1 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 4 Tbsp peanut oil
  • 1 Tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp pepper

Tools

  • 1 flat-bottomed wok or 10″+ skillet that can withstand up to 500 degrees F
  • 1 chef’s knife
  • 1 wood or plastic cutting board
  • 1 wood or metal spatula (don’t use metal on a non-stick surface!)
  • 1 plate
  • 1 medium bowl

Directions

Preparation

  1. Julienne the carrots and celery. The matchsticks should be no more than 2″ long.
  2. Cut the bell peppers into strips.
  3. Dice the jalapeƱo, and wash your hands afterward.
  4. Peel the onion. If using a whole small onion, cut it in half. Cut the onion into 1/8″ strips.
  5. Cut the steak against the grain into 1/8″ strips. Then:
  6. Stack the steak strips and cut them again, still against the grain, into 1/4″ strips. You should end up with strips of steak that are as long as the original steak was wide, 1/4″ wide, and 1/8″ thick.
  7. Place the meat, salt, and pepper in the bowl and quickly toss until the meat is coated.

At this point you can put everything in sealed containers in the refrigerator – keep the meat and vegetables separate! – and store it for up to 24 hours. The vegetables will obviously last even longer.

Cooking
(I’m assuming you’re using a wok. Skillet instructions are identical.)

  1. Heat the wok over high heat until a droplet of water flicked into the wok evaporates in about one second.
  2. Add 1Tbsp of oil and the onions. Stir-fry until the onions turn translucent (1-2 minutes), then scoop them – but not any remaining oil – off onto the plate.
    • A side note: stir-frying onions is an excellent way to season a new wok.
  3. Add oil to the wok until there’s about 1Tbsp, then add the rest of the vegetables. Turn the vegetables with the spatula until they have absorbed all the oil, then scoop them off onto the plate. This should take 2-3 minutes.
  4. Add 1Tbsp of oil and the meat. Turn the meat a few times in the oil, then spread it out so it’s in a single layer around the bottom and walls of the wok. Leave the meat alone and let it sear for ~1 minute.
  5. Reduce the heat to medium. Begin turning the meat, stir-frying vigorously for another 2-3 minutes, until the meat is fully cooked.
  6. Return the vegetables to the wok, and add the garlic, ginger, soy sauce, and remaining oil. Stir-fry vigorously for another 30 seconds.
  7. Remove the wok from heat and serve the stir-fry immediately.

Questions or thoughts? Leave a comment!