08 May 2013

"Wow!" Factor Wednesday

...or, Rock out with your Wok out Hump day.

So I've gotten into the habit of cooking up a big batch of somethin' somethin' the day before a round of shifts, boxing it up into generous serves and feeling super prepared for the energy drain of the work week.

In related news, I've also been working on my new vegie and herb garden now that I have access to ground floor dirt. The perennial basil has been going off like a frog in a sock, with fat, tart leaves and huge long stems of edible flowers.

So I decided to come up with my take on the legendary Thai takeaway staple of Beef with Basil.

The first round was for when Mumsy and Dadsy came over unexpectedly for dinner one night, and it's had many new versions inventified since then.

The last batch brought into work made me happy due to nomming, yes; but also quite chuffed because every time a new person would walk into the tea room they'd say one or all of these things, in this order:
"Wow! Something smelllls amaazing!"
"What are you eating? That looks amaazing!"
"You made that? Wow! Amaaazing!"
Which isn't too shabby for a leftover stirfry!

BEEF WITH BASIL, experimental cooking style:

Have a weird habit of buying budget/on sale beef steak, and filling your freezer full of it. Despite this, have no recollection of your past self already doing this, and end up with lots of steak to use up. For this recipe it's best to use budget lean steak with no fancy marbling to confuse the beefy issue. Pull a tray of said steak out of the freezer and allow to thaw whilst you attend to vegies.

Harvest a metric shit-tonne of perennial basil. Wash, pick off caterpillars, then strip the flowers and leaves off the stems - separate into three piles.

Slice and dice some vegies to add to your stirfry. I still haven't nailed exactly which vegies I like best in here, or whether I should just be a purist and leave them out altogether. So far my favourite has been cauliflower, as shown above. There is something quite intense about getting those nice nutty charred bits of cauli to add a bit of oomph, but it also is neutral and flavour absorbing enough to not detract too much from the star players. I've tried field mushrooms (the large fleshy flat cups) and celery pieces (stalks and leaves all in), which have both worked well as well. If you can think of a more traditional, green leafy that would work well, please let me know.

Finely slice an onion.

Finely dice some garlic (no such thing as too much) and sliver up a generous (1-2cm) chunk of ginger lengthways.

Now back to the beef. My Mum would constantly moan and groan about how butchers in Oz can't seem to understand that 'stir fry meat pieces' are NOT in fact those big, long, 'with the grain' beef strips that will work so well in stroganoffs and such love-you-long-time simmer stews. Essentially, stir frying is a flash fry attack, where you literally chuck in the meat at the end just as long as you would to brown something then agitate with one or two stirs as the pieces are so thin and tender that that is actually all they should need. I never used to realise what all the fuss was about until I started to Wok out myself. So unless you have an Asian butcher nearby, which I'd like but is not the case in these particular burbs, use semi frozen slabs of meat to cut into bite sized chunks then slice across the grain into thin (3-5mm) slices of happiness. You can attempt this with a mega sharp knife and unfrozen meat, but sadly I am just not that talented!

As you go, place slices in a bowl. Apply the following Mum-approved marinade (all at once or in splashes for each layer if you are doing a huge amount:
Light soya sauce - a generous splash to coat the pieces
Dry sherry or rice wine - ditto
Lots of pepper (ground black or powdered white); dried powdered garlic and ginger
A pinch/half a teaspoon/2cm length of a chopstick end-full of sugar.

I also add a tiny bit of chili flakes to this marinade now.
I decided to be brave and use dark (or mushroom-style dark) soya sauce to really coat and gloss up the beef (brave as Mum used to only ever reserve this strong stuff for the soya sauce chicken, it was never really vetted for general stirfry use!)

Assemble each ingredient near your stovetop in little bowls, plates or generic receptacles within arm's reach. Once your start the stirfry, it needs to be done all in a flash so none of the elements overcooks.

You ready? Start the Wok!
Place your wok over high heat.
Pour in a drizzle of neutral tasting oil. I use olive oil. Vegetable, canola etc are all good.
Plop the garlic and ginger pieces and the basil stems into the oil they'll start to sizzle and infuse the oil and the house with delicious aromas.
Then the onion pieces. I also add cashew pieces here sometimes.
Stir stir stir sizzle. Fish out the basil stems.
Now add the cauliflower/vegie pieces. Allow to contact the wok freely to add some small charred areas then stir stir stir.
Now the beef, marinade and all. If it's too dry, add a splash of water. If it's too soggy, Dad taught me a trick of gently sprinkling over some cornflour to thicken the sauce up - but be ready to go stir-crazy or you'll end up with unfortunate lumps.
So. Stir sizzle stir add the basil leaves stir add the basil flowers stir sizzle, and you're done! Delicious stirfry fit for a feast or a week's worth of workday dinners! Wow!

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