In my first article, I gently suggested a few simple sandwiches you might consider. I started small, so as not to scare you off. There was no mention of the resource most rife with possibilities for Deece chef-ery: the stir-fry station. But that’s all about to change. It’s time for the big one.This is for you—students who are intrepid enough to flock to Vassar from your distant (and not so distant) homelands, bold enough to tackle Judith Butler and Immanuel Kant, tough enough to master the winter elements (or at least survive them)…but still living in terror of the row of hot plates innocently lined up on the right side of the Deece.
Of course, I don’t want to unjustly accuse the whole Vassar community of an irrational stir-fry station fear. There are those of you who use it every day, and also those of you who simply aren’t interested in spending ten extra minutes standing in the Deece, the curry-scented steam of possibility rising around you, the surrounding voices becoming a distant roar as you and your pan merge into…the point is, some of us enjoy the stir-fry station more than others.
I’ve talked to a surprisingly large number of people who’ve never even used it once, and are convinced that if they ever were to try they would make something that tasted horrible, and that in their attempt to make this horrible tasting thing they would burn down the Deece. These nightmarish possibilities will (probably) not happen! It’s true that I’ve made a lot of mediocre stir fries in my day, but they’ve improved gradually and lately have become downright delicious. Also, maybe you find the act of stir-frying strangely therapeutic and fun, which makes it okay if the product is only so-so. In terms of a potential inferno, if you keep an eye on the pan it is almost impossible to burn your food.
Here are the basics: there are spices on the rack next to the pans, ingredients in the containers to the left, and eggs in the fridge behind the station. Don’t forget about the eggs just because they’re out of sight…they turn everything into delicious, filling comfort food. And remember my Deece mantra: if you don’t see something, ask for it. Dirty pans and spoons go under the little awning on the counter and will be washed for you (thanks, Deece employees!).
The actual stir fry process is incredibly simple: add just enough oil to coat the bottom of your pan, let it get hot (but not smoking), and add your ingredients according to how long they need to cook. The last step seems obvious, but I think a lot of bad stir-fry creations can be explained by the ol’ nervously-throwing-everything-in-at-the-same-time-and-hoping-it-cooks strategy. If you do this, some things will be mushy, and some things will be undercooked. Yuck. Ingredients like mushrooms (tip: cook them until all the liquid they’ve released has evaporated), eggplant, and peppers should go in first. Rice, eggs, spinach—last. The key to a good stir fry is practice—the elements are all there, and taming your fear is the first and most important step in the right direction.
Stir Fry “Recipes”:
(I use quotes because these are really just ideas to get you started;they are open to infinite variation and experimentation! Look out for breakfast Stir Fry recipes in my next article!)
Asian Fried Rice
Certainly not renowned for its authenticity—I’m not sure if any traditional cuisine uses both soy sauce and curry powder in one dish—but I tend to throw in whatever I feel like! Taste as you go to for the best spicing results.
Add enough oil to coat the bottom of your pan. Once hot, add garlic, onions, and fresh ginger if they have it. As garlic begins to brown, add mushrooms, peppers, and eggplant.
Turn down the heat and cook for a few minutes, stirring often, until the veggies are tender. Meanwhile, beat two eggs in a bowl with a little milk, salt, and pepper. Set aside.
Now add any quick-cook veggies you have—spinach, corn, peas, snow peas, etc. Once everything is heated through, pour in the beaten egg and cook, stirring constantly. If you want distinct scrambled egg pieces, as opposed to an egg coating, then push the veggies to one side and cook the egg separately in the pan.
Lastly add rice—it will get mushy quickly, you want it just heated through—and spices: curry powder, ginger powder, hot pepper flakes, and soy sauce. The soy sauce comes out incredibly quickly and I almost always use too much—pour with caution!
Simple Garlicky Spaghetti
One of my comfort foods at home—I like to keep additions very minimal, but feel free to bulk up on veggies. Don’t skimp on the garlic (you’re going to smell like it all day no matter how little you use!).
Add enough oil to coat the bottom of your pan. Once hot, add a spoonful or so of garlic, It might seem like too much, but garlic is usually only too strong if isn’t cooked through. Make sure your garlic is turning golden brown before you add anything else.
Add a bunch of green peas (or roasted brussel sprouts if available!), heat through, and add spaghetti.
As the noodles warm up, add salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes. Top with parmesan.
Julia Child’s Mushrooms
The stir-fry station is also great for sides—like these mushrooms sautéed in butter. This recipe is taken almost directly from Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Bon appétit!
Add three pats of butter and a dollop of oil to your pan and heat until the butter is melted but has not yet begun to brown.
Add a small handful amount of mushrooms and cook, stirring, for four to five minutes until mushrooms are tender and have begun to brown. “During their sauté the mushrooms will at first absorb the fat. In two to three minutes the fat will reappear on their surface and the mushrooms will begin to brown.” For this recipe it is especially important to cook your mushrooms for long enough, otherwise they will simply taste greasy. Add salt and pepper to taste. “As soon as they have browned lightly, remove from heat.”
Lastly, for double the food and double the success, stir-fry with a friend!