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Perfect Stir Fries


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One of the most common misconceptions people have about stir-fries is that you can throw any combination of leftover meat and vegetables together in the wok and stir it around with soy sauce.

In a truly great stir-fry, the cook creates an artful combination of one or two vegetables to match the meat and the sauce. That's clear from hzrtw's posts!

Here are some of my favorite combinations. What are yours?

*Chinese okra, shrimp, onion and cloud ear fungus with an oyster sauce-based sauce (including sugar, salt, cornstarch, a little water).

*Ground pork and tofu with hoisin sauce.

*Asparagus and dried shiitake mushrooms with oyster sauce.

*Beef, broccoli and red bell pepper with oyster sauce.

*Chicken, Thai basil, bird chiles, red bell pepper and fish sauce and sugar.

*Asian leafy greens with garlic and salt

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I just follow the popular, traditional Cantonese recipes in stir-frying vegetables. There are benefits in following hundreds of years of accumulated experiences through Darwinism evolution... survival of the tastiest.

There are some combinations of vegetables/meat are better than others. For example, Cantonese cook Ong Choy with beef and shrimp paste/fu yu. If you use chicken/shrimp, it just doesn't taste the same. If you use brown bean paste or fermented black beans for seasoning to cook Ong Choy, it doesn't taste the same. Vegetables like Ong Choy are more selective in mixing with seasoning and meats. On the other hand, other vegetables such as Bok Choy or Choy Sum are more general, good for any type of stir-fries.

I always feel that the Chinese restaurants in America use too many different vegetables in stir-fried dishes. Water chestnuts, carrots, straw mushrooms, bamboo shoots, onions, celery, bean sprouts, green bell peppers... chop chop, chow chow. Sad. :sad: Well... survival of the most money making.

W.K. Leung ("Ah Leung") aka "hzrt8w"
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I always feel that the Chinese restaurants in America use too many different vegetables in stir-fried dishes.  Water chestnuts, carrots, straw mushrooms, bamboo shoots, onions, celery, bean sprouts, green bell peppers...  chop chop, chow chow.  Sad.  :sad:    Well... survival of the most money making.

I LIKE having the different textures and tastes of all the different vegtables in "Dai dap wuy"! If the list above were stir-fried and bound together with a light stock for sauce, that is, no soy, oyster, or hoisin, the different textures and taste is delightful.

This is no different than when we do sand pot with mushrooms, chestnuts, bamboo shoots, fat choi, bean curd, sea cucumber, ha mai, dried oysters, scallops, black beans, oyster sauce, etc, etc. :smile: This is what I call real comfort food! :wub:

There are times when we feel the need for a single vegetable focus: the whole bundle of gai lan. Other times, we want it all: a medley, like a salad. I think that's the purpose of the many restaurants that offer "dai dap wuy".

Dejah

www.hillmanweb.com

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Whatever I or anyone else makes in a wok, it's got to be simplistic in technique, harmonious in flavourings and minimalist in ingredients. One can do a lot with pantry items like salt, oil, soy sauce, garlic, green onions, and a couple of featured ingredients. I also insist that the taste of featured ingredients predominates.

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I think if I want a vegetable combination, I would order it as such.

This differs from restaurants to restaurants, of course. From some of my experiences: I ordered Beef with Broccoli, I want beef and broccoli - I got beef, broccoli, and straw mushrooms and carrot slices. I ordered Mapo Tofu, I want minced pork and soft tofu - I got minced pork, tofu, carrot dices, green peas and water chestnut dices. I ordered Kung Pao Chicken, I want chicken, green onion, maybe green bell pepper - I got chicken, green onion, green bell pepper, onion, carrots (again), water chestnuts (again), bamboo shoots (where did this come from?). I ordered Salt and Pepper Squid, I want salt, garlic, pepper slices and squid. That's it. I got salt and pepper squid on top of a bed of shredded cabbage. The list just goes on and on.

In some restaurants, I couldn't distinguish one dish from another. They used the same set of mix vegetables to accompany the featured ingredients. Black bean sauce, oil sauteed ("yau bow"), kung pao, oyster sauce... same stuff.

Inexpensive space fillers... :wacko:

W.K. Leung ("Ah Leung") aka "hzrt8w"
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Ah Leung, that's the message I have preaching these past 3-4 years, to wean people away from the notion that "it's only stirfry throw everything in it, that's what the Chinese do". The tragedy is that the Chinese do not do this and this way of thinking is constantly perpetuated by the "chinese" restaurants, celebrity chefs, TV producers and magazine writers who have co-opted "our" cuisine by writing bad advice based on what they perceive as good Chinese cooking methods. As long as it looks colourful (carrots and red peppers), taste like what they"think" it should taste like (lots of sugar), and make it close to what the "public" wants (skewed ingredient ratios). Some of these ingredients clash so badly, that they would upset the feng shui balance of the whole continent. Makes for excellent copy, though. Except for dai dup wui, I don't know any other dish where so many ingredients are listed in a typical Chinese "recipe" are thrown in pell-mell as in those typical recipes published or aired in public media.

Strive for simplicity, achieve reality.

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I couldn't agree more - like to like or yin to yang is what works in stir-fries. :) The 'kitchen sink' approach has its place - but not in classic Chinese cuisine according to the principles of Yuan Mei.

For me - classic combinations include shrimp, pork or clams with black beans; chicken with hot bean paste; fish with ginger and scallion, beef with Sha Zha Jiang. I want to taste the main ingredient, complemented or enhanced by the supplementary seasonings - not a hodgepodge of muddled flavours due to poor choices of ingredients

While I am a huge proponent of deep and intricate flavours (when well-balanced), sometimes the simplest combos (proven by thousands of years of tradition and tastings) work the best. :)

My two cents - JH

Edited by jhirshon (log)
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I think if I want a vegetable combination, I would order it as such.

Exactly.

In some restaurants, I couldn't distinguish one dish from another.  They used the same set of mix vegetables to accompany the featured ingredients.  Black bean sauce, oil sauteed ("yau bow"), kung pao, oyster sauce...  same stuff.

Inexpensive space fillers...  :wacko:

Attempts on presentation. :wink::laugh:

I agree that the ingredients should be as one orders...whether it's veg. combinations or simple one two. There should also be variety in combinations of vegetables.

One of my pet peeves is to add oyster sauce to everything!

Dejah

www.hillmanweb.com

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To me --- beef or lamb just has to have garlic and scallions, and of course, a hoisin based sauce.

Carrots may add color to a dish, but I don't want them.

If it is broccoli in a dish, I want Chinese broccoli.

If there are green peppers, then I want a black bean sauce.

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Adding bell peppers to everything is a real pet peeve of mine, because I'm allergic to them and I don't even like the taste of green peppers. I can pick them out and eat around them; I'm not that allergic. But they're just wastes of space, as far as I'm concerned. I think carrots are fine, but only if they add a flavor and texture to a dish that complements it. It would be best if all vegetable ingredients were listed on the menu for each dish, especially as that would remind me to tell them to leave the bell peppers out of dishes I don't expect to include bell peppers.

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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One of my pet peeves is to add oyster sauce to everything!

Hooray for Dejah!!

I don't exactly know when we all started to use oyster sauce in every dish, but my Gawd it's a freaking epidemic. I swear there are subliminal messages everywhere put up by Lee Kum Kee to get us hooked. Until she passed away several years ago, I used to eat with my mother at least once a week and enjoyed her cooking. At her house and back in the village we always treated oyster sauce as a luxury item for special occasions like birthdays, New Years, banquets, etc. and ONLY used for dipping poached pork or white cut chicken, etc. NEVER, NEVER used as a flavouring ingredient in cooking. (the only time I remember having oyster sauce in the small restaurants near the old village when I returned in latter years was on gai lan). Indiscriminate usage of oyster sauce would be considered economically profligate, and worse, a muddy obfuscation of the flavour of a dish, making several dishes at the same dinner have the same taste. My Elder Cousin who had about a thousand Chinese, "western", and pastry recipes committed to memory because he was semi-literate, calls oyster sauce over usage "dishonest" and the sign of a poor cook.

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Ah Leung Kuo,I totally agree with you,when I order Black Bean beef/chicken,could we please skip the green bell pepper and maybe even the onions, .Whatever happend to the "Keep it Simple" philosophy.

Ben Hong Sook is right, the concept that carrot and green peppers makes a dish look nice and colorful,is something that irritates me.Personally I feel that while carrots dont add to much to the the taste,green bell peppers really messes up the taste of whatever it is added to.

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We have two newish restaurants that have, thank Heaven, gotten away from the garbage can approach. Much more simple preparations with a few of the "gotta have everything dishes" for those who like that.

I don't think I have had bell pepper in any of them.

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Lets get back to the thread... its very interesting, because if you take the right approach, which we are agreeing is simple=better, then there are probably so many interesting combinations that you only see in one type of cuisine or another.

One of my favorites is sichuan peppercorns and dried red chilies fried up with thinly sliced sichuan sausage and lots of garlic shoots (cut at 1"). Great stuff, so easy.

Another is little pieces of bacon fried with fresh red chilies and lots of brocoli. Also dead-simple.

Another that I love is thin sliced lotus-root fried with garlic. Fry it FAST though and super-hot so that it cooks quick enough before becoming dark. Also the pieces have to be cut VERY thin or else you'll be there frying for a while.

kongxincai (english?) fried with furu and garlic...always good.

Oh, i love this one. Sliced beef, hole cumin seeds, lots of fresh red chilies and several fist-fulls of coriander with the stems. Fry up everything and then add the coriander towards the end.

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One of my pet peeves is to add oyster sauce to everything!

Hooray for Dejah!!

I don't exactly know when we all started to use oyster sauce in every dish, but my Gawd it's a freaking epidemic. I swear there are subliminal messages everywhere put up by Lee Kum Kee to get us hooked. Until she passed away several years ago, I used to eat with my mother at least once a week and enjoyed her cooking. At her house and back in the village we always treated oyster sauce as a luxury item for special occasions like birthdays, New Years, banquets, etc. and ONLY used for dipping poached pork or white cut chicken, etc. NEVER, NEVER used as a flavouring ingredient in cooking. (the only time I remember having oyster sauce in the small restaurants near the old village when I returned in latter years was on gai lan). Indiscriminate usage of oyster sauce would be considered economically profligate, and worse, a muddy obfuscation of the flavour of a dish, making several dishes at the same dinner have the same taste. My Elder Cousin who had about a thousand Chinese, "western", and pastry recipes committed to memory because he was semi-literate, calls oyster sauce over usage "dishonest" and the sign of a poor cook.

How many times have we read where someone asks about achieving a certain taste to a dish ---- and the answer is often 'add a little oyster sauce'!!

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One of my pet peeves is to add oyster sauce to everything!

Hooray for Dejah!!

I don't exactly know when we all started to use oyster sauce in every dish, but my Gawd it's a freaking epidemic. I swear there are subliminal messages everywhere put up by Lee Kum Kee to get us hooked. Until she passed away several years ago, I used to eat with my mother at least once a week and enjoyed her cooking. At her house and back in the village we always treated oyster sauce as a luxury item for special occasions like birthdays, New Years, banquets, etc. and ONLY used for dipping poached pork or white cut chicken, etc. NEVER, NEVER used as a flavouring ingredient in cooking. (the only time I remember having oyster sauce in the small restaurants near the old village when I returned in latter years was on gai lan). Indiscriminate usage of oyster sauce would be considered economically profligate, and worse, a muddy obfuscation of the flavour of a dish, making several dishes at the same dinner have the same taste. My Elder Cousin who had about a thousand Chinese, "western", and pastry recipes committed to memory because he was semi-literate, calls oyster sauce over usage "dishonest" and the sign of a poor cook.

Those are interesting experiences with oyster sauce usage, Ben. My family experience with oyster sauce is that when we were kids we'd use oyster sauce, LKK premium, to mix into our rice and we'd use quite a bit too. We all gradually grew out of that practice though.

Does anyone know where to get oyster essence? It's the oyster flavoring used to make the oyster sauce. I remember our neighbor got a big 10 gallon can of the stuff and he gave us several bottles. It had very good flavor without all the sugar that's normally in regular oyster sauce.

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I happened to like oyster flavored sauce. I add it to quite a few dishes that I make. But not everything. I seldomly use it as is, except pour on top of some stir-fried/steamed vegetable and want to make it quick. I usually use it to mix in to the sauce of a particular dish.

There are some old posts on how oyster sauces are made, such as:

Oyster Sauce, Manufacturing/Cooking with Oyster Sauce

W.K. Leung ("Ah Leung") aka "hzrt8w"
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Just a quick question for this thread, which I have been lurking on for a while now:

In my eating experiences in Chinese restaurants, I have only really come across oyster sauce on boiled/steamed veg (gai laan, choi sum and the likes) and in very few stir fries, not at least, as a central ingredient, and in even fewer stir fries with meat (with the exception of beef and oyser sauce and maybe stuffed fried doufu with oyster sauce).

So, my question is, is oyster sauce traditionally used as a condiment to flavour simple veg dishes, be they steamed or stir fried, or is it a more ubiquitous ingredient for all types of Chinese cooking? Or is its ubiquity a recent phenomenon, from use in Chinese restaurant cuisine rather than in Chinese home cooking?

Thanks, I hope this isnt repetition for any of you.

Raj

Edited to add: I like oyster sauce, but use it sparingly, and more so for veg as a flavouring rahter than using it to flavour meat sauces etc.

Edited by Raj Banerjee (log)
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About 4 posts upthread you will find my tirade about oyster sauce. Go read some older Chinese cookbooks and you will find oyster sauce hardly ever mentioned. It has become ubiquitous in cooking in recent years because people love "shortcuts".

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Just a quick question for this thread, which I have been lurking on for a while now:

In my eating experiences in Chinese restaurants, I have only really come across oyster sauce on boiled/steamed veg (gai laan, choi sum and the likes) and in very few stir fries, not at least, as a central ingredient, and in even fewer stir fries with meat (with the exception of beef and oyser sauce and maybe stuffed fried doufu with oyster sauce).

So, my question is, is oyster sauce traditionally used as a condiment to flavour simple veg dishes, be they steamed or stir fried, or is it a more ubiquitous ingredient for all types of Chinese cooking? Or is its ubiquity a recent phenomenon, from use in Chinese restaurant cuisine rather than in Chinese home cooking?  Raj

Edited to add: I like oyster sauce, but use it sparingly, and more so for veg as a flavouring rahter than using it to flavour meat sauces etc.

Happy to welcome you in your "coming out", Raj. :smile:

You've had good eating experiences if you have had oyster sauce in only a select few dishes. I've never used it as a flavour enhancer for most of my restaurant cooking. Instead, I used good chicken stock, and a little MSG ( :raz: )

In my cooking, I use this sauce only with steamed vegetables, tofu, and rice noodles because these ingredients are basically bland by themselves. If you want to spotlight oyster sauce as the main ingredient, cook iceberg lettuce with it. THAT is one of my favourites.

Chinese mushrooms, abalone - no one can say they are bland, but oyster sauce complements these ingredients - not flavour them.

When using meat in a stir-fry such as beef and gai lan, I would use a little oyster sauce with the gai lan but not with the beef.

I also use a good grade of this sauce as a dip for crispy pork or simmered chicken.

In most families, and as Ben said, good oyster sauce is a luxury item, so it is used sparingly.

I am SO picky! :biggrin:

Dejah

www.hillmanweb.com

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Thank you for the welcome and the input, Dejah.

I am gladdened to hear that my eating experiences pass muster! And thanks also for your suggestions, am gonna give the iceberg lettuce with oyster sauce a go. I tend to do what you suggest in any case, and just use oyster sauce to flavour steamed or very simply stir-fried veg - in fact steamed veg (like sugar snaps or mange tout) with a little oyster sauce I can happily much sat in front of the tv or with a cold beer!

What are, incidentally, the "superior" oyster sauces? Do you mean the bottles that say "Superior Grade" or are there specific brands etc that one should look for?

Ta again

Raj

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      It is a dish of rice noodles served in a very spicy stock made from the local river snails and pig bones which are stewed for hours with black cardamom, fennel seed, dried tangerine peel, cassia bark, cloves, pepper, bay leaf, licorice root, sand ginger, and star anise. Various pickled vegetables, dried tofu skin, fresh green vegetables, peanuts and loads of chilli are then usually added. Few restaurants ever reveal their precise recipe, so this is tentative. Luosifen is only really eaten in small restaurants and roadside stalls. I've never heard of anyone making it at home.
       
      In order to promote tourism to the city, the local government organised a food festival featuring an event named "10,000 people eat luosifen together." (In Chinese 10,000 often just means "many".)
       
      10,000 people (or a lot of people anyway) gathered at Liuzhou International Convention and Exhibition Centre for the grand Liuzhou luosifen eat-in. Well, they gathered in front of the centre – the actual centre is a bleak, unfinished, deserted shell of a building. I disguised myself as a noodle and joined them. 10,001.
       

       
      The vast majority of the 10,000 were students from the local colleges who patiently and happily lined up to be seated. Hey, mix students and free food – of course they are happy.
       

       
      Each table was equipped with a basket containing bottled water, a thermos flask of hot water, paper bowls, tissues etc. And most importantly, a bunch of Luosifen caps. These read “万人同品螺蛳粉” which means “10,000 people together enjoy luosifen”
       

       
      Yep, that is the soup pot! 15 meters in diameter and holding eleven tons of stock. Full of snails and pork bones, spices etc. Chefs delicately added ingredients to achieve the precise, subtle taste required.
       

       
      Noodles were distributed, soup added and dried ingredients incorporated then there was the sound of 10,000 people slurping.
       

      Surrounding the luosifen eating area were several stalls selling different goodies. Lamb kebabs (羊肉串) seemed most popular, but there was all sorts of food. Here are few of the delights on offer.
       

      Whole roast lamb or roast chicken
       

      Lamb Kebabs
       

      Kebab spice mix – Cumin, chilli powder, salt and MSG
       

      Kebab stall
       

      Crab
       

      Different crab
       

      Sweet sticky rice balls
       

      Things on sticks
       

      Grilled scorpions
       

      Pig bones and bits
       

      Snails
       
      And much more.
       
      To be honest, it wasn’t the best luosifen I’ve ever eaten, but it was wasn’t the worst. Especially when you consider the number they were catering for. But it was a lot of fun. Which was the point.
       
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