Tag Archives: cooking

Stir fries, the simplest dish in the world (except simpler ones)

The humble stir fry. We’ve all been there, no clue what to cook, some random meat and veg in the fridge? Whack it in the wok and call it a stir fry, why not add some violently red sauce from a packet with a picture of an elderly American gentleman on? Nothing says the taste of Asia like a picture of an old black man! Sadly I find that both that man’s sauces and rice taste like something scraped off the road after a badger was incautious, so I tend to do things a little differently.

Stir fried beef and vegetables in Oyster Sauce served with basmati rice


  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 medium onion
  • 300g green beans
  • 1 large red pepper
  • 150g mushrooms
  • 1 can water chestnuts
  • 1 can bamboo shoots
  • 400g casserole beef
  • lemon juice
  • Chinese 5 spice
  • oyster sauce
  • 15 ml vegetable oil

Preparation time:

12 hours (relax, most of this is marinating, you don’t need to watch it in the fridge, but if you do can you tell me if the light stays on? For Science!)

Cooking time:

25 minutes


Firstly slice your beef into thin (4-5mm thick) strips which are about 2-3 cm long, place in a dish and douse liberally with lemon juice and 5 spice, then cover and leave in the fridge for about twelve hours. At the end of that time, it should look like this:


Notice how the edges are looking slightly cooked? That’s the action of the acid on the meat. It makes the beef tender while keeping the strong flavour that the cheaper beef cuts have. The 5 spice should have permeated the meat with its flavours, along with the lemon juice. You’ll notice that when you start to eat it.

While it’s marinating you can, like me, go to work. Then, when you come back you can start on the veg.

Dice the garlic finely, don’t crush it! Crushing is faster and easier and tastes quite different, part of the stir fry is making sure that the textures are correct, so take a minute or two to quickly dice your garlic. It’s easier to wash the knife than a garlic press anyway.


Don’t be shy, just whack at it with a knife and then tip into the pan, Don’t worry if it’s not perfectly uniform, that’s fine, it’s sodding tiny. Then dice the onions, again quite finely as below:

Now chop the mushrooms, peppers, water chestnuts and beans as below, aim to get them about the same size as the bamboo shoots and beef.

Mushrooms Garlic peppers green_beans

Now you’ve prepped your veg, it’s probably time to start cooking the rice. Begin by putting about 120g of dry basmati rice per person into your pan or rice cooker. I have a rice cooker because I am not a barbarian peasant, but you might prefer the rustic delights that come with a pan, the instructions are the same either way.  Wash the rice in cold water repeatedly until the water goes from a cloudy starchy look to a more pleasant clear look. You can do this by adding about five centimetres of water above the level of the rice and then agitating it roughly with your hand for a few seconds. Drain the water, being careful to keep  the rice in the pan. Repeat as necessary, you’ll probably find you need to do this five to seven times if you’re using basmati. Then once the water is clear, drain again and add about 1.5 cm of water above the level of the rice, or just enough to cover the first knuckle of your little finger, as below.

rice_before_wash rice_after_wash how_much_water

Pop the pan on the hob (or in the rice cooker), cover and apply a strong heat until boiling, then reduce to a simmer until all the water has gone. Do not lift the lid to check. Do not lift the lid to add more water. Do not lift the lid. Leave that lid on until the rice is cooked. Then turn off the heat and leave for another five minutes. Keep the lid on while you’re doing that. After that, you can lift the lid, but be certain not to remove the lid while it’s cooking.

Cooking the stir fry is easy, it’s the part of the dish you don’t need to think about, bung everything in a pan and apply heat, right?

Sort of.

The first thing in the wok is the oil with one piece of garlic. Heat the oil on a high flame until the garlic goes pop, then add the rest of the garlic and onions and fry until they start to go brown and a little crispy. You’re not making a sauce with this, so a slow sweating until they’re golden brown isn’t called for. Keep stirring the pan, it’s a stir fry after all. Soon enough they should look like this:


It’s at this point that you add the beef and can hear that wonderful sizzling sound that means you’ve got your pan hot enough, brown the beef while stirring it, but don’t be afraid to let a few bits look pinkish, there’s still a lot of cooking to go and losing a few juices to your veg just makes the veg taste better! You’ll probably want to turn your rice down about now.



We’re nearly there now, throw all the prepped veg in and fry for a good five minutes, stirring regularly. You want the pepper to be starting to be a little soft before you add the oyster sauce.


As you can see, my oyster sauce brand has a panda on. Pandas are Chinese, thus my meal will taste extra Chinese because of this. It may give you kung fu powers, I can neither confirm nor deny that.

Give it a good glug, I like to use about a third of a bottle like this per stir fry, but at the very least make sure that all the meat and veg are thoroughly coated as you stir it in. You can use less if you want to be healthy. By this point the rice should be just about done, so you can turn the heat off and leave that lid on while you finish off heating through the sauce and coating the meat and veg.


Everything in the pan should look pretty cooked about now and the smells should be enough to make your stomach growl. You’re pretty much ready to dish up. so turn the heat off. Take the lid off the rice and break it up with a wooden spatula or rice paddle if you have one. Spoons can work, but the rice tends to stick to them and dry on them when you’re not looking. Rice flour has been used to make cement stronger and it does the same thing on your spoon. Use a spatula and it just slides right off.


Fill the bottom half of a bowl with rice and then dollop on your beef in oyster sauce, making sure to get all the different veg to make it colourful and look good in a photo for your blog. I also added a spoonful of my home made chilli sauce after this photo was taken. It’s good, but there’s few savoury dishes that chilli sauce doesn’t improve.





The observant among you will have noticed that my wok looks filthy. It’s meant to! If you have a steel or iron wok as opposed to a non-stick one, you will season it by oiling it and heating it to smoke point. To clean it, you simply wash off the excess from the last meal using water, but no soap, then return to the hob to dry it and re-oil it. You’ll find over time that it starts to have a more even heating profile and still be less sticky than a non-stick pan. Try to use wooden utensils with it.