Recipe: Frying Pan Stir-Fry

I generally do not like to buy new or special equipment. I prefer to work with what is at hand until it breaks. And so I have spent the past fifteen years making stir-fry in a regular frying pan. For many years it was the only dish that I ever made. At long last, I feel like I have gotten somewhere. Now I feel ready to share what I have learned, and to buy a wok.

-4-5 tablespoons of vegetable oil. (Peanut or sesame oil is best as these will not smoke at high temperatures, but olive oil will work also.)
-1 package of firm tofu, cut into small-ish triangles
-5-6 gloves of garlic, finely chopped
-1 big piece of ginger, cut into tiny cubes
-1/2 of a large white onion, chopped
-1 bunch of green onions, chopped
-1/2 green bell pepper, chopped
-1/2 red bell pepper, chopped
-8 Shiitake mushrooms, cut into long thin slices
-1/4 cup chicken stock or vegetable stock

-1/3 cup cornstarch
-2/3 cup Chinese rice cooking wine
-2 heaping tablespoons black bean paste
-1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (or more if you like things spicy)
-1 teaspoon brown sugar
-1/2 cup soy sauce

1. Mix the cornstarch and sherry in a mixing bowl or a big measuring cup until smooth. Stir in the black bean paste, the sugar, and the soy sauce. Add half of the ginger and half of the garlic. Set this sauce aside.

2. You will probably want some rice with your stir-fry. Now is a good time to get a pot of rice going.

3. Heat the vegetable oil in a frying pan on medium-to-high heat. Add the tofu and fry until one side forms a brown crust (about 2 or 3 minutes). Then flip and fry the other side until golden brown. Remove tofu from frying pan and set aside on a paper towel to absorb excess oil.

4. Garlic, ginger, and onion—these are three keys to good stir-fry. Add the onions and cook on low-to-medium heat for three minutes. Add the mushrooms, the rest of the garlic, and just a bit of the ginger, and cook for five or six minutes, stirring occasionally and turning the mushrooms, until the mushrooms begin to soften and the onions are browning at the edges.

5. Add the peppers and turn up the heat to medium-high. Stir-fry for a minute or two and add the stock. (You can also add carrots, spinach, and/or broccoli at this stage, in which case you will want to use a little more stock and cover the mix for three or four minutes. For broccoli, you might want to precook it for thirty seconds in a pot of boiling water.)

6. Turn the heat up to high. Add the remaining ginger and stir in for twenty seconds. Now add the tofu and pour about half of the sauce over the whole pan. Stir and turn until everything is mixed and coated, and the sauce starts to thicken up.

7. The stir-fry is complete. Remove from heat and serve over rice, with the remainder of the sauce.

Please note: This recipe is still a work in progress and open to interpretation. The main themes here are: Frying the tofu and then setting it aside. Maximum quantities of garlic and ginger, some in the sauce, some in the pan. Some raw ginger added near the end. The 2-to-1 rice wine-to-cornstarch ratio as a base for making the sauce.