Wandering through a gourmet supermarket in the 17th recently, I succumbed to a craving for fresh bright vegetables. Usually, I try to keep to vegetables that are actually in season, but when we get to the very end of the winter blues I am so tired of starch. I went wild at the vegetable section: snap peas, shitake mushrooms, soy sprouts, baby spinach, a leek and carrots. With some fresh ginger and a couple of chicken breasts, I was ready for a nice light spring stir fry.
I have to be honest that this recipe was based on my vague recollection of a recipe from Epicurious that I tried some time ago for Velvet Chicken. I (along with most of the other reviewers) had a problem with the original recipe, in that it needlessly called for coating the chicken with egg white and cornstarch batter, which immediately formed a thick slimy crust at the bottom of the wok. So this time, I added a few veggies and marinated the chicken in a soy sauce, lemon, ginger and garlic sauce instead.
Spring Stir Fry (serves two generously with leftovers)
1 leek, trimmed and sliced in thin separated rounds
2 carrots, peeled and cut in thin rounds
1 cup/150 grams snap peas
1/2 cup/about 100 grams shitake mushrooms, sliced
2 handfuls of baby spinach leaves
2 chicken breast cut in thin strips
a knob of ginger about the size of an average thumb, peeled and cut in thin strips
2 cloves of garlic
1/3 cup soy sauce
the juice of one lemon
a dash of sesame oil
oil for frying in the wok (sunflower in my case)
2 tsp red pepper flakes
a dozen fresh basil leaves, minced
2/3 cup rice
As always when using a wok, the essential thing is to get all of your ingredients ready in advance. Cut up the chicken first so that you can set it to marinate in about half of the soy sauce, lemon juice, ginger, garlic, basil and pepper flakes. It means having to wash your knife thoroughly before you cut the vegetables (or two knives) but the meat will have a chance to marinate a bit. Mix the rest of the soy sauce, lemon juice, ginger, garlic and pepper flakes (but not the remaining basil) in a bowl and spoon a small amount over each of the rest of the vegetables as you finish preparing them. See the veggies.
Before you start adding ingredients to the wok, start the rice cooking in a pan of boiling water. Then light the fire under the wok and let it get really hot. You can tell it's hot enough if, when you add the oil, it immediately starts to smoke. (I use sunflower oil with a dash of sesame oil.) Throw the chicken in immediately with its marinade. Once the chicken has nearly finished cooking, start adding the vegetables in the following order: carrots, leeks, mushrooms, spinach and snap peas. You may need to fry in batches so that everything cooks quickly enough. Speed is of the essence! As soon as you add the last two vegetables, drain the rice (hopefully it will be done!) and throw it on top of the vegetables, turn off the fire and put a lid on the wok. This will cook the spinach and snap peas to perfection if you just wait a couple of minutes. Before serving, add any of the marinade left over from the vegetables, along with the remaining basil. Give the vegetables and rice a good stir and taste to see if it needs any more soy sauce.
Grab a large bowl and a fork and dig in!
The Critic's judgement: very good but way too many mushrooms. Actually, the next time around I think I won't put any of the marinade in with the 'shrooms as they did get a little slimy. But tasty!