Grace Young, author of Stir-Frying to the Sky's Edge, says this traditional Chinese technique, which involves cooking food quickly over high heat in small amounts of oil, is intrinsically healthy because it calls for small amounts of meat and fat, but plenty of vegetables.
Young says there are a few essentials for creating successful stir-fries.
First, get a good wok or large skillet. Whichever you use, it should conduct heat well and be large enough to hold all the ingredients without crowding them. She avoids nonstick surfaces and recommends choosing either a 14-inch flat-bottom carbon steel wok or a 12-inch stainless steel wok or skillet.
Next, be sure to heat the pan first, then add the oil, then add the food. Adding oil to a cold wok or frying pan and then heating it will cause foods to stick to the pan.
In terms of oil, Young says it's important to choose one with a high smoke point, such as peanut, grapeseed or canola. These help quickly sear the foods and won't break down over high heat.
Lastly, Young cautions against overcrowding, which will cause meat and vegetables to steam or braise rather than caramelize and cook quickly, as they should with this fast, high-heat technique.
This recipe for stir-fried crystal shrimp features an excellent low-fat source of protein considered by the Chinese to represent happiness and laughter, making it ideal for celebrations.
Repeatedly salting and rinsing the shrimp gives it a firm texture some might consider crystal-like, hence the name. But if you can't afford so much sodium, you might omit that step and use low-sodium broth, too.
STIR-FRIED CRYSTAL SHRIMP
1 pound large raw shrimp, peeled and deveined
2 1/4 teaspoons salt, divided
2 tablespoons egg white, lightly beaten (about 1/2 egg white)
1 tablespoon plus 1/2 teaspoon cornstarch, divided
2 tablespoons peanut or vegetable oil, divided
1/3 cup chicken broth
1 tablespoon Shaoxing rice wine or dry sherry
1/8 teaspoon ground white pepper
3 slices ginger, smashed
3 scallions, halved lengthwise and cut into 2-inch sections
1/2 cup frozen peas, thawed
Start to finish: 1 hour 20 minutes (20 minutes active)
In a large strainer, rinse the shrimp. Sprinkle 1 teaspoon of the salt over the shrimp, then stir the shrimp in a vigorous circular motion for about 1 minute.
Rinse the shrimp under cold water, then shake out the excess water. Sprinkle 1 more teaspoon of salt over the shrimp and repeat the stirring and rinsing process. After the shrimp have been thoroughly rinsed, set on several sheets of paper towels. With more paper towels, pat the shrimp dry.
In a medium bowl, combine the shrimp, egg white and 1 tablespoon of the cornstarch. Stir until the cornstarch is totally dissolved and no clumps are visible. Put the shrimp mixture uncovered in the refrigerator for 1 hour.
In a 3-quart saucepan over high heat, bring 1 1/2 quarts water to a boil. Add 1 tablespoon of the oil to the boiling water. Reduce the heat to low. When the water is barely simmering, carefully add the shrimp, gently stirring them so that they do not clump together. Cook for 1 minute or until the shrimp just turn pink but are not cooked through.
Carefully drain the shrimp, shaking the strainer to remove any excess water.
In a small bowl, combine the broth, rice wine, the remaining 1/2 teaspoon cornstarch and the pepper. Set aside.
Heat a 14-inch flat-bottomed wok or 12-inch skillet on high until a bead of water vaporizes within 1 to 2 seconds of contact. Swirl in the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil, then add the ginger and scallions. Stir-fry for 10 seconds, or until the ginger and scallions are fragrant.
Add the shrimp and peas, then sprinkle on the remaining 1/4 teaspoon of salt. Stir the broth mixture to recombine, then swirl it into the wok. Stir-fry for 1 to 2 minutes, or until the shrimp are just cooked and the sauce just clings to the shrimp.
Makes 4 servings.
Nutritional information per serving (values are rounded to the nearest whole number): 210 calories (79 calories from fat, 38 percent of total calories), 9g fat (1g saturated, 0g trans fats), 172mg cholesterol, 5g carbohydrates, 25g protein, 1g fiber, 1,340mg sodium.
Recipe from Grace Young's Stir-Frying to the Sky's Edge (Simon & Schuster, 2010)