Friday, August 10, 2007

Chris Rywalt's Beef with Broccoli no Broccoli with Broccoli Recipe

Perhaps this will become a weekly Guest Column; Pretty Lady is thrilled that Chris is so on the ball, particularly as she has been on vacation while on vacation.

This recipe came about because my lovely wife Dawn is a meatatarian. The only vegetables she'll eat are corn, peas, and potatoes, which you'll note aren't exactly vegetables so much as starch in a thin vegetable package. She's been known to watch our daughter eat a pile of mashed potatoes and then insist, "You need some vegetables! Have some corn!"

Thus for many years whenever we ordered Chinese to be delivered, she'd ask for "beef with broccoli no broccoli." That is, she wanted beef in brown sauce. But if she ordered "beef with brown sauce," all sorts of random things would arrive, including, once, beef in oyster sauce. Whereas if she ordered "beef with broccoli no broccoli," she'd get what she wanted, which was beef in the same brown sauce as beef with broccoli, minus the vegetation.

Eventually I decided to try to duplicate the recipe on my own, so I developed a brown sauce I could make. This was Beef with Broccoli No Broccoli.

After a while of making this, I realized I missed the broccoli. So I worked on including it in the recipe, along with tofu, snow peas, and mushrooms. The resulting recipe, of course, would then be Beef with Broccoli No Broccoli with Broccoli. Which is what you're going to make.

Brown Sauce
1.25 cups water
0.33 cups soy sauce
grated ginger
grated garlic
2 tbs (6 squirts) honey
2 tbs corn starch

1.5 lbs London broil/top sirloin/top round/whatever

Other Stuff (all of which is optional)
1.5 lbs broccoli crowns (about three trees)
0.25 lbs snow peas (a handful or so)
some shitake mushrooms
1 package (1 lb) extra firm tofu, cubed

Start by boiling a pot of water for blanching the broccoli and snow peas. This is a key step, because the vegetables will never cook in a stir-fry unless you parcook them first. Wash the vegetables and cook them in the boiling water until they're tender and bright green, about ten minutes. A little less wouldn't hurt. Then strain from boiling water and plunge into ice water (not just cold from the tap -- add about half a tray of ice cubes) for five minutes to stop the cooking and set the color. Strain and set aside.

Now, I've noticed that adding the broccoli to the stir-fry tends to thin out the sauce. Could be there's an enzyme in the broccoli which breaks down the corn starch. Or could be there's water still in the broccoli leaves. So I like to run the broccoli through the salad spinner a few times to get it as dry as possible.

While the broccoli is cooking, make the brown sauce. Basically it's just mixing everything together. Note I've haven't given you instructions on the garlic and ginger.

About ginger: Fresh ginger goes bad way faster than I use it. So I freeze it, and when I need some, it's very easy to scrape off the skin with a knife and run the root over a microplane grater. Then back in the freezer it goes. I grate off about a half-inch of root. You can use powdered ginger if you don't have fresh: Start with about a teaspoon and increase as you like. I find the more I eat ginger the more I use.

About garlic: If you're feeling ambitious, mince it. I never, ever feel that ambitious, so I just grate two or three cloves using the microplane grater right into the sauce. You don't even need to cut off the fuzzy end, because that's what you hold it by so you don't grate your fingers.

(Pretty Lady's note: Chris, have you never heard of a garlic press? The kind with the hinged pestle produces the most direct leverage, and can easily push an entire clove of garlic through in one squeeze. Pretty Lady has made a good start on your Christmas list.)

About honey: I never measure honey because it's a mess. Alton estimates a good squeeze as about one teaspoon. Three teaspoons equals a tablespoon. Therefore 6 squirts is about 2 tablespoons. If you don't have honey, use sugar in about equal amounts.

Now you've got your sauce, broccoli, and snow peas ready. Beef time!

Many different cuts of meat can be used for this. Some are more economical than others. Flank steak, sirloin, top round, even chuck are fine. Also fancier beef like New York strip or whatever excites you. Generally I look for the cheaper cuts usually labeled "for London broil."

The key about any cuts like that -- top round for example -- is that it's a cut with a fair amount of connective tissue. That means if you overcook it, it will turn to shoe leather. My mother was an expert at this. She could take the most expensive piece of beef and convert it to moose meat. So there are two keys to properly cooking this cut: Slice it thin across the grain and cook it on high heat very quickly.

First, then, slice it up. Across the grain, no thicker than an eighth of an inch. Try to keep the slicing consistent. Or, if you have a butcher you're friendly with, have them slice it for you.

Next, cook it. I have a Calphalon anodized aluminum wok I bought years and years ago. It's been absolutely the most versatile and useful cooking vessel I've ever owned. I can use it as anything: Frying pan, wok, saucier, saucepan. I've cooked almost everything in it. And it's almost nonstick, it cleans up so easily. It was wildly expensive and for years I joked about it being our Yuppie Frying Pan, but one day I realized it was worth every nickel (pennies not being worth anything any more).

The important thing about cooking the beef is it must be hot and it must be fast. So set your frying pan or wok or cast iron skillet or Dutch oven on high heat -- as high as you can -- and let it sit until it's as hot as you can let it get without scorching. Hot hot hot. I give my wok about ten minutes minimum on my extra-strength burner.

Add a little oil to the cooking vessel and swirl to coat. I use canola for this but you could use peanut oil or possibly olive. Do not use anything light and fruity, like extra virgin olive oil, because it will burn and get unpleasant. Like, oops, I burned down my house unpleasant. Or anyway it should if your pot is hot enough. I like to spray the oil on with a spritzer bottle -- this helps the meat stick less.

Now throw the beef in right after the oil. As the Frugal Gourmet used to say, "Hot pan cold oil food won't stick." Begin moving it around immediately. Don't just toss it around randomly, either: When you see people do this on cooking shows, they look very blithe about it, but they're just making it look easy. What you need to do is keep the beef moving and make sure you turn any pieces when they brown so they sear as equally as possible on all sides. That means moving the pink towards the bottom of the wok.

The fat will start to render out of the beef and in a short time it'll look less like stir-frying and more like boiling. That's the time to add the brown sauce mix we made earlier. If your cut has
less fat, just add the sauce when all the meat is seared nicely. Recall that the key is to not cook the meat too long or it will become strips of moose. Remember my mother!

Let the sauce cook and stir it every so often. You should start to see the sauce thicken and darken as it gets closer to boiling, starting from the sides of the wok. Once all the sauce has thickened, you can do what I do, which is remove about half the beef with sauce and set it aside for my wife; or you can add your mushrooms, which you've cut the stems from and washed thoroughly. Let them cook for a minute or two, then add the broccoli and snowpeas and, if you want, some cubed extra firm tofu. Stir everything together and cook until everything is heated through, about two or three minutes.

Serve over rice. If you want to know how to make rice -- um, buy a rice cooker. That's what I did.


Chris Rywalt said...

There are two reasons I don't own a garlic press. Reason one is the only thing you can use a garlic press for is, essentially, pressing garlic. I don't have Alton Brown's aversion to unitaskers, but then, neither does he in real life. But still, leaving a garlic press around to take up space except for the occasional times I need it is a waste. Whereas a microplane grater has many uses: grating ginger, garlic, lemon zest, nutmeg, Parmigiano Reggiano, whatever.

The other reason is I used to own a garlic press where you'd drop the garlic in the top and screw it down and press the garlic out the bottom. It was great, except when you had to clean it, and then it finally blew up and dropped plastic bits in my sauce. Not, as Alton would say, Good Eats.

Chris Rywalt said...

A tribute to 50 years of inventing and engineering in an endless hunt to find a solution to a problem that never really existed

Desert Cat said...

I even own a garlic press. It takes up about as much space as a couple of spoons.

It is so much easier to incorporate fresh garlic into a recipe since I got it. For me, if a recipe involves fussy mincing or even grating something so small (fingertips become a casualty), fugheddaboudit. It won't happen.

Chris Rywalt said...

A garlic press may not be big but it is unnecessary. Alton just uses a block of marble. Smash!

k said...

DC, I'm definitely of like mind with you about the Great Garlic Press Issue. Me, I have a whole collection of garlic presses. And graters. Especially cheese graters. I find I grate my knuckles if I'm not using the right kind.

I'm always looking for another nice strong garlic press with a well-engineered fit. That keeps the skin and bigger bits from coming back out the top as you press.

Generally, I don't like too much kitchen violence. So I peel my cloves, and don't whack them and splatter the delicious juice all over.

I like 'em whole in things like stew, and will put in several heads at a time. I peel them while sitting down and watching a nice episode of Forensic Files or such. I'm a sit down cook these days.

And I have enough arthritis and old injuries in my hands that having a garlic press makes a big difference. For people like me, it actually does become a necessity. And garlic is so good for us, making it easy to use is a fine thing, all around.

I don't mind unitask tools at all. In fact, many of them, especially older ones, are visually appealing to me. I get them at a big local thrift store for a buck or two or forty cents, and my arty neighbors come by and want to buy them for $50 a pop. heh!

I broke my last two garlic presses. See, I was trying to press fresh ginger. It worked great for a while. Then I busted my two best presses, using them for a task they weren't designed to perform...

but the gingerbread was SO good!

Desert Cat said...

Yeah, what a waste the modern, pretentious kitchen is!

Knives? Cookware? Stoves, FFS!? Just smash that rabbit upside the head with a rock and start gnarfing. Throw the carcass in the campfire for a while if ya *gotta* cook it.

Desert Cat said...

Argh k! You slipped in and spoiled my smartassery.

k said...

EEEKK!!! Hey! Where'd you pop up from, Pops?

k said...

Where was I?


That is a mighty fine recipe there, BTW. I don't have my wok with me, unfortunately, and Livey doesn't love Chinese food like I do. So this one will probably have to wait until I get home.

I was intrigued by the ginger freezing business. I never thought of that. And it does go bad fast.

Some recipes taste better to me with dried ginger, especially baking. But for Chinese food I always want it fresh.

And I'm not a ginger mincing fan. Thus, the broken garlic presses.

Ginger grows very well in Ft. Lauderdale, so I tend to plant a lot of it here and there in the yard. I buy the roots for $1.99/pound at a local discount produce place, and use it until what's left starts to go bad. If it starts to get shrively or moldy I just plant it. Then when I'm ready I dig one up. So I only actually buy it a couple times a year, in between *good root* times.

The broccoli? I like to cook veggies in the wok the traditional way, just stir-frying in oil. They do take a bit of time to cook enough. I don't like my cooked veggies to be crispy. But I've been pretty lucky making it work in the wok.

Sometimes if they aren't softening enough I put the lid on the wok. Even just a couple minutes sort of steams them enough for me.

Actually, I have a lot more trouble trying to cook tofu. I'm just never satisfied with it when I stir-fry it. Finally I gave up and resigned myself to getting it via take-out.

I would have a WONDERFUL time eating at your house! I'd eat up all of Dawn's allowance of the veggies. I love meat too but I often make a dinner of just broccoli. Just boiled, with butter and salt. Or asparagus, maybe with bechamel sauce instead of butter. Or even my killer bearnaise. (No it's not just for meat any more!) Or a bowl of creamed cauliflower. OH! A big beautiful artichoke, YUM! Or spinach. Can't really have too much spinach either.

Did I mention I love broccoli?

Chris Rywalt said...

Of course you can stir-fry vegetables, even broccoli. The trouble comes in combining them with the meat and trying to cook them at the same time -- the meat will overcook before the broccoli even warms up.

I never thought of planting the ginger. Of course, around New Jersey you never know what you're planting in, whether it's chemical residue or radioactive waste.

k said...

Yeah, that can be a problem. I do the broccoli first on most all my wok cooking. It's just...the shape of it makes it harder to cook thoroughly, things like snow peas are much easier.

Then to do the meat part, I sort of push the broccoli up the sides of the wok. It still cooks some up there too, and it's less likely to burn up there as I concentrate on stirring the meat ingredient.

You could probably grow ginger up there in the summer...IF you could brave the soil! Root crops are always the scariest for that. Farmers use carrot plantings to clean their soil of residual pesticides and so forth. Works great. The carrots absorb huge percentages of the icky stuff.

Then? They sell the carrots for human consumption.

If you buy a batch of non-organic carrots and find them strangely bitter, that may be why.

Chris Rywalt said...

You could wok the vegetables first. What would be best, though, would be stir-frying the broccoli and then removing it from the wok. Then give the wok some time to heat back up. The problem is, most home cooktops just don't have enough power to get a wok as hot as it needs to be. The broccoli would suck too much of that all-important heat from the beef, and you'd be stuck overcooking it again. In a Chinese restaurant, their burners are so much hotter, they can handle everything. Also, they're using cat meat.

Doing the vegetables first would be especially good for the mushrooms, which ideally need quick, hot cooking like the beef. But I'm too lazy for that. Also, I'd have to find some spot to stash the mushrooms while the beef cooked, and I try to minimize my mess.

Still, you could try it that way. I'd probably do the mushrooms first, remove them, drain any excess water (the mushrooms might give off some), do the broccoli and the snowpeas and the tofu, remove them, drain off excess water, and then do the beef after letting the wok get really hot again. Then sauce, then return veggies, then eat.

I ran my recipe past my executive chef friend and he agreed with the blanching, though. It helps the broccoli keep its color, too. So, either way.

k said...

That sounds good. I guess part of it is just a sort of *mess preference.* To me, blanching seems like more work than stir-frying them first. If I have different ingredients like that, ones that have much different woking needs and effects, I like to do them separate that way.

Then I can scoop them, and any liquid, into a nice big bowl. All the special ingredeient can go there, all in one bowl. Crank the heat again, do the meat. Add the sauce, let it go a bit, then put the veggies back in - with any juice they had. Nice little flavor boost.

I'm very lucky in this: I have an old cold-rolled steel wok that I can put straight on my electric stove burner, and that thing can really heat up. It has a sort of round stand you're supposed to use - just a hoop really - to hold it off the burner. Huh? No. It's hard enough to get it really hot! So I don't use that, just put it straight on the electric heating element. Walter is always a bit dubious about the safety of that particular kitchen habit of mine. But he stays pretty quiet about his opinion. After he's done giving me The Look. heh!

If I'm careful with my cornstarch proportion, or keep a little extra on the side as I cook, I can thicken or thin the brown sauce as the veggies and meat cook a bit in the sauce. Yum!

Do you have any suggestions for stir-frying tofu? Also, do you ever use marinades for the meats in Chinese cooking?

Chris Rywalt said...

In this particular recipe, the tofu doesn't do much. If you use extra firm, all it does is soak up some of the sauce. It will crumble a little bit.

You can reduce the crumbling even further if you press it before you cube it and cook it. Basically wrap it in several layers of paper towel, put it on a cutting board you don't mind getting soaking wet (so plastic, not wood), put something flat on top, and weight it with something heavy. Let it sit for anywhere from half an hour to overnight.

Alton did an episode on tofu. That should help.

Chris Rywalt said...

Oh, regarding marinades: I don't generally use them. No good reason why.

The other day I tried a variation on this recipe. I made a marinade of 3 tbs rice vinegar, 1 tbs canola oil, 1 tbs soy sauce, some cayenne pepper and 1 small onion chopped. I sliced up the steak and put it in a baggie for about half an hour. Then I skewered it and grilled it. Meanwhile I made the sauce as above, but leaving out the garlic and ginger and adding 0.5 cup orange juice. I cooked the sauce by itself and poured it over the grilled steak skewers.

It wasn't as successful as I would've liked. It was okay. The orange flavor was a little too strong and something about the sauce tasted slightly burned -- I may have overcooked it. I think the soy might've been too much for the marinade, also. I need to work on it some more.

k said...

Now that was a good tofu post. When I get back home I'm going tofu shopping. Now I'm thinking maybe I can learn how to do it right. Cool! Thanks.

Chris Rywalt said...

When in doubt, check Good Eats.

Pretty Lady said...

Orange juice in a savory sauce? Blech. Pretty Lady uses lime or lemon exclusively, and saves the orange for desserts.

Chris Rywalt said...

Nonsense. Orange juice and other sweet fruits can be used in savory dishes and can be really good. You kind of have to know what you're doing, though, or have a good recipe. I generally avoid fruit in any form but its original packaging, but sometimes I'll branch out.

I have a great recipe for pork tenderloins (or chops) in a thyme and carrot glaze, which is made from apple cider and orange juice. It's based on something I got out of Real Simple magazine.

Anonymous said...

Tofu for stir-fry: pressing with a weight between some towels for 15 minutes or so, then pan-frying in a nonstick pan in plenty of oil, is a good way to get that takeout-tofu texture.

I think that real takeout tofu is deep-fried. That's what gives it the crispy golden crust with the good flavor and meaty texture, firm on the outside and juicy on the inside. So much for tofu being the healthy, low-calorie takeout option.

Deep-frying (or deeply pan-frying) takes time and is messy, so I make a big batch, then throw it in other recipes all week. Tofu that's been fried, drained/squeezed, and then marinated is a good addition to a green salad.


k said...

Huh! That's what I kept missing, that take-out version you just described. I couldn't get it to work no matter what I tried. But pressing it wasn't a way I tried.

The tofu link Chris directed me to describes the different types of tofu. I had no idea they were so various. It also gives some tips about pressing it.

I finally feel like I have something to go on. Shop for the best kind of tofu to use for the particular dish. Press it and fry it for the kind you're describing. Thanks!

k said...

I take it Pretty Lady is not a fan of duck? Or, perhaps, her stomach is not even if her mouth says Yes?

Pretty Lady said...

Pretty Lady is an enormous fan of duck, k, why do you ask? As her beloved sister elaborated today, she likes to eat 'little expensive things,' and duck usually qualifies. Her stomach is also up to the challenge.

The Red Hot Chinese restaurant on 7th avenue has duck soup with spinach and spinach noodles, and this is basically the epitome of Pretty Lady food.

Pretty Lady said...

Oh! It is true that Pretty Lady prefers her duck in a Thai curry with coconut and basil, or in a confit with cassoulet, or in the abovementioned soup, rather than a l'orange.

k said...

Ah! Thank you.

Duck soup, YUM!

I love bird.

Goose! One day I finally became allergic to it. It was one of the few Food Allergy Days where I almost cried.

Quail I just don't get the same kick out of as most other bird. Don't know why.