Stir-frying vegetables means boiling (rather than frying) them in deep oil: it’s a technique borrowed from Chinese cuisine which can be used with our pans as well.
When we deep-fry, we only cook a few small pieces of vegetables at a time in 180° oil, and the heat, which never falls below 180°, keeps frying; in Chinese cuisine on the other hand, large quantities of vegetables are deep fried at the same time, and the water contained within the vegetables lowers the temperature of the oil to 100°.
The vegetables will cook by boiling, but only internally: the water they contain will quickly reach 100°.
The result? ….in 30-60 seconds the vegetables will be cooked, crunchy but not sautéed.
In the Eastern world, China, Thailand…the different elements composing a dish are almost always cooked separately. This allows for better control of the cooking time of each ingredient. In the recipe for chicken curry with vegetables that follows, we will cook the chicken, the vegetables and the sauce separately. Aside from being able to control the cooking process of each component of the recipe, this technique yields other advantages as well: we can create the dish we prepared by combining chicken, vegetables and sauce, but we can also opt for different versions of the same dish, for example by keeping aside a portion of vegetarian curry if one of the guests prefers not to eat meat. We can also use each of the cooked ingredients for other recipes: serve the vegetables as a side dish, season the chicken with a different sauce…
Aside from being the way food is cooked in the East, this technique is also used in catering to arrange the so-called “line”: many independent and incomplete preparations which are reunited case by case in different dishes.
If we want to save the dish for a later time, the single elements can be stored better and for a much longer time if they are separated and refrigerated independently. Indeed, storing separately means less contamination between foods (meat, vegetables…). Moreover, vegetables or meat kept within a sauce in the fridge will tend to marinate; on the contrary, they will maintain their organoleptic properties when refrigerated autonomously.
A final observation for those of you who love food photography: shooting in natural sunlight is not only simple and cheap, it is also the method which yields the most real and vivid colours.
Rinse and chop the vegetables (you can use carrots, zucchini, corn, white or red cabbage, broccoli, pumpkin, snow peas, string beans…). Heat a few tablespoons of sunflower oil (or coconut oil) in a large pan (iron or non-stick) and start cooking one vegetable at a time.
Cover the oil with chunks of vegetables and stir continuously (if you lightly touch the oil with a finger you will notice its temperature is far below 180°, it will feel like touching boiling water). Taste the vegetables after 30 seconds: they should be cooked but crunchy. Cook for another thirty seconds if they seem too firm.
Drain the vegetables, then set them aside and pour the oil back into the pan. Heat it up again, then add the following vegetable and cook for 30-60 seconds. Stir fry all the vegetables and set them aside. You can add oil as you go should it not be enough.
Add the chicken, cut into small pieces, to the same pan in which you stir-fried the vegetables. This time however you should use half as much oil and lower the heat to the lowest temperature you can find before the oil stops sizzling. If the chicken doesn’t fit into a single pan, cook half at a time.
Cook for 7 minutes without stirring, then flip the chicken and cook for another 5 minutes. Once you have browned all the pieces of chicken, take out the breast, which will be ready, and let the drumsticks, hips and wings cook over very low heat for another 30-40 minutes.
Set the cooked chicken aside and prepare the sauce with the cooking juices left in the pan. Add two tablespoons of curry paste and let brown, then pour in two cans of coconut milk (or, alternatively, liquid cream) and bring to a boil. Season with salt.
When it’s time to prepare the meal, combine the desired quantities of each ingredient (vegetables, chicken and sauce) in a pan and bring to temperature over low heat. Season as needed and serve with white rice.
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