Saturday, June 6, 2009

Stir Fried Broccoli: A More Than Completely Edible Vegetable

Note: I got this technique from one of my favorite cookbooks of all time, called The Complete Illustrated Step-by-Step Cookbook, by Judith Ferguson. My copy came from a thrift store, years ago; I bought it because it has full-color, full-page pictures EVERY OTHER PAGE (which I was impressed with because I had long since given in to the Alice-in-wonderland philosophy: '...what is the use of a book,' thought Alice 'without pictures or conversation?'), but I soon began to appreciate it for its other qualities. These include extremely clear directions, not too expensive ingredients (er, at least, not for the recipes I choose to cook), and of course consistently yummy end results. The sort of book, in short, that I would like to write some day.

The recipe is part of a larger recipe for Broccoli-Beef stir fry, but several years ago I realized that it could be fixed, with satisfyingly delicious results, on its own. It is not a knock-you-socks-off, people-beg-you-for-the-recipe, fix-for-Thanksgiving-for-sure kind of food, which in my personal rating system would count as "quite good;" it is, however, the sort of recipe that makes people say, "Gosh, I didn't know that I liked stir-fried broccoli this much," and that counts as "More than Completely Edible." In fact, I myself do not normally fix broccoli in any other way, and when I am fixing dinner and think to myself: crud! I forgot to plan a vegetable! this recipe often comes to my rescue. Try it. You'll like it. Really.

One head of broccoli
Some vegetable oil (a tablespoon or so)

Wash the broccoli and cut it in to "even sized pieces." They should be the size of pieces that you would normally see in stir-fry.

Heat the oil in the skillet. For various reasons, I normally use a nine-or-ten-inch cast iron skillet, so I put the skillet on to heat (medium high heat) approximately ten minutes before I put the broccoli in to it. I think it's ten minutes. I'll check this week and get back to you, because even though I am sure our stoves will be different, it is good to know this sort of thing. Five minutes definitely works when you have a gas stove, but I'm working with an electric these days, which heats more slowly. The reason why I am going on and on about this, besides the fact that I have difficulty ceasing speech in general, is that the hotness of the skillet when the broccoli hits it so happens to be the only thing which is fiddly about this recipe, and if you get it wrong, you may incorrectly believe that there was something wrong with the recipe itself. (Just below, I'll tell you how I use the oil in the skillet to tell how hot it is.)

So. Put a tablespoon or two of oil in to the skillet. I always use olive oil, but corn oil or canola oil or whatever it is you like to use are also perfectly acceptable. Now, for judging hotness: if, when you pour it in, it sort of spreads out slowly, then the skillet isn't hot enough; if this is the case, then do something else for a minute or so, then come back and tilt the skillet to see how things are coming along. If it spreads out quickly/ runs quickly, it is probably just right. A very little smoke is OK (but throw in the broccoli IMMEDIATELY), but a lot of smoke means that the skillet is too hot, and you should let it cool down a bit and clean it out so that you don't get the carcinogenic (=cancer causing) effect of burnt oil in your diet. This on top of the fact that it doesn't taste great. N.B.: different oils spread in different ways, but I'm not familiar with all of the variations (nor did you really want to read about them this very moment, did you?), so I'll just have to say get to know your skillet, your stove, and your preferred oil well enough to gauge this accurately. The basic principles remain the same.

Once the skillet is hot enough but not too hot, throw in your broccoli and start stirring. Especially if the broccoli hasn't drained all the way from when you washed it, the oil has the potential to spatter, so be careful. I either use a wooden spoon or a spatula to push the broccoli around. You can leave the skillet for long enough to go set a timer for two minutes, but you probably shouldn't be gone much longer; you should keep stirring pretty much constantly until it is done. Once it is bright green, which may take as long as two and a half minutes, it is ready. Sometimes you will get a little bit of browning on the edges, which is PERFECT. Serve hot, if you can.

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