Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Teriyaki Chicken Rice Bowls and Asian Stir Fry Basics

Growing up in a Chinese household, stir fry dishes are a part of our normal rotation for dinner.  Because it is made so often, it becomes second nature for an Asian person to throw slices of meat or tofu, cut veggies and some seasonings together to make a luscious topping over rice.

Everyone and every family has a different way of making stir fry dishes.  It is mainly a method or guideline that I should archive for my kiddies.  I purposely make my Asian dishes on the bland side.  My children like mild flavours.   If I can get them to eat broccoli, carrots, zucchini, sugar snap peas, meat, tofu and other veggies for dinner, I have won the mommy lottery!  The other day, Nessa begged me to buy asparagus!  You can always add more salt, pepper, hot sauce or other seasonings to your own plate. Besides, it is easier to correct bland dishes than salty ones.

This is a basic guideline. The ingredients are approximate.  You decide if you like more/less of your favourite veggies and meat.  It can be fun to try one new vegetable at a time.  Asparagus, Chinese greens (bok choy), zucchini, sliced mushrooms, bean sprouts can also be added too.  It really is a forgiving recipe.  If you need more sauce, add more liquid.  Sauce too thin?  Add more thickener.  

This is what I (usually) do.  The post looks really long and wordy, but this dish really cooks up fast with whatever ingredients you have on hand.  I'm just writing everything down now so my kiddies can use this as a reference in the future.  Feel free to make changes and taste as you go!  

Heat a large pot or wok on medium high (Sorry about the dirty wok! I was cooking veggies earlier). Add about 1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil or canola oil to thinly cover the bottom of the pot. I use extra virgin olive oil.  It smokes up when it gets too hot, so I don't heat my pan to that point.  Throw in a crushed clove of garlic to infuse the oil. I'm lazy and just smash it with my palm against the counter top or cutting board.  Feel free to chop it up if you like.  Add 1 or 2 slices of ginger to the oil.  

Tip#1:  I slice all my ginger and freeze them on a lined cookie sheet.  Once frozen, transfer them to a zipped sandwich baggie and store it in the freezer for future use.  It drove me nuts to see my ginger root go moldy in the fridge.  Frozen sliced ginger is perfect for stir fries!  

Add your sliced meat to the hot pan. Cook for 3-4 minutes on high heat, covered.  Do not disturb the meat.  Uncover and flip the meat over and cook for another 2-3 minutes.  The meat will release from the pan if it is cooked. Transfer the cooked meat to a clean bowl and save for later.

If I have time, I marinate my meat with a bit of salt, pepper, a drizzle of soy sauce, 1/2 tsp cornstarch, mix it up and then drizzle 1/2-1 tsp oil to seal the marinade.  Most of the time, I skip this step and thinly slice up my chicken breast into slivers and dump it in the pan.  Again, it is completely up to you!

Tip#2:  Organize your veggies in the order of the longest cooking time to the shortest.  For example, carrots and celery take longer to cook than red peppers, bean sprouts and sugar snap peas.  Consider the veggies that can be cooked soft and cannot be easily overcooked, like carrots and celery.  Broccoli is tricky to cook.  My kiddies like cooked broccoli but they look horrible when overcooked (yellow) and not bright green.  The veggies that can be cooked in shorter times can be added last.

Now that the meat is cooked, it is time for the vegetables.

Add about 1 Tbsp oil (more or less) to thinly coat the bottom of a hot pan.  Add 1 smashed garlic clove and 1-2 slices of ginger.  I re-use the smashed garlic clove and slices of ginger from the sauteed meat.

Saute about 1 cup of sliced carrots for 2 minutes on medium-high heat.  Toss around from time to time for even cooking.   Add about 1 cup of sliced celery and cook for 2 minutes covered.

Next, I use about 4 cups, or 2 heads of chopped broccoli. You don't have to put that much broccoli in. Half the amount or another veggie is good too.  My children adore broccoli, so I go with it.  Toss it around in the oil and pour about 3/4 cups of chicken broth.  
If I don't have chicken broth on hand, I use water and add a 1/2 tsp chicken bouillon cube for flavour.  Water, vegetable broth or beef broth would be OK too.

Cover and simmer for 7-8 minutes.  The children like broccoli on the softer side.  Use less time if you like crunchier vegetables.  Add the rest of the quick cooking veggies, like snow peas and peppers and cook for another 2 minutes.

Transfer the meat back to the veggies and heat it all up til the sauce on the bottom boils.  Make a cornstarch slurry of 1-2 Tbsp cornstarch dissolved in 1/4 cup cold water.  Make sure there are no lumps and add it to the sauce to thicken it.  Mix well. If it is too thick or you would like more sauce, add a bit of broth or water to thin it out.  Make more cornstarch slurry if you need it thicker. 

Now is the fun time to season your stir-fry!  This is the part where you can change the flavours of this dish.  You can make it teriyaki, Chinese-style, black bean & garlic, spicy or sweet and sour.  It is really up to you.

Basic seasoning guideline:  
  • salt, in 1/4 tsp increments
  • 2-4 Tbsp bottled sauce
  • drizzle of light soy sauce (gasp!  I never measure... approximately 1 tsp?)
  • drizzle of dark soy sauce for colour if needed
  • pepper, if desired
  • hot chili sauce, if desired
There are so many Asian sauces in the grocery stores these days.  It can be overwhelming.  Each sauce has its own purpose.  Here is a quick run-down of the ones that are in my pantry.   I cook pretty bland and my local grocery store is quite limited.  There are so many different brands you can try and go from there.

Oyster Sauce:  I use Lee Kum Kee's Premium Oyster Sauce.  It is a family favourite.  You can also get a vegetarian version, called "Stir-fry sauce".  This stuff is very strong, so add 1 Tbsp at a time.  Up to 2 Tbsp max, since there is a strong oyster flavour.  

Regular or Light soy sauce. "Light" does not mean "reduced sodium" or reduced calorie.  It refers to its lighter colour.  When recipes call for "soy sauce", this is the one you use.  It is also saltier than the dark soy sauce. 

Dark Soy Sauce. It is darker in colour, not as salty, thicker and is aged longer. I use dark soy sauce to make sauces look dark brown.  I have also used dark soy sauce to enhance/darken the colour of beef or turkey gravy.

Black Bean and Garlic Sauce:  A pungent blend of fermented salted black beans and pureed garlic.  I add about 1-2 heaping tablespoons to my stir-fries to get a Garlic and Black Bean Chicken Stir-fry.  It is strong stuff, so add to taste.  

Teriyaki Sauce:  You can buy it bottled but I prefer to make it myself.  Traditional teriyaki sauce is a combination of soy sauce, mirin (sweetened rice wine) and sake.  Mirin is hard to come by in my little town, so I improvised with dry white wine and extra sugar. I use my own sauce that I cook and blend.  I will share my recipe in another blog post.  There are some great teriyaki sauce recipes online.  

Teriyaki Chicken Rice Bowls and the Basic Asian Stir-fry

1-2 cloves garlic, smashed or minced
1-2 slices ginger
2 Tbsp vegetable oil, canola oil or extra virgin olive oil, approximately enough to cover bottom of pan

1 lb thinly sliced meat (chicken, beef, pork), tofu, prawns, scallops
3/4 cup chicken broth, water or vegetable broth, plus up to 1/2 cup more if more sauce is desired
*optional meat marinade:   Add a pinch of salt, pepper, a drizzle of soy sauce and approx. 1/2 tsp cornstarch to the meat.  Mix well and then drizzle 1/2-1 tsp oil to seal the marinade 

1 cup sliced carrots
1 cup sliced celery
2-4 cups broccoli, cut in bite sized pieces (1-2 heads of broccoli)
1 red pepper, sliced
1/2 cup sugar snap or snow peas

1/4 tsp kosher salt, add more in 1/4 tsp increments
2-4 Tbsp homemade or bottled Teriyaki sauce* (I will post my homemade teriyaki sauce recipe in a later post)
1-2 Tbsp cornstarch dissolved in 1/4 cup cold water; mix well, no lumps
1 tsp light soy sauce, optional
1 tsp dark soy sauce, if darker brown sauce is desired
hot chili sauce, optional

Heat approximately 1 Tbsp vegetable oil (canola, extra virgin olive oil, etc) in a large pot or wok to medium-high.  Do not let pan overheat. Add 1-2 cloves crushed/minced garlic and 1-2 slices fresh/frozen ginger.  

Add sliced chicken and cook for 3-4 minutes on high heat, covered.  Uncover and flip the meat over and cook for another 2-3 minutes.  The chicken will release from the pan if it is cooked. Transfer to a clean bowl. 

Heat another 1 Tbsp oil to the wok and add garlic and ginger (from the meat) to the hot oil.  Add sliced carrots and cook for 2 minutes, stirring often.  Add sliced celery and cook for 2 minutes, covered.  Add cut broccoli and mix it with the carrots and celery.  Pour 3/4 cup chicken broth (water or vegetable broth) to the vegetables.  Cover and simmer for 7-8 minutes for tender crisp vegetables.  Add remaining vegetables and cook another 2 minutes.  

Return the cooked chicken back to the cooked vegetables and bring the liquid to boil.  Thicken the sauce with cornstarch slurry and mix well to ensure the sauce thickens nicely.  If the sauce is too thick, add up to 1/2 cup broth.  Season with salt, pepper, light and dark soy sauce (optional) and teriyaki* sauce to taste.  Serve over rice or noodles.

*Other sauce variations:
  • Basic Chinese-style:  1-2 Tbsp Oyster sauce
  • Black Bean & Garlic: 1-2 Tbsp Black Bean & Garlic Sauce

[Edited to add - April 12, 2013 ] I am so pleased to announce that this recipe is featured in SayItCanada's "Food & Drink" Section. is a rich lifestyle resource for communities across Canada.  
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  1. Very good explained recipe! Broccoli goes nice with other ingredients. This is very healthy and tasty food.

    1. Thanks very much! Yes, broccoli is big favourite with the kiddies! :)


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