February 1, 2012

"Mongolian BBQ" At Home

Do you ever come up with a meal that is such an instant hit with your family that you feel you must share it with the world?  And then when you do (via your blog, of course), do your readers think, "Um, duh.  There's no creativity in that.  Why would you waste your time telling us about it.  What are you gonna post tomorrow, a recipe for a grilled cheese sandwich?!"

I'm afraid this is one of those posts.  I have figured out something that I think is absolutely great, but it's so simple, I'm afraid some of you do this without thinking about it.

Here it is: Make Your Own Stirfry Night. (pause) 

Are you excited yet?

No?  Well, maybe it needs a new name, because it is exciting... and filling and one of those meals the kids can't complain about because they get to choose their own ingredients.  It is Mongolian BBQ at home.  I used to love going to Hula's Mongolian BBQ with my mom when I was a kid, but it was a place that we only went to rarely, because, wisely, my mother thought that it was difficult to get your money's worth at an all-you-can-eat place.

These days when I'm craving Mongolian BBQ, or when it's Friday night and there are lots of vegetable odds-and-ends in the crisper, or when--like this week--I've planned ahead sliced up extra vegetables throughout the week, I set up a Make Your Own Stirfry Bar.

Now I've going to use lots of words to explain it, and it will probably sound much more involved than it is.  So, quickly, here are the basics:  I set out stir-fry ingredients individually on the kitchen counter.  Raw meats each go in their own bowl.  Sliced veggies, garlic and ginger are arranged in neat little piles on a big cutting board.  A colander of cooked Chinese noodles, a few bottles of Oriental-style sauces and a stack of clean bowls finish off the buffet.  Each family member assembles their own choice of meats, noodles, veggies and sauce, while I heat some cooking oil in a frying pan.  When the oil is hot, I stir-fry the first person's ingredients until the meat and veggies are done.  Usually this takes about 3 minutes per bowl. I scrape the delicious stir-fry out of the frying pan, add a little more oil and go on to the next person's meal.

See? Super simple.

But I'm feeling kind of wordy, so I'll share some details below.

Make Your Own Stirfry Bar
aka: "Mongolian BBQ" at Home 

The quantities list below are sufficient to serve 4-6 people.  Really, you shouldn't feel required to measure anything, just use the amounts that you have. 

1/2-1 lb thinly sliced beef, chicken, pork or lamb, or small deveined shrimp, or a combination of proteins
8 -12 ounces dry Chinese noodles
2 tablespoons each minced garlic and grated ginger
one onion, sliced into wedges or half a bunch of green onions sliced into one inch pieces
6 cups thinly sliced assorted vegetables in individual piles
1/2 cup heat-tolerant cooking oil
soy sauce and at least two other cooking liquids

Meats: Meats should be sliced at thinly as possible.  If you're planning ahead, the evening before you plan to stir fry, marinate each meat separately in whatever marinade you like.  We like to marinate beef in teriyaki sauce and chicken in a combination of soy sauce and rice vinegar with garlic, ginger and orange peel.  Let marinate, refrigerated, overnight.  Meats can also be marinated ahead of time and frozen until ready to use.  Sometimes (when I'll feeling like Suzie Homemaker) I'll buy a package of chicken thighs or a cut of beef, slice it up, package approximately 3/4 of a pound into multiple quart-size freezer bags, pour in some marinade, squeeze the bag to distribute the marinade, then flatten it and freeze it. (And when I'm really feeling like Suzy Homemaker, I even label the bags!)  The night before you plan to stirfry, simply move a frozen package of meat to the fridge.

Chinese noodles:  A variety of Chinese noodles are available in the ethnic foods section of most supermarkets, but if you're feeling adventurous, why not visit an Asian grocer?  The noodles I like to use for this are a yellow color, though Japanese buckwheat soba or thick udon should work as well.  Cook Chinese noodles according to directions on package.  If your package doesn't have directions in English, cook them in salted water as you would spaghetti, but check them for doneness after as few as four minutes of cooking.  When noodles are al dente, pour noodles into a collander to drain.  Rinse with cool water to stop the cooking, then toss with a tablespoon of cooking oil to prevent clumping.  Noodles can generally be cooked ahead of time and frozen until ready to use.  Thaw before using.

Veggies: On a large cutting board or in multiple bowls, set out multiple vegetables, sliced appropriately for a stir-fry.  If I'm planning ahead, during the week as I prepare other meals, I'll slice up extra veggies and set them aside.  Good stir-fry vegetables include carrots or radishes sliced diagonally, one-inch pieces of green onion, wedges of onion, sliced green cabbage, greens (chop larger leaves into smaller pieces), frozen peas, bell pepper strips, sliced Japanese eggplant, broccoli florets, green beans, snap peas, sliced mushrooms, baby corn (canned or fresh), canned sliced water chestnuts, etc.

Sauces:  If you're like me, the door of your refrigerator is at times cluttered with all kinds of Oriental condiments, and other times it's too cluttered with jams and mustards to have room left for anything beyond some soy sauce and hot sauce.  No matter.  Set out whatever you have: soy sauce, teriyaki, mirin or cooking wine, rice vinegar, hot sauce, hoisin, peanut dressing, vermouth...

The pan:  Use whatever pan you typically stirfry in.  I use a 10 inch cast iron skillet.  Don't be tempted to use something smaller, even though you will only be cooking one serving at a time.  You want these individual stir-fries to cook fast and hot, and you want plenty of room in the pan to move the ingredients around.  Preheat your pan and oil to somewhere between medium and medium-high heat.  Sorry I can't give a more accurate temperature.  It will depend on the finish of the pan and the type of oil that you use.

Cooking oil:  Use something that's heat-tolerant.  The amount you'll need will depend on how "non-stick" your pan is.  Start with 1-2 tablespoons for each bowl of stirfry.  If noodles start to stick, you can always add a splash of water to steam them off of the bottom of the pan.

Tips to ensure that everyone likes their stir fry:
If there are members of your family who prefer their stir-fry spicier than others, be sure to cook their portion last.  Strong flavors, and spice in particular, will remain in the skillet and transfer to the following stir-fries.  Unless you want to cool and wash your skillet between portions, be sure to have those family members who want their stir-fry mild have theirs cooked before those who prefer their stir-fry spicy. (Or, request that peple add their hot condiments after cooking.)

If people include raw meats in their assembled bowls, you'll need to use clean bowls for the cooked food. To avoid the extra dishes, I usually have each family member fill their bowl with noodles, sauce and veggies, then tell me which meat(s) they want when I start cooking their portion.

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