This evening I had dinner by myself and made a dish the way my grandmother would have done – simple, nourishing and delicious.
We are Cantonese, from the south of China. After living many years in Europe I have observed that the Cantonese and Italians share a common approach to good food – take the best quality, freshest ingredients and do as little to them as possible. This time I made stir fried breast of duck with onion.
Stir frying is easy – the 3 things to get right are cutting, seasoning and timing.
And you don’t need a wok – unless, of course, you happen to already have one or want a reason to get one.
First, cutting. Duck and chicken breast, skinned and boned, and pork fillet are the easiest to cut into even-sized pieces for stir frying because they come in relatively neat blocks that you can just slice across.
- Slice your meat into large bite-sized pieces.
Second, seasoning. To make a delicious marinade for the sliced duck (or chicken, pork, etc.) you need only add 3 ingredients to the duck and mix everything together well: two swirls of soy sauce, a little sugar and some corn flour.
- For those who prefer more precision, I suggest you use for each 150 grams of duck 2 teaspoons soy sauce, a pinch of sugar, and a half teaspoon of corn flour. Let the duck marinate for 10 to 15 minutes while you are busy with another part of the meal – but if you are really in a hurry, then marinate for as long as the time you have.
Soy sauce, sugar and corn flour make the perfect foundation for stir fried meat. I always use Kikkoman soy sauce – it tastes good, is naturally brewed and is widely available. Cantonese cooks add a little sugar to enhance the flavour of savoury dishes, while other cuisines could achieve a similar effect with the sweetness of chopped onions cooked with the main ingredients. Corn flour absorbs some of the meat juices and clings to the meat, making it feel more succulent to the bite.
Third, timing. A meat stir fry needs the addition of a vegetable or something else to become interesting, and an onion is the best companion. In the context of timing, an onion is the perfect stir fry vegetable: it cooks quickly, but even for someone without any sense of timing it is difficult to really overcook.
- While the duck is marinating, cook a sliced onion in a frying pan over medium heat with a little oil and some salt until it is translucent or becomes as coloured as you like, then put it onto a serving dish. By this time the frying pan has become nice and hot.
- Add a bit of oil, then the sliced duck, and immediately toss and turn the duck about in the pan until most of it has lost the raw appearance. Use for this task a spatula, wooden spoon or any tool you are most comfortable with – for me, it is a pair of bamboo chopsticks.
- Then return the onion to the pan and stir around the mixture over medium heat until the duck is cooked to your liking.
That’s it – done!
- Put the mixture onto the serving dish, including any tasty bits sticking to the pan, and garnish as you like – scatter over a few sprigs of coriander, chopped parsley, or some crushed chilli flakes.
To garnish my dinner – since we had been away for a long weekend and there was nothing much in the fridge – while the onion was cooking I microwaved some frozen spinach, plopped it onto a plate and placed the duck in the middle. I thought adding the spinach would make a better photograph, although I would have been perfectly content eating just duck and onion with some steamed rice.
A stir fry is best made with not more than about 300 grams of meat, enough to serve two people with some vegetables and rice. Once you have mastered the basics of this stir fry with soy sauce, sugar and corn flour, you could use other vegetables and add all sorts of aromatics at various stages of cooking and other seasonings as well. The combinations are endless.
With thanks to Diana Chan for her first guest post. Please leave a comment to welcome her to the world of blogging!