Food & Dining
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In theory, a stir-fry is the model weeknight dinner. It's fast, it combines vegetables and protein in a single dish, it's relatively healthy, and it requires no accompaniment other than rice. (OK, fine, maybe also some Riesling or a beer, preferably a pale ale).
But many home cooks shoot themselves in the foot by being far too ambitious in their stir-frying. Stir-fries can accommodate many different kinds of meat and produce — but that doesn't mean you should dump the entire contents of your refrigerator in your skillet or wok.
In fact, the best stir-fries are as restrained: They combine two principle ingredients — one protein, one vegetable — with a trio of essential aromatic seasonings and a simple, delicious sauce.
This recipe, featuring chewy tofu (made chewier via freezing, if you have time) and vernal asparagus, is the ideal stir-fry iteration, as far as I'm concerned. But it can serve as a blueprint for virtually any stir-fry, so long as you remember three fundamental rules.
The first is to cook your protein and your vegetable separately, and combine them only after both are fully cooked.
A second rule of thumb for stir-frying: Choose one vegetable per stir-fry.
Finally, always remember to add liquid only after everything is more or less finished cooking.
Stir-Fried Tofu, Asparagus, and Shiitakes
Yield: 2 to 3 servings; Time: 25 to 30 minutes, plus time to freeze, thaw tofu
One 14-ounce package extra-firm tofu, drained and patted dry
2 tablespoons peanut oil
Salt and black pepper
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
1 medium jalapeño or bird’s eye chile, seeded and minced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 pound asparagus, peeled, trimmed, and cut into 1-inch segments
3½ ounces fresh shiitake mushrooms, trimmed and thinly sliced
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon mirin
Cooked short-grain brown or white rice for serving (optional)
At least one day before you plan to make the stir-fry, cut the tofu into ½- to ¾-inch slices and cut each slice into 1- to 2-inch triangles or rectangles. Freeze the tofu overnight, then thaw it in the refrigerator.
Put 1 tablespoon of the peanut oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. When it’s hot, add the tofu, season with salt and pepper and cook, turning every 3 to 5 minutes, until browned on all sides, about 10 minutes total. Transfer the tofu to a plate.
Add the remaining 1 tablespoon peanut oil to the pan. When it’s hot, add the ginger, jalapeño, and garlic, season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the asparagus and mushrooms and cook, stirring frequently, until the vegetables are just tender, 3 to 5 minutes.
Return the tofu to the pan, and add the soy sauce and mirin. Cook, stirring gently, until the sauce thickens, about 1 minute. Serve hot, over rice if desired. (Store leftover stir-fry in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to a few days).