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Don't be afraid to try Stir-fry cooking

April 29, 1997

By KATE COLEMAN

Staff Writer

For an easy, low-fat meal, don't be afraid to try stir-fry cooking.

The ancient Chinese cooking method fits fast-paced lifestyles today.

Stir-frying still is the most popular cooking technique in China, says Martin Yan, known to television audiences as host of the widely syndicated award-winning show, "Yan Can Cook."

It is popular by necessity. Even today, many Chinese don't have electricity, and they don't have ovens, according to Yan. Fuel for cooking is scarce, and stir-frying, the quick cooking of small pieces of food, is efficient, he says.

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Yan says another reason for stir-frying's development and popularity is that it stretches the amount of meat needed for a meal.

"It is also to stretch the food dollar," he says.

Yan "can" and does cook. He does 52 television shows a year in English and another 52 in Chinese. His programs air in more than 70 countries. He also tours extensively and has presented his program in Tysons Corner, Va., so he knows where Hagerstown is.

The wok - a steep-sided metal cooking pan with a rounded bottom - is perfect for stir-frying. A versatile cooking utensil, it also can be used for steaming and deep-frying, Yan says.

Bite-size pieces of food fall down the sloped sides and are cooked in the small amount of oil in the wok's bottom. The food must be stirred or "tossed" - as Yan advises - constantly. He compares the technique to tossing a salad.

Round-bottomed woks, with a ring insert, are suitable for gas ranges, and flat-bottomed stir-fry pans are designed for electric ranges, according to information provided by Washington County Cooperative Extension Service. But such special equipment is not required. A cast-iron or nonstick skillet will do.

Margaret Ridenour of Smithsburg says she used to stir-fry in an electric skillet, but bought an electric wok for recent demonstrations she and other members of Washington County Homemakers health/food and nutrition committee conducted. Ridenour, 59, is secretary of the 23-member Cavetown Homemakers, one of 11 chapters of the 250-member county organization which got its start 80 years ago.

Several stir-fry recipes, including pork, beef, shrimp, chicken and a vegetable dish, were demonstrated to club members.

Chopping meat, poultry or seafood and vegetables is time-consuming, Ridenour admits.

"But, you can do it ahead of time. It's very easy, once you have all the ingredients," Ridenour says.

Ridenour likes stir-frying because she likes crunchy vegetables.

She also likes using small amounts of oil, so the meals are low-fat.

Flexibility is another advantage. Ridenour says she added more snow peas and carrots to Spicy Pork Stir-Fry.

"You can really do your own thing," she adds.



 Tips

- Use a well-seasoned or nonstick skillet or wok to avoid adding extra oil.

- Peanut oil often is used for stir-frying because it can be heated to a high temperature without burning, and it has a pleasant, mild taste.

- Vegetable oils, including canola, corn, safflower or soybean are used because of their light texture and flavor and tolerance of high heat.

- Nonstick cooking spray can be used for reduced-calorie stir-frying. Spray the unheated skillet, then heat and stir-fry.

- Fat-free broth or wine can be used instead of oil to create a low-fat stir-fry. Heat the liquid until small bubbles appear before adding other ingredients.

- If you use oil, measure accurately instead of pouring it from the bottle. Start with one teaspoon.

- Never substitute butter or margarine for oil. They burn too quickly.

- Cut vegetables into uniform pieces so they are done at the same time.

- Pat vegetables dry with paper towels before stir-frying to reduce oil spatter when vegetables are added.

- Choose fish with firm flesh such as monkfish, sea bass, shark, swordfish or tuna.

- Meat is easier to cut if partially frozen, about 1 1/2 hours. Cut meat with the grain into long strips; cut each strip across the grain into uniform slices.

- Heat the oil in the skillet before adding the food. After adding the oil, tip the skillet to coat the interior so the food won't stick.

- If you have a lot of meat, it's best to cook it in two batches.

- Stir, stir and stir.

Shortcuts

- Chopping is the most time-consuming part of stir-frying. Use precut fresh or frozen vegetables. Precut chicken breast or beef is available in some grocery stores.

- Chopping the night before saves time. Sauces also can be mixed ahead. Sauces and food should be stored covered in the refrigerator.

- Courtesy of Washington County Cooperative Extension Service

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