When I make a stir-fry it sometimes takes me back to my culinary school days where my instructors drilled into me the importance of “mise en place.” It’s a French term for having all your ingredients prepared and the equipment you’ll need, not to mention a tidy work area, all orderly put in place before you start cooking.
In a restaurant kitchen taking that approach ensures the accurate and expeditious creation of menu items, whether it’s a breakfast, lunch or dinner dish. But the approach can also, of course, be used in a home kitchen and it’s actually quite important that you do so when making a stir-fry.
Stir-frying is a popular cooking technique where small pieces of food are quickly cooked over high heat.Because of the quick cooking time, for the best results, you do need to have all your ingredients prepped and at the ready before firing up the stove. You don’t want to be searching for a forgotten ingredient while the rest of the stir-fry overcooks on the stovetop when you do.
For example, before making today’s quick cooking, prawn and vegetable stir-fry, I prepared the prawns for cooking and had them on a plate next to the stove. On another plate near them I had the cut vegetables needed for the stir-fry, arranged in the order they would be added to the cooking vessel. Also nearby was the sauce mixture I made for the stir-fry.
I decided to serve my prawn and vegetable stir-fry on fresh udon noodles. So before cooking the stir-fry, I brought a large pot of water to a boil to cook the noodles in to ensure they would be ready at the same time the stir-fry was. I also took the noodles out of their packaging so I wouldn’t have to fuss doing that when the stir-fry was cooking.
The result of my “mise en place” was the uninterrupted creation of a rather delicious, hot and comforting, stir-fry/noodle dish perfect to enjoy and a rainy autumn day.
Prawn and Vegetable Stir-fry with Udon Noodles
A bright looking and tasting Asian-style meal for two that sees a sizzling stir-fry served on thick and comforting udon noodles.
Preparation time: 30 minutes
Cooking time: about eight minutes
Makes: two servings
2 Tbsp soy sauce
3 Tbsp water
2 Tbsp ketchup
1 Tbsp oyster sauce
1/2 tsp cornstarch
1/2 tsp sesame oil
1 1/2 tsp rice vinegar
1 1/2 tsp honeySriracha or other smooth Asian-style chili sauce, to taste
1 tsp finely chopped or grated fresh ginger
2 Tbsp vegetable oil
10 to 12 medium or large prawns, peeled, deveined and patted dry (see Note 1 and Eric’s options)
1/2 medium onion, thinly sliced
1/2 medium red bell pepper, cubed
1 medium rib of celery, thinly sliced on the bias
10 to 12 small broccoli florets
1 medium garlic clove, minced
2 small to medium green onions, cut into 1–inch pieces
2 (200 gram) pkgs. nama (fresh) udon noodles (see Note 2 and Eric’s options)
Bring a large pot of water to a boil for the noodles. Make stir-fry sauce by combining the soy sauce, water, ketchup, oyster sauce, cornstarch, sesame oil, rice vinegar, honey, chili sauce and ginger in a bowl.
Place oil in a wok or large skillet set over medium-high heat. When oil is hot, add the prawns and cook about 45 seconds to one minute per side, until just cooked thorough. Remove pan from the heat.Use tongs to lift the prawns out of the pan and on to a plate.
Set pan back over medium-high heat.When oil is hot again, add onion, bell pepper, celery and broccoli and stir-fry two to three minutes, until crisp/tender. Mix in garlic and green onions and stir-fry 30 seconds more. Also quickly add the noodles to the boiling water and cook until tender, about two minutes, gently pulling them apart with tongs as they cook.
Give the stir-fry sauce another stir, and then pour into the pan with the vegetables. Return the prawns to the pan. Lower heat to medium low and cook and simmer stir-fry until prawns are hot again and a thickened sauce forms around them, about one to two minutes. Remove pan from the heat.
When noodles are tender, drain them well and divide between two shallow serving bowls. Top the noodles with the prawn and vegetable stir-fry, and serve.
Note 1: To peel a prawn, hold the end of the tail in one hand and use your other hand to grab onto its swimmerets, the little legs under the shell. Pull off the shell, leaving the very bottom portion of the tail intact. If the prawn was not sold deveined, now use a small paring knife to make a lengthwise slit along the back of the prawn. Pull out, or rinse out with cold water, the dark vein, if there is one, pat the prawn dry, and it’s ready to cook.
Note 2: Nama (fresh) udon noodles and oyster sauce are available in the Asian food aisle of most grocery stores. You’ll also find them at Asian food stores. In the recipe I used Six Fortune brand nama udon noodles.
Eric’s options: 10 to 12 large scallops, patted dry, could replace the prawns in this recipe. Cooking time and technique remains the same. If you’re not a fan of udon noodles, you could serve the stir-fry with steamed rice.
Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.