Among the other indignities of owning an electric stove is not being able to cook with a wok. Not properly, anyway. I do own a flat-bottom wok for supposed use on electric stoves, but it heats unevenly and nothing particularly outstanding has ever come out of it.
So, for the most part, for Asian stir-fries, fried rice, and sturdy noodle dishes like pad see ew, I use a cast-iron skillet. It approximates that restaurant-style “wok smell” and allows for an even sear.
This super-quick takeout-style dish was originally inspired by a stir-fry in Cooks Illustrated that involved peppers. I tweaked it to use less meat and give it equal billing with something tangy and sweet (the shallots, which absorb the vinegar in the sauce).
Be forewarned that if your kitchen—like mine—doesn’t have a range hood, all windows and doors need to be opened before starting this project, as it may produce a bit of smoke.
Beef & marinade:
14 oz. top round steak, cut in half lengthwise and then sliced very thinly crosswise: $2.66
1/2 tsp brown sugar: 3 cents
1/2 T fish sauce: 2 cents
Pinch ground coriander: 2 cents
Pinch ground white pepper*: 2 cents
1 T fish sauce: 3 cents
1 T rice vinegar: 3 cents
1/2 T brown sugar: 4 cents
1/2 to 1 tsp sriracha (depending on how hot you want it): 4 cents
2 large shallots, thinly sliced: $1.64
2 T vegetable oil: 3 cents
2 cloves garlic, pressed through garlic press: 6 cents
1/4 cup mint leaves, garden: $0
1/4 cup cilantro leaves: 12 cents
2 T chopped peanuts: 25 cents
Lime wedges (1/4 of a 33-cent lime): 8 cents
3 cups cooked steamed rice: 12 cents
TOTAL: $5.19/3 = $1.73/serving
*A lot of people think the only difference between black and white pepper is aesthetics (i.e., you don’t want black flecks in a white sauce). However, if you do a lot of Thai, Korean and/or Chinese cooking, which more often than not calls for white pepper, you’ll start to notice white pepper has a totally different flavor. I find white pepper to be distinctly less earthy than black and more pure-peppery—almost closer to cayenne.
Mix the marinade ingredients in a small bowl (it won’t look like much; it’s supposed to be subtle), add the beef, stir well, and let sit while you cook the rice however you normally cook rice (2 cups should be the final amount cooked) and prepare the other ingredients.
Mix the first four stir-fry ingredients (fish sauce, vinegar, sugar, sriracha) in a small bowl until sugar is dissolved. Mash the garlic through a garlic press and add it to another small bowl. Mix it with a dab of vegetable oil so it doesn’t burn when it’s added to the super-hot skillet.
If you reeeally like peanuts and would prefer your peanut allotment to look more like my husband’s, at left, you might want to chop more than 2 tablespoons.
Heat 1 T vegetable oil a large cast-iron skillet over high heat, until smoking. Add the beef in two batches so the pan isn’t overcrowded. Cook until no longer visibly pink and it’s starting to get a nice sear (this shouldn’t take more than 30 seconds or so if your skillet is hot enough). When both batches of meat are done, add another tablespoon of oil, heat until smoking, and add the sliced shallots, stirring often. These, too, should cook quickly and get a little bit of char on them.
When the shallots are cooked, leave them in the pan and add the garlic. Stir until fragrant, then add the sauce. Stir well, then add the beef and toss to combine (at left; if you recall me complaining in other posts about the stupidity of a white flat-top range, you can see what I’m talking about here). Transfer the mixture to a bowl and serve immediately with the rice, mint, cilantro, and peanuts, with a lime to squeeze over the top for acid.
To eat, mix the contents of your bowl so everything is evenly distributed. The rice should pick up a slightly smoky flavor from the meat, and each bite should have a little bit of each ingredient.