While writing this week’s article, I wondered if I should be doing a stir fry. We are getting into the heart of the winter season, which is usually the time for the comfort foods, such as meatloaf, casseroles and stew, possibly the most popular of all the comfort foods.

All of these dishes are hearty, which is great for a cold winter day after spending a few hours out on the slopes. Just the thought of them will start to warm the insides and are inexpensive to make, which also is a good thing to consider after making it through the long holiday season.

A stir fry is one of those meals that can fall into the comfort-food category or it also can be a light dish, as well. It is fairly simple to make and can be done in one pan — or two when you consider the rice or complimenting starch to go with it. The most common accompaniment with a stir fry is rice. Noodles also go great, whether you are talking about chicken, beef, pork or seafood. At times, I will serve the main dish with boiled potato wedges seasoned with butter and parsley.

A stir fry is one of those meals that can fall into the comfort-food category or it also can be a light dish, as well.

It is easy to imagine many possibilities for making and serving a good stir fry. Start with your main ingredient. This will be the meat or seafood, but can just as easily be a vegetable. If you are using meat or seafood, brown them in the pan first. You will notice I said brown and not cook. That is because the meat will be cut into pretty thin slices for a stir fry and you want to sear it first and not finish it, which could lead to overcooking. This main ingredient will be added to the veggies toward the end so everything finishes at the same time.

Once the meat has been seared, put it on a plate and sauté your veggies. Carrots, onions, celery and other root vegetables should all be sliced about the same thickness. Unlike stew where the vegetables are cut into good-sized chunks to hold up during the long cooking time, stir frying happens quickly so you want to slice the veggies one-quarter-inch thick so they can cook fast but still retain crunchiness.

Any of the flowering vegetables, such as broccoli, should be quickly blanched before adding to the stir fry. Squashes, such as zucchini and yellow squash, also can be sliced, while bell peppers can be cut into 1-inch strips. Start with the firmer veggies, such as carrots, and let them get maybe a half-minute to a minute head start before adding the squash and then finally the broccoli. Add the meat back in and season immediately. Let everything finish cooking for a few minutes and serve over rice or noodles or with potatoes and enjoy.

STIR FRY
For 4 to 6

2 chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch strips

1 carrot, sliced ¼-inch thick

1 celery stalk, sliced ¼-inch thick

1 small onion, sliced thin

½ zucchini, sliced ¼-inch thick

½ yellow squash, sliced ¼-inch thick

½ red bell pepper, cut into strips

½ green bell pepper, cut into strips

1 clove garlic, diced

1 T fresh ginger, minced

7 basil leaves, sliced thin

1 T sesame oil

1½ T soy sauce

1 T Hoisin sauce

½ t chili paste or oil (if desired)

¼ C vegetable oil

Salt and pepper to taste

Be sure to have everything cut and laid out on your cutting board before starting. Cook the rice or noodles first. Get your wok or sauté pan hot. Add 2 to 3 tablespoons of vegetable oil and the chicken and brown on all sides. Remove from pan onto a plate before it is finished cooking. Add another 2 to 3 tablespoons of oil with the onion, carrot and celery. Sauté about half a minute to a minute stirring constantly. Add the garlic, ginger, squash and peppers and sauté a minute. Add the broccoli.

Keep stirring for another half minute and add the chicken back in with the Hoisin sauce, half the soy sauce and half the sesame oil. Add the chili paste, if desired. Taste before adding the rest of the soy sauce, sesame oil, salt and pepper. Season with the remaining sesame oil and soy sauce, salt and pepper to finish. Add the basil during the last few stirs.

Smitty is a personal chef specializing in dinner parties, cooking classes and special events. Trained under Master Chef Anton Flory at Top Notch Resort in Stowe, Vt., Smitty is known for his creative use of fresh ingredients. To read archived copies of Smitty’s column, visit chefsmitty.com or TheTahoeWeekly.com. Contact him at tmmsmitty@gmail.com or (530) 412-3598.

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Chef David “Smitty” Smith
Smitty is a personal chef specializing in dinner parties, cooking classes and special events. Trained under Master Chef Anton Flory at Top Notch Resort in Stowe, Vt., Smitty is known for his creative use of fresh ingredients. Smitty has been teaching skiing at Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows for more than 26 years each winter, and spends his summers working for High Sierra Waterski School since 2000. Smitty has been writing his chef column for Tahoe Weekly since 2005.