COOK CLUB: Let spring veggies shine in simple stir-fry

Stir-Fried Chicken and Snow Peas is the May recipe for The Gazette KCRG-TV9 Cook Club. (Anne Kapler/The Gazette)
Stir-Fried Chicken and Snow Peas is the May recipe for The Gazette KCRG-TV9 Cook Club. (Anne Kapler/The Gazette)

Last month, The Gazette KCRG-TV9 Cook Club took on sauteing with Pork Cutlets in Curried Onion and Mango Sauce.

This month, we’re going to turn up the heat — and the speed — with another dry heat cooking technique: stir-frying.

Stir-frying is by far my favorite cooking technique for quick weeknight dinners. Especially from late spring to early fall, when extra-fresh and flavorful locally grown veggies are filling farmers markets and CSA baskets (or — for those with a greener thumb than mine — backyard gardens). Stir-frying keeps those veggies bright and crisp, and lets their natural flavors shine.

So plan your stir-fry based around what’s available and fresh. More than ever, think of today’s Cook Club recipe as a suggestion or a general guideline.

We chose peas for this recipe because they are one of Iowa’s earliest spring/summer crops.

And because they take no extra prep — just toss the whole pod into the skillet — prep work doesn’t get much easier than that. (We used snow peas, but sugar snap peas also are a good option; they are sweeter and more crisp than snow peas.)

Stir-frying is traditionally done in a wok, but a large, deep skillet — preferably one with sloped sides, such as a stir-fry pan — will work, too, and may be preferable if you’re cooking on a flat stovetop.

Regardless of the pan you use, here are a few tips to successful stir-fry:

Prep your ingredients first. Because stir-frying involves high heat, you won’t have time to chop veggies or dig through your pantry for a can of chicken broth after you’ve begun cooking. At least, not without burning your dinner. So chop all meats and vegetables, and set every ingredient you’ll need close by before turning on the burner.

Keep it small. Your meats and vegetables should be cut into bite-sized pieces to ensure even cooking. Dense vegetables such as broccoli or carrots may need to be steamed or blanched before being added to a stir-fry.

Keep it hot. Make sure your pan is hot before you add any food. Most of the time, you’ll want to maintain the high temperature, but it’s OK to reduce the heat if needed.

Keep it moving. Food needs to be constantly flipped or stirred to prevent burning. Use a large spatula.

Stir-Fried Chicken and Snow Peas

Makes 4 servings

2 tablespoons canola oil

2 tablespoons minced garlic

1/4 cup chopped scallion (green onion)

12 ounces snow peas (or sugar snap peas)

1/2 red bell pepper, julienne

1 pound boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1/2-inch chunks

1 teaspoon sugar

2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce

Salt and pepper, to taste

1 tablespoon cornstarch

1/4 cup chicken broth

Heat a wok or large skillet over medium-high heat. Add 1 tablespoon oil and swirl to coat pan. Add 1 tablespoon garlic and scallion. Cook for a few seconds, stirring. Add peas and bell pepper. Cook one to two minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove veggies and set aside.

Add remaining oil and garlic to pan. Add chicken. Cook chicken for 5 or 6 minutes, stirring occasionally, until cooked through. Turn heat down to medium.

Return vegetables to pan and stir to combine. Add the sugar and soy sauce. Stir.

Season with salt and pepper. In a small bowl, combine the cornstarch and chicken broth. Add it to the pan. Cook, stirring and scraping the bottom of the pan, until the liquid is reduced slightly and you’ve scraped up any bits of chicken from the bottom of the pan.

Serve over brown rice.

Nutrition information: 249 calories, 8 g fat (1 g saturated), 12 g carbohydrate, 3 g fiber, 29 g protein

Source: Anne Kapler for The Gazette KCRG-TV9 Cook Club. Inspired by a recipe for Stir-Fried Chicken with Chinese Cabbage in Mark Bittman’s “How to Cook Everything” (Wiley, 1998).

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