San Francisco is a city rich in culture and diversity, which is one of the greatest reasons why I’m obsessed with this city. Because I grew up in a densely Asian-populated neighborhood, my comfort foods have always been any kind of Asian dishes. I love the flavors and smells and have luckily found that many Asian dishes are fairly simple to replicate at home.
My friend and I made a stir-fry dish the other night with green beans, minced pork, garlic, scallions, and mushrooms that we put over rice. It was incredibly easy to make and had the same flavors as the food I’d buy at one of my favorite Chinese restaurants in the neighborhood where I grew up. Although we ate this dish with rice, I think it would also go well in lettuce cups for a lighter version, or even with noodles. I found the recipe on Tasty (accompanied by a straightforward cooking demo video), but my friend and I switched the recipe up a bit to make it our own. Here is our version:
-1 lb. ground pork
-1 lb. green beans
-4 cloves garlic, diced
-4 scallions, chopped
-4 oz. shiitake mushrooms, chopped
-1 tbsp chili sauce
-dried red chili flakes (optional)
-2 tbsp tamari or soy sauce
-1 tbsp rice vinegar
-1/4 cup sesame oil
1- In a wok or large pan, heat the sesame oil over high heat. When the oil is hot, add the string beans and cook until blistered. Remove from the pan and set aside.
2- Add more sesame oil if necessary to the pan. Add the scallions and garlic about a minute, or until fragrant. Add the mushrooms and ground pork. Once the pork has browned, stir in the chili sauce and add the red chili flakes. Then add the green beans back to the wok or pan and stir all together.
3- Add the soy sauce or tamari, rice vinegar, and a dash of pepper. Serve over rice or with lettuce cups, or just on its own. Enjoy!
Fats and oils are essential for cooking. They flavor and lubricate our food while also conducting heat during the cooking process. While in the past, many fats have received a bad reputation and been avoided, we now know that fast are actually fundamental and fantastic for cooking. However, because there are so many fats to choose from, many people end up cooking with the wrong fats or oils for their dish, or simply improperly using them. When cooking with fats and oils, it’s very important to know at what temperature that specific fat or oil begins to break down, also known as the “smoke point.”
Every fat has a smoke point, be it butter, lard, or oil. If you’ve ever seen your pan smoke, typically after it loses that shimmery look, that is a sign that your fat has reached its smoke point. Once this has happened fat begins to lose its healthy properties and can start to take on an unpleasant flavor. Many oils these days will tell you right on the bottle what the smoke point is. The higher the smoke point, the more ways you can cook with the oil, and the higher temperatures you can cook at. Oils with lower smoke points are great for dressings, drizzling, or cooking at lower temperatures.
Here is a list of very common fats and oils and their smoke points:
- Safflower oil – 510 degrees F
- Light/ refined olive oil – 490 degrees F
- Peanut oil – 450 degrees F
- Clarified butter (ghee) – 450 degrees F
- Sunflower oil – 440 degrees F
- Vegetable oil – 400-450 degrees F
- Canola oil – 400 degrees F
- Grapeseed oil – 390 degrees F
- Lard – 370 degrees F
- Avocado oil – 375-400 degrees F
- Chicken fat (schmaltz) – 375 degrees F
- Duck fat – 375 degrees F
- Vegetable shortening – 360 degrees F
- Sesame oil – 350 degrees F
- Butter – 350 degrees F
- Coconut oil – 350 degrees F
- Extra-virgin olive oil – 325-375 degrees F
For sautéing, use oil with a medium or lower smoke point, like extra virgin olive oil. When the oil in the pan begins to shimmer, add your food and cook away.
For searing, choose something with a high smoke point like peanut or vegetable oil. Heat it until it is just starting to smoke, then add your meat.
For stir-frying, choose an oil with a really high smoke point, like peanut or safflower oil. The idea it to get a thin layer of smoking-hot oil on the bottom of the wok before adding your ingredients.