Ask the Chef

by Ari LeVaux

Dear Flash,

I’m rarely impressed with my stir-fry prowess, even this time of year when there are so many veggies to use. Can you recommend a good seasonal stir-fry recipe, and tell me how to make it taste authentic? I’m getting frustrated.

– Fry Baby

A: I’ve sampled plenty of stir-fries that are too busy for their own good, as if the very word “stir-fry” were an invitation to clean out whatever’s in the veggie drawer, toss it in the wok, add soy sauce, and serve with rice.

But a good stir-fry, like any good seasonal dish, should offer more than fresh ingredients – it should place those ingredients on a pedestal. A bunch of chopped veggies thrown haphazardly together will not do this.

Before I present a variation on the classic beef with broccoli and oyster sauce, let me note that there are lots of different oyster sauces out there. I try to avoid the cheap stuff, as the difference in price per meal is minimal, and the difference in quality can be big.

Start with chopped bacon or oil in a pan, and then add some red meat, cut into small pieces. When the meat browns, add whole cloves of new garlic. New garlic, harvested in the last month or two, is special stuff: extra-fiery when raw, but it will quickly mellow and sweeten when cooked. Cook on low heat until the garlic turns translucent, then add rounds from the broccoli stem, which take longer to cook, and chopped onions. If at any point the pan dries out and starts to burn and stick, deglaze with mirin (Japanese cooking wine) or sherry. When the broccoli stems are tender, add the florets. As soon as they start to cook, stir in some oyster sauce, chopped fresh garlic and another pour of sherry or mirin. Put a lid on the pan and let it all fry/steam – aka fream – for a moment. Serve when broccoli is neon-green.

– Flash

Dear Flash,

My tomato plants are going off, and I’m kind of embarrassed to admit I’ve still got tons frozen from last year. I don’t want to ditch the old ones, especially after putting so much into processing them. But I don’t feel like messing around with them when I have so many freshies. Can I just leave them in the freezer and eat them this winter, instead of freezing more this year?

– Too Many Maters

A: First of all, TMT, the time and effort you put into those tomatoes last year means absolutely nothing. Like a dog, you must clear your mind of what’s done, and run forward into the future. If your frozen tomatoes remain in good shape, then use them, and use them soon, because they may not last much longer. If they’re already freezer-burned or otherwise disgusting, then feed them to the chickens, the compost pile, or, if possible, George W. Bush.

Assuming they are still in good shape, use your frozen tomatoes liberally, in most anything you’re cooking. When making breakfast, for example, add some frozen tomatoes to the pan soon after the bacon starts to sizzle (don’t bother thawing them first). Cook over medium heat. Tomatoes hold lots of water; when that water’s almost gone, add some chopped onions and garlic and some form of hot spice, like pickled peppers or hot sauce. Add some beaten eggs a few minutes later. Scramble the eggs, eat them, and love it.

Or add those frozen tomatoes to a stew, or to a lamb leg that’s slowly braising, or to a pot of green chile. Or make pasta sauce. Those frozen tomatoes will disappear into just about anything, and you can save your fresh tomatoes for raw applications.

– Flash

Dear Flash,

I’ve been raiding the apricot tree behind a house in my neighborhood that’s clearly vacant (looking through the window, the house is empty, the fridge wide open, etc.). The apricots are big, blemish-free, and absolutely gorgeous, with dark orange flesh that’s almost red, and they taste great. So I was over there the other day, picking the fruit off the branches, when I decided to try one that was lying on the ground, figuring it would be even more ripe than the ones still clinging to the tree. And my god, that was a tasty apricot, so I decided to wait a few days and come back later, when they’re all that ripe. So here are my questions: Is it wrong/illegal to pillage this neglected tree? Do the apricots have less nutritional value when not quite ripe? What’s the best method to preserve them?

– Secret Picker

A: It’s illegal to pick those apricots without permission, SP, because somebody owns the land you’re trespassing on, as well as the fruit you’re stealing. Maybe the owner is a bank that foreclosed on the house, or maybe it’s owned by the offspring of deceased former homeowners, whatever. But the illegality of your endeavor matters only if you get caught, which I don’t think is likely. So I say go for it – just don’t break too many laws at once, don’t get hurt, and don’t tell anyone I told you to.

Nutritionally speaking, unripe fruit generally has a nutritional profile similar to its ripe counterpart, though there are some differences: unripe fruit has been shown to have less iron, but more calcium, while overripe fruit can contain higher levels of disease-fighting antioxidants called nonfluorescing chlorophyll catabolites, according to a study from the University of Innsbruck in Austria.

The best way to preserve them, hands down, is to cut them in half and dehydrate them. It’s quick and easy, and dried apricots are awesome. Unripe fruit will ripen a bit in the dehydrator, but starting with perfectly ripe specimens will yield the sweetest product.

And by the way, pretty much everything I said here can apply equally to peaches, plums, nectarines, apples, pears, etc. So go get your dehydration on!

– Flash



In this week's issue...

January 25, 2024
Bagging it

State plastic bag ban is in full effect, but enforcement varies

January 26, 2024
Paper chase

The Sneer is back – and no we’re not talking about Billy Idol’s comeback tour.

January 11, 2024
High and dry

New state climate report projects continued warming, declining streamflows