When I am in our upstate house, by myself because Suzen is working in the city, I work, too. I’m in kitchen experimenting mode. I can make a mess, even have a modest disaster, and no one knows but the cleaning lady. I slip her an extra twenty and Suzen never suspects that the burners were buried in carbon-based remnants.
Sadly, Suzen also doesn’t know about the occasional brilliant success I might have in the kitchen.
“What did you eat?” she asked me last night. She had just finished giving a cooking class.
“Best meal I ever made,” I said proudly.
“@#$%^&*() you,” she said. She was tired, so I did not take it personally.
I had never even thought of doing a stir-fry myself. A wok? For me? No, I drive a couple of miles to our very good Chinese restaurant for that.
But there was this recipe, with an incredible head note, that just kept gnawing at me. The recipe is Stir-Fried Vinegary Potatoes with Ham and Hot Chiles from Ham by Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough.
First of all, I should clarify that I am not a believer in conspiracy theories. I don’t think there are black helicopters. I have never seen an UFO, while sober. But the folks in Idaho may have a real problem. According to Bruce and Mark, the world’s largest producer of potatoes is now China. And they use them in stir fry!
I made this recipe using the Benriner tool described below and had total success. The Benriner creates lovely long confetti-like strands of potato. With the rice vinegar and soy sauce, the delicate potato strands were delightfully packed with flavor. The pepper and ginger and garlic all added further heat. This was a quick, easy meal to prepare. You can do it, too.
I will be making fewer trips down the hill to my Chinese restaurant. I do need to buy more soy sauce.
Stir-Fried Vinegary Potatoes with Ham and Hot Chiles
Yield: 4 to 8 servings
- 1 ½ pounds yellow-fleshed potatoes (such as Yukon Gold; standard baking potatoes are not recommended)
- ¼ cup peanut oil
- 1 pound boneless fresh ham, shredded [that is, cut into matchstick pieces]
- 6 medium scallions, cut into 3-inch lengths, each of these then sliced into thin strips the long way
- ¼ cup julienned peeled fresh ginger
- 2 medium garlic cloves, cut into thin slivers
- 8 t0 16 dried thin Chinese red chilies or 2 to 3 Serrano chilies, thinly slice
- ¼ cup rice vinegar
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
Peel the potatoes, then turn them into thin threads. Most authentically, use a turning slicer (such as one available from Benriner), a Japanese kitchen tool that makes long threads of vegetables by twisting them over a very sharp blade. (Those threads may be familiar form the nests of daikon and carot often found on sushi plates.) Or use a mandolin to make shoestring potatoes by running the potato repeatedly over the appropriate shoestring blade. Or run the peeled potatoes the long way over the large holes of a box grater, thereby making the longest pieces possible. In any event, set these threads in a large bowl, cover with cool water, and set aside.
Heat a large wok over medium-high heat until smoking. Pour the oil along the rim of the wok so that it drizzles down to the center. Toss in the pork and stir-fry until cooked through, about 2 minutes.
Add the scallions, ginger, garlic, and chilies; continue stir-frying until softened, about 2 minutes. One warning: those chile oils can volatize and burn your eyes. Have the vent on high or open a window.
Pick up the potatoes by handfuls, squeeze dry, and toss them into the wok. Work quickly but efficiently. Stir-fry until crisp-tender, about 3 minutes. (The only way to tell is to taste.)
Add the vinegar and soy sauce. Stir well, then continue stir-frying until 90 percent of the liquid in the pan has been absorbed, about 2 minutes. Serve hot right out of the wok, over steamed or braised mustard greens or even over raw, very thinly shredded, stemmed baby bok choy (which will cook just a bit if the hot potato-and-ham stir-fry is ladled right on top of it from the wok).
If you look carefully at the picture above, you might just see some differences from the written recipe. First, I made only a half-size recipe. Second, and Suzen screams at me about this, I failed to slice the garlic all the way through, so you see chunks of garlic there but they did finally break up while cooking.
Third, and this is a benefit for you, I did not use fresh ham. From this same book, Ham, Suzen and I had made the recipe on the previous page: Chinese-Style Barbequed Boneless Fresh Ham. Well, I had some leftover ham. Chinese-style ham. And I was doing stir-fry. So, I diced up some chunks of that spicy ham and simply warmed those ham pieces before doing the scallions, ginger, garlic and chilies.
Lastly, I used two Serranos for this half-size recipe. Lot and lots of heat. No salt or pepper necessary.
Really lastly, and this will interest the folks in Idaho, if you follow this recipe exactly then you will end up with potatoes ala China. The potato threads will remain crunchy, not crisp. For the American palette, this may be disturbing. Folks in Idaho may offer additional comments about appropriate cooking techniques. Bruce and Mark suggest first putting the shaved potato shreds in boiling water for a minute, then draining into a colander. This pre-cooking will enable the wok cooking to generate more crispy potatoes. I did this, actually pre-cooking for 90 seconds. My potatoes were not “breakfast potato” crisp but were thoroughly cooked and very interesting.
Source: Ham by Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough.