One of my favorite jobs that I’ve ever had was when I worked as a personal chef for a family in the Sacramento area. They were the nicest bosses and some of the kindest people that I’ve ever met. They were an extended family with a successful business that took up most of their time, and I responded to their craigslist ad for a personal chef who spoke Mandarin and knew traditional Chinese cooking, neither of which I did at the time. Luckily, the matriarch of the family was willing to give me a shot and teach me a considerable amount about Chinese cuisine and a few words of Mandarin.
When I began to work for this family, I thought that they had an extremely large grocery budget but it turned out that it only seemed that way because there were a lot of people to feed; seven adults and two kids when I started (they were nice enough to always include the nanny and myself). Though, when I broke it down, it was usually only about $30 a week per person. Not too extravagant of a grocery bill for people who had a full time chef and a full time nanny, right?
I don’t claim to be any expert on Chinese cooking, but from what this Chinese-American family ate, the proportions of the various food groups was very close to what the USDA recommends. (http://www.choosemyplate.gov/ if you’re interested in what Uncle Sam thinks you should eat) The main differences that I noted was that in Chinese cooking there is less dairy and more salts and oils used as seasonings. Most of their dishes were vegetable based and meat was only an accompaniment, rarely the main focus of the meal, which is very much in-line with the USDA. Also, they didn’t use many prepared items and most dishes that were taught to me were made completely from scratch. The reason their budget was so reasonable was that they preferred to eat healthy foods!
Even when you can spring for farmer’s market fresh veggies, organic brown eggs, and free range, grass fed meat, if what you’re eating is in the proportions that are meant for your body to be healthy, your grocery bills will never spiral out of control.
This recipe is not something I used to cook when I was a personal chef, but it uses the techniques I learned from that job; most important to Chinese cuisine is mise en place, or getting all your prep work done before starting because the actual cooking goes so quickly. As I always do with stir-fry dishes, I find the supporting ingredients by scavenging the fridge for any little bits that needed to get used up (and so should you!). That’s what makes stir-fry dishes essential to my tiny budget!
If you’ve never tried Chinese style sausages and you’re lucky enough to have an Asian market near by, give them a shot; they almost remind me of a Spanish chorizo. Another helpful hint: when you buy a ginger root, and you don’t think you’ll use all of it, fine dice it and pop it in a zipper bag in the freezer, it will keep perfectly well for months, ready to use in stir-fries and curries. I’d like to say a quick thanks to my friend Sasha, who helped me brainstorm this recipe last night!
Sesame Sausage Stir-fry– served with wheat noodles
Serves two – approx $1.67 per serving
- 2 bundles wheat noodles – but you could use anything: vermicelli noodles, white rice, buckwheat noodles!
- 6 oz Chinese style sausage, thinly sliced
- 5 oz or 1 cup runner beans – regular green beans would be fine too
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tsp ginger, minced
- 1/2 onion, sliced – lengthwise, not in crecents
- 2 carrots, julienne
- 3 ribs celery, sliced
- 3 green onions, sliced on a bias – use both the whites and the greens
- salt – to taste
- red pepper flakes – to taste, completely optional. Siracha or any sort of Asian hot sauce would be great too.
- 2 Tbs rice cooking wine – not sake, use Chinese shaoxing rice wine or Japanese Mirin rice wine
- 2 Tbs soy sauce
- 1/2 cup vegetable or chicken stock
- 1 tsp cornstarch
- 1 Tbs sesame oil
- a pinch sesame seeds
Put a pot of water on a back burner to boil. Save your biggest burner for the stir fry, eventually, you’ll want as much heat as possible for that. Next, prepare all the ingredients; taking the time to cut all the vegetables makes them cook quickly and evenly when the action starts.
If you’re using thicker wheat noodles or making rice, start cooking that now. If you’re using thinner noodles, you can wait until a little later.
Render the sausages over medium heat in a wok or large saute pan until they are crispy and delicious. You should probably eat one, just to make sure they’re nice and crispy, quality control is very important. Remove the sausages from your pan, leaving the grease, you should have a few tablespoons. Now crank the heat up all the way up to 11, when the sausage grease is smoking hot, toss in the beans and let them taste all your wok’s fiery wrath. Let them get a little browned, stir only occasionally for a minute or two.
At this point, you should start stirring pretty regularly. Add the garlic, ginger and onions and add a little salt. In a minute, add the carrots, celery, red pepper flakes and half of the green onions. Aren’t you happy you prepared everything ahead?
To make the sauce, add in the soy sauce and the rice wine. Next, make a slurry (i.e. mix) out of the chicken stock and the cornstarch, then add it to the veggie mix. When the sauce has thickened up a bit, add back the reserved sausage and the sesame oil. I always save the sesame oil for last because it has a low smoke point and burns much easier than other oils. Yay, now it’s all ready to eat. Put your delicious sausage and vegetable stir-fry over your noodles or rice, garnish with the reserved green onions and the sesame seeds and dig in!