Late To the Plate: Guest Blogger Jessica Schein Takes on Bittman's Basics

Stir-Fried Spicy Beef with Basil

When I was a little kid there was a popular commercial running with the tagline, “Beef. It’s what’s for dinner.” For whatever reason I thought it was a pretty funny sentiment even though in my home it wasn’t true. If my mom was going to be in the kitchen you better believe she’d be standing over some part of a chicken, not a cow.

Every now and again she would broil a filet mignon, although this was mostly to appease our dog who sometimes refused his own food in favor of the real stuff. Other than these crisped slabs of meat though, we never did eat much beef, and when we did it certainly wasn’t mixed with vegetables and soy sauce.

Yet for years friends and co-workers have been telling me that stir-fries are great weeknight meals because they’re easy and quick. I’ve been skeptical because, well, I’m me, but recently I decided to give it a go because if there’s one thing I can never have enough of it’s go-to meals for busy days.

So I went back to Bittman, as I often do, and attempted his recipe for Stir-Fried Spicy Beef with Basil.

Stir-Fried Spicy Beef with Basil

4 to 6 servings

Bittman’s Time Estimate:
15 minutes plus one hour to marinate the meat * (I somehow missed the instruction to marinate the steak. More on that later)

The Ingredients:
1.5 lbs of flank or sirloin steak
½ cup of loosely packed fresh basil leaves
1 tablespoon of peanut oil plus 1 teaspoon for marinating
1.5 tablespoons minced garlic
¼ teaspoon hot red pepper flakes to taste
1 tablespoon soy sauce of nam pla (thai fish sauce)
Juice of ½ lime
Rice (optional)

Prep Time:
Steak: I ended up buying 4 small petite sirloin steaks. Bittman suggests slicing the steak across the grain. I had no idea what that meant so I just sliced it into thin bite-sized pieces: 12 minutes.
Basil: Wash and loosely chop basil leaves: 1 min.
Garlic: I’m a horrible mincer so assuming you don’t accidentally mince off part of your fingertip like I almost always nearly do: 7 minutes.
Measuring out the peanut oil, pepper flakes, soy sauce, and slicing/squeezing the lime: Under 2 minutes.
Total Prep Time: 22 minutes

  1. First and foremost, put the steak, 1 teaspoon of peanut oil, and the basil into a bowl that is then covered and put away into the fridge for 1 hour.
  2. About 30 minutes later start the rice. Check out the package your using for instructions on how to cook your grains. Personally I like my rice to be on the softer side so for the basmati type I cooked I boiled two cups of water for one cup of rice. The water took 7 minutes to boil and another 15 for the rice to fluff. So overall it took about 22 minutes in total.
  3. While the rice begins to cook start prepping the ingredients. This includes:
    • Slicing the beef across the grain as thinly as you can into bite-sized pieces. Bittman suggests freezing the steak for 15 to 30 minutes beforehand to make this part a little easier (I didn’t do this but will the next time)
    •   Washing and drying the basil. If the leaves are big coarsely chop them
    •   Chopping the garlic
  4. Lay out all of the ingredients nearby as the cooking will happen fast!
  5. Heat a wide skillet over high until it smokes (3 to 4 mins).
  6.  Lower the heat to medium and add 1 tablespoon of peanut oil to the pan. Add the garlic and stir once or twice.
  7. The garlic will color quickly, in 15 seconds or less, at which point you should return the heat to high and add in the beef and basil mixture.
  8. Stir quickly and throw in the pepper.
  9. Continue to regularly stir the meat until it loses its red color (about 3 to 4 minutes).
  10. Add soy sauce and lime juice and stir once or twice.
  11.  Serve over the rice and voila! Stir fry is done.
Total cooking with w/o marinating (w/ rice): About 1 hour, 50 minutes
Total cooking + prep time w/o marinating (w/ rice): About 50 minutes

The Verdict:
First off, I highly suggest marinating the steak. As I mentioned earlier I totally missed that instruction and my meal ended up coming out on the bland side. Additionally, and this is probably mostly because I’m a basil freak, I’d increase the amount of basil to ¾ cup. Lastly, I used reduced sodium soy sauce and I think the steak, especially, could have benefited from the salt of regular soy sauce.

The meal ended yielding closer to 4 pleasant servings, not 6.

All this to say I’d call this a good starter stir fry. Next time, I will marinate the meat to make sure this dish ends up with the flavor it deserves.

Jessica Schein is a semi-novice cook & writer living in Seattle, WA. When not combing through cookbooks she can be found reading young adult fiction, wishing that Friday Night Lights would return for a sixth season, or running. You can follow her on Twitter or Tumblr.