5-Spice Beef and Broccoli Stir-Fry


A quick cooking midweek stir-fry packed with veggies. photo: Abigail Weber

In addition to belonging to a vegetable and fruit cooperative, I also happen to be a member of a meat share. A friend of mine has a family farm in Minnesota and a few years back he hit upon the idea of buying in on some cattle each season and dividing it up amongst a group of friends. It’s brilliant. So when I received broccoli in my veggie basket this week, I immediately thought of the classic: beef and broccoli. While I love a good stir-fry, they can be a bit tricky to get right if you don’t know what you’re doing. A few helpful hints can go a long way to increasing your odds of success. To help you make a winning stir-fry, I’ve compiled a rundown of some important dos and don’ts.

A well-executed stir-fry demands high heat. For many of us in our home kitchens, that can be a challenge. On top of that, who doesn’t want to cook their stir-fry in a wok? It’s more authentic, right? Wrong choice. The wonderful and informative magazine Cook’s Illustrated has this to say about woks. If you are cooking your stir-fry in your home kitchen, scrap the wok and go with a simple deep skillet with a wide bottom (cast iron is preferable but not compulsory). The wide bottom will place more food in direct contact with the heat of the burner. A wok leaves a good portion of the food in the pan up the curved edges and thus further away from the more intense heat. So, simple tip number one: use a wide bottom skillet and make sure your pan is good and hot before any of your ingredients hit it.

Do not crowd your food! I’m sure you’ve been told this again and again. And i’m sure you’ve disobeyed this command over and over. But, seriously, don’t crowd the pan. Your end result will be light years better. So when cooking the lean meat used in a quick cook stir-fry, go with two, three, even four batches depending on the amount of meat and the size of the pan. That way you’ll get a nice sear and the meat won’t stew. And if you’ve marinated your meat beforehand, be sure to drain it thoroughly so that it’s not too wet when it goes into the pan.

Mise en place. It may be a French term but it’s crucial to good Asian cooking. Basically, have everything in its place. Chop and organize your meat, vegetables, and aromatics before you start cooking and have your sauce mixed and ready to pour in. I even go so far as to arrange my ingredient bowls in the order in which I will add them to the pan. That way I can methodically reach for the next ingredient without having to stop to think. Cooking a stir-fry is a quick business so be ready to roll as soon as you turn up the heat.

Last, but in no way least, add your aromatics toward the end of cooking time. Mainly I’m referring to ginger and garlic here. I like to clear a space for them toward the end of cooking time and add a teaspoon or so of oil so that they cook just until they are fragrant. If you add them earlier, you’ll probably end up scorching them over the high heat.

Serves 4

3 tablespoons soy sauce*
2 teaspoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon Chinese 5-Spice

1 1/4 pounds lean beef (ie sirloin), sliced 1/8-inch thick
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon ShaoShing Chinese cooking wine**
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/4 cup chicken stock, plus more for wetting the pan
1 teaspoon cornstarch
2 tablespoons vegetable oil, plus more to cook aromatics
1 small red onion, thinly sliced
1 large head or 4 small heads broccoli, stem trimmed
4 ounces shiitake mushrooms, stems removed, caps sliced
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 tablespoon finely chopped ginger
2 green onions, dark green parts only, thinly sliced
Rice, for serving

  1. In a medium bowl, stir together the marinade ingredients. Add the beef and stir to coat. You can marinate the beef for 10 minutes or 1 hour, depending on your schedule. Just make sure that you have it out at room temperature for at least 15 minutes before you start cooking. That way it won’t be too cold when it hits the pan.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the soy sauce, cooking wine, sugar, stock, and cornstarch until combined.
  3. In a large wide bottomed skillet, heat 1 teaspoon of the oil over high heat. Add the meat in three batches, adding a teaspoon of oil between each batch, and cook for about 1 minute each batch. Remove to a plate.
  4. Lower the heat to medium-low and add the remaining oil to the pan. Add the onion and cook, stirring, until softening, about 5 minutes. Add the broccoli with 1/3 cup water and cook, covered for 3 to 4 minutes, until crisp tender. Add the mushrooms and cook until softened, about 2 minutes. When cooking the mushrooms, add 2 or 3 tablespoons of stock to the pan to keep it wet and to help deglaze the pan.
  5. Push the vegetables to the side and add the garlic, ginger, and a teaspoon or so of oil to cook the aromatics for about 30 seconds, until fragrant.
  6. Add the meat and any accumulated juices back in to the pan along with the sauce and the green onion and stir to combine. Bring to a simmer and cook for 1 to 2 minutes to thicken slightly.
  7. Serve over rice immediately.

*My preferred brand is a Chinese soy called Pearl River Bridge Superior Light. You can get it at Asian grocers.

**You can get this at Asian grocers. Or you can substitute cooking sherry.

Nutritional analysis based on 4 servings:
Calories 409, Fat 14g, Sodium 1,652 mg, Carbohydrate 23g, Fiber 4g,
Sugar 11g, Protein 50g

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