We learned as young cooks that if you wanted to keep your crew happy, or mostly happy, one little thing you could do for them is cook them lunch or dinner before their shift starts. Known in the industry as “staff meal” or “family meal,” we believe in feeding ourselves something yummy, substantial and healthy. And while we try to keep it cost effective and utilize as many leftovers and trimmings as possible (we are a business after all), we insist on using ingredients of the same quality that we feed our guests. We even take requests and use staff meal as the time to celebrate birthdays, going aways and good reviews. Ask anybody on our payroll, and they’ll be glad to tell you that we serve the best staff meal in town. And we aim to please; one of our servers went vegan for a couple of months and she had little to no complaints. I mean, if I didn’t work here, I would try to casually stop by to say hi around 5 p.m. a couple times a week.
Our staff meals tend to be somewhat thematic. “Taco nights” score very high and same goes for “Breakfast for dinner,” but without a doubt our most popular is “Stir Fry Fridays” brought to us by none other than our Sous Chef extraordinaire Manuel Mendoza. Manuelito, as we like to call him, trained for many years under Chef Kazuto Matsusaka of Beacon Café fame, and it was under his tutelage that he mastered some pretty mad knife skills as well as a range of tasty Asian dishes we’re lucky to enjoy from time to time. The one thing I learned from watching Manuelito make stir-fry is how little soy sauce is needed to make a tasty dish. As he points out, “A little bit goes a long way and too much can make the whole thing bitter. Plus, only people that don’t know how to cook use too much sauce…" Words to live by!
Here’s the recipe for last Friday’s stir-fry which happened to include tofu, a staple we don’t commonly keep at the restaurant but that I bought on sale at Bangkok Market a few days before, along with some crazy hot Thai chilies. This recipe makes a batch large enough for 15 people. Instead of a wok, we use two large cast-iron skillets. If you’re swift with the knife, you’ll be able to whip this up from start to finish in 20 minutes. We recommended serving on top of rice noodles or with steamed rice.
Manuel’s Tofu and Veggie Stir Fry
½ cup olive oil
2 thumb-size pieces fresh ginger, peeled and sliced thinly
8 cloves garlic, sliced thinly
4 spicy chilies, minced
3 onions, sliced
1 cabbage, quarter and then chop coarsely
2 cups carrots, sliced on a bias
2 cups lipstick peppers, sliced
2 cups celery, sliced on a bias
2 cups summer squash, cut into large chunks
2 cups cauliflower, cut into large chunks
2 cups broccoli, blanched and cut into large chunks
2 cups green beans, blanched and cut into 2-inch sticks
¼ cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons honey (optional)
Kosher salt to taste
|Stir-Fry Mise en Place|
Heat up 2 large skillets over very high heat. Divide olive oil between the 2 skillets, about 2 tablespoons on each one. Make sure to divide the rest of the ingredients in between the 2 skillets somewhat evenly.
|Manuel separates ingredients evenly between two large skillets|
Wait a minute for the oil to heat up. Start with the ginger, garlic, chilies and onions and sauté while tossing assertively to prevent the garlic from burning. You might feel tempted to lower the heat, but it’s important to stop yourself. The secret to a good stir-fry is screaming hot pans. Add the carrots, cabbage, peppers, celery, squash and cauliflower, and sauté for 2 to 3 minutes or until the carrots start to feel tender yet crisp. Then add the broccoli and green beans and continue to toss. Add the tofu and toss one last time.
|Manuel tosses the stir-fry|
Finish with the soy sauce and, if you choose to use it, the honey (Manuel recommends to use honey only if you want to compensate for the heat of the chilies). Season with salt to taste and serve immediately.
~ Roxana Jullapat with Manuel Mendoza