Monster Munching's Californian-Chifa Saltado Recipe
In this recipe, measurements are approximate. Most of the time I go with what feels right. If there's anything I should say before you read on, it's that any sort of instruction I provide can't substitute for practice practice practice. Like all good stir fries, saltado is about technique, so repetition and getting the feel of it for yourself is more important than any advice I can offer.
Also, a well-seasoned wok and a whooshing hot high-BTU burner (I use an Big Kahuna Burner from Eastman Outdoors that's capable of outputting 65,000 BTUs) will always help.
You could do this on an electric stove, but it's unlikely that you'll get that "wok-hay", the soul and breath of a well-seasoned wok--a nebulous flavor harder to quantify than The Force...that is until Lucas came up with midichlorians...Sigh...
And if you're a stickler for authenticity (whatever that means when dealing with this melting pot dish of chifa descent), know that my saltado is probably not going to be the same as those you may have had in Lima. It does, however, approximate what saltados in Southern California taste like, which is why I'm calling this dish.....
MONSTER MUNCHING'S CALIFORNIAN-CHIFA SALTADO
1 garlic cloves minced
1/2 red onion cut into small wedges (separate from each layer)
1 large tomato cut into wedges
2 tablespoons of chopped cilantro
1/2 cup of diced green onions
1/2 red bell pepper, seeded and sliced into thin strips (optional, but a nice touch)
1 cup of frozen french fries (not shoestring fries)
white wine vinegar
peanut or cooking oil
a few ounces of steak or chicken cut into very thin strips
In a bowl or Ziplock bag, place meats and pour a few tablespoons of soy sauce, a few healthy dashes of cumin, and paprika to marinade. Leave to marinade for 15 minutes or more.
In the meantime, in a wok or deep bottomed pot, heat enough oil to deep fry the frozen french fries. You could also bake the french fries per the instructions on the bag, or, better yet, make your own fries from an actual potato like a Peruvian would; but the point here is to make saltado. Making your fries from scratch is admirable but not necessary.
However you do it, cook the fries until crispy golden brown. Get them to a crispier state than you normally would as they will be later tossed into a saucy stir fry. The crispier they are, the less likely they'll break apart. Once the fries are done, set it aside to drain on a paper towel-lined bowl.
If you used your wok to do your fries, drain off all the oil and wipe it clean with some paper towels. Then heat the wok until it is rocket hot--as hot as you can get it without burning the house down. If the metal glows, you're there.
Pour in a tablespoon or so of cooking oil so that it coats the surface. Then drop the drained meat strips and quickly stir fry until seared. Do not overcrowd the wok, or you will get a mushy soup instead of a stir fry. Work in very small batches if you have a lower BTU burner. The idea is to have very little liquid leeching out from the meat onto the wok. If this happens, you won't get a nice caramelization. If it's getting burned too quickly, toss it around. Once you think it's done, remove the meat from the wok and set it aside in a bowl.
Heat the same wok again but now to medium heat. Scrape off the excess caramelized bits if you desire, and apply another tablespoon of oil. Add minced garlic and stir fry until garlic is just shy of golden brown. Now add the onions and bell peppers. Stir fry a few seconds, but do not allow them to wilt. Add a few splashes of soy sauce, and white wine vinegar--not so much that it pools on the bottom, but just enough that you can smell the soy and vinegar aromas coming off the onions. Sprinkle a few liberal pinches of cumin to the onions and stir. Add the tomatoes and green onions. Sprinkle a few liberal pinches of paprika and combine.
You really just want to warm the tomatoes up, not to turn them into mush. Now return the cooked meats into the wok and toss to combine. Add the chopped cilantro and then the fries at the last moment. Toss again lightly to combine and serve mounds of it with hot steamed rice.
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