This makes a great accompaniment to Chinese dishes, but it’s delicious enough to eat as a meal on its own with rice, and it works out very inexpensive – just right for the end of the month. No good for vegetarians, I’m afraid, because I do recommend that you use oyster sauce that contains real oyster essence – it’s worlds apart from the oyster-free sort. Several manufacturers make the good stuff. It’ll come with the word ‘premium’ somewhere on the label on the front, and should list around 9% oyster extract on the ingredients label on the back. I really like Lee Kum Kee’s premium oyster sauce, partly because it has such a fantastic label – a 1950s pastel-coloured confection surrounded with roses, featuring a pretty lady and little, sailor-suited boy in a boat, ferrying some absolutely giant oysters across a river. (This picture isn’t huge, but if you squint, you can make it all out.)
Despite the presence of shellfish, oyster sauce doesn’t taste at all fishy. It’s very savoury, and has a lovely sweet edge, but there’s no hint of fishiness, so you can serve this to fish-hating children (and adults) without needing to worry.
Chopping your veg into slim batons shouldn’t take too long, and I actually rather enjoy the repetitive slicing – it’s somehow rather soothing at the end of a long day. Try to buy reasonably small courgettes – these will be sweeter, and their flesh will be denser and easier to chop.
To serve two as an accompaniment (double the quantities if you want to eat it as a main course), you’ll need:
4 large carrots
4 plump cloves of garlic
6 spring onions (scallions)
1 piece of ginger, about the size of your thumb
3 tablespoons oyster sauce
5 tablespoons Chinese cooking wine
1 teaspoon cornflour dissolved in 5 tablespoons cold water
Flavourless oil to stir-fry
Cut the carrots and courgettes into slim batons, about five centimetres long and a couple of millimetres in cross-section, and set aside in a bowl. Slice the garlic thinly, chop the ginger into slim batons around the same size as the bits of vegetable, and chop the white bottom parts of the spring onions into little coins. (You won’t be using the green parts, but it’s worth popping them in the fridge so you can use them later on.)
Heat a couple of tablespoons of oil in the bottom of your wok over a high flame until it begins to shimmer. Throw in the garlic, ginger and spring onions, and stir-fry for about thirty seconds. Tip in the carrot and courgettes, and continue to stir-fry for a 1-2 minutes, keeping everything on the move until the courgette pieces start to go bendy (bendiness is starting to occur in the picture).
Pour the oyster sauce and wine into the wok and continue to stir-fry for two minutes. Add the cornflour mixture and keep stirring until the mixture thickens a little. Serve immediately with rice.