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Why can't I ever cook bell peppers to the right consistency?

Particularly in Asian dishes, and I have cut them various ways-- I continue cooking if they seem hard, then they become soggy and/or bitter.

Is there carry-over cooking that happens with bell peppers as there is with eggs?

Do the restaurants have a trick to get them to the proper consistency?

Maybe par boil or blanching prior to stirfry?

  • 4
    Incidentally, what do you consider the right consistency of peppers? I only know them as either crunchy (raw, or in stir fry) or soft (grilled, in stew). Both are delicious, but I’m not aware of a third consistency. – Konrad Rudolph Jun 28 '18 at 19:43
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There is a slight carry over with most things you cook. However I think the answer to most "Why is my stir fry not like the restaurant's?" questions, has to do with heat. Their stoves are much, much more powerful. You simply can't get that with a typical home stove.

So, the way to get closest at home is to preheat your wok (or your largest flat, not non stick skillet) till it is screaming hot, add a bit of oil and cook your food in batches; No more than 1 layer and nothing crowding one another. Chef Ming Tsai suggests if you have a stainless steel wok that can go in the oven, to preheat it in there.

It should sizzle and keep sizzling through your cooking. If it isn't, you are steaming it, which will cause your softer texture. The key to stir fry, is to cook it really quickly. With the smaller batches, it'll all cook pretty quickly that in the end it doesn't take that much longer.

Edit: You asked about blanching. You might blanch some harder vegetables, to cut down on stir fry time but I can't see that helping for peppers of any sort.

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    Cooking in small batches is IMO the single biggest tip to take stir-frys done at home from sub-par to great. Heat's important but a blisteringly hot wok can't prevent steaming if you pile in too much. – logophobe Jun 28 '18 at 16:00
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    Why are people against steaming altogether? This is probably totally inauthentic... but it produces a texture I like in the harder vegetables, ( peppers, broccoli, green beans ..) I have some boiling water standing by. Once,or perhaps twice, in the stir-frying process (moving constantly, as hot as I can) I splash in a tablespoon full, to give a very short period of steaming before the water evaporates. I find the result is a nice crunch, without being raw. – Robin Betts Jun 28 '18 at 16:19
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    Is it safe to add oil to an already hot pan? I've always added my oil to the pan cold, then heated it until the oil just begins to smoke, then threw in the first batch and turned the burner up as high as it will go (since the pan usually cools quite quickly once the food hits it). I wonder if I can get the pan hotter if there's no oil in it already, but then I wonder what will happen when the cold oil hits the hot pan. – Todd Wilcox Jun 28 '18 at 18:29
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    @Robin: totally not against steaming, but two things happen when you add water. One you cool the pan down, which will prevent the very high heat rapid cooking that you get from a proper stir fry technique. Second is simply that it's not the same form of heat conduction the food will be different. That said, it isn't necessarily worse, just recognize that it's different. Finishing off hard vegetables with steam after a stir fry isn't uncommon. – talon8 Jun 29 '18 at 5:17
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    @ToddWilcox: conventional Chinese wisdom says "hot wok cold oil". The reasoning is apparently the food sticks less. Also, it might smoke less? more info here: consults.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/09/09/… – talon8 Jun 29 '18 at 5:22
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Bell Peppers have a very fast change from crisp to soft

This is why you usually encounter them either raw or fully roasted and peeled. They change quickly. In a stir fry, cook them just a couple minutes and accept the slightly crunchy texture, or cook them through. I find this leads to a sometimes 'rubbery' texture, as the skin will not soften in the same way.

Char and peel them

This is the next most common preparation. Accept that cooking them through means soft texture and use them that way.

Cut in thin strips and quickly sautee

This is seen in steak sandwiches and american-mexican restaurant sizzling fajita platters. This way the texture difference between skin and flesh is not noticeable.

  • Cutting thin is one of the most effective ways to keep things crisp. – Justin C. B. Jun 29 '18 at 14:14
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If what is desired is a slightly denser texture, oil blanching (a polite term for quickly deep frying the vegetables) might help - the pepper pieces will shrink slightly, reducing water content and potentially intensifying taste. Obviously, they can also be easily overcooked that way, and will be best suited to oily or emulsified sauces since they will be quite oily, especially with the skin on (which does not absorb oil much - but is great at getting plenty of oil stuck to it!)

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