The following recipe's quick-cooking technique keeps the asparagus from turning soggy, and the freshness of the asparagus balances the heartiness of the beef and shiitake mushrooms. While I prefer beef in this stir-fry, you could just as easily cook it with chicken, pork, shrimp, or go meatless. Choose asparagus with thin-to-medium stalks; if yours are particularly large, then slice the stalks on the bias into 1/4-inch-thick pieces so that they will cook efficiently.
For the Sauce
minced fresh ginger
Shaoxing wine or dry Marsala wine
large cloves garlic, crushed
For the Stir-fry
vegetable oil, divided
fresh asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1 1/2-inch segments
6 to 8
medium-sized dried shiitake mushrooms, soaked in warm water to reconstitute, stems removed, caps sliced in half
To make the sauce, in a small bowl, put the soy sauce, water, ginger, wine, and garlic, and stir to combine. Set aside.
Trim the flank steak of any large pieces of membrane. Cut the flank in half or thirds lengthwise, or with the grain. Depending on the total width of the flank, you may get two or three sections that are about 3 inches wide. Cut these sections against the grain into 1/8-inch slices. Place the beef in a medium bowl. Add the soy sauce and mix well. Add the cornstarch and mix well again.
Preheat a wok over high heat until wisps of smoke rise from the surface. Add 1 tablespoon of the vegetable oil and heat until it starts to shimmer. Gently add the beef and, using a spatula, quickly spread it into a single layer in the bowl of the wok. Sear the beef for about 15 seconds and then stir-fry for 1 to 2 minutes, breaking up any pieces that have stuck together. Remove the wok from the heat, transfer the beef to a medium bowl, and set aside. Rinse the wok and dry with a towel.
Return the wok to the stove over high heat. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon vegetable oil and heat until it starts to shimmer. Add the asparagus and mushrooms and stir-fry for 1 to 2 minutes, or until the spears have turned dark green. Add the beef and stir to combine. Add the sauce, and stir-fry for 1 to 2 minutes, or until the sauce has penetrated all the ingredients. Add the sesame oil and pepper, and give it one last stir. Serve with steamed rice.
Hsiao-Ching Chou is the author of "Chinese Soul Food: A Friendly Guide for Homemade Dumplings, Stir-Fries, Soups and More." She lives in Seattle with her family. Text her cooking questions via her messaging service: 206-565-0033.