I was not crazy about this dish and I think the reason is simple: too much meat. Both in the sense that I like more of a balance between protein and veggies or other players in a stir fry, and because it asks you to cook too much flank steak at once, in one pan, with poor results.
I love stir fry and make it fairly often and there are a few things I’ve learned (the hard way). 1. Don’t use a wok. Cook’s Illustrated determined long ago that woks were not meant for American stoves and expose too little cooking surface to the heat, resulting in anemic stir-fries. A good nonstick skillet is your best bet. 2. mise en place is more important in stir-frying than any other type of cooking because once you get going you’re going to have to move fast. You won’t have time to look for a clean measuring spoon and portion out 2 teaspoons of sesame oil and this is not the time to realize that although you were sure you had red pepper flakes you are actually out. And 3. Don’t crowd your pan when you’re cooking the protein — no more than 1/2 pound at a time.
So what happens when you fly in the face of my experience and scoff at my good advice? Bad, bad things. For instance, if you decide to cook 2 pounds of flank steak at one time (or even in two batches, as Ruhlman allows) the meat will steam rather than sear and become an unflattering grey-ish color rather than a nice, caramelized brown.
Ironically, Ruhlman warns against this in the Saute chapter, from whence this recipe comes, although he attributes steaming to an inadequately heated pan. Then again, he also tells you to use a wok so we’ll have to assume he did not get an A in Stir Fry at the CIA.
Nevertheless, there is plenty of good information in this chapter. Sauter, as you may have heard, is French for “to jump” and that is most often what you’re doing when you saute: getting food to jump around in a pan. It’s the fun, flashy part of cooking. It’s the part where you get to give your pan a confident jerk and send its contents flying into space before returning, perfectly flipped (if you’re lucky. And no one is watching). Obviously, this type of quick, high-heat cooking works best with things that are already fairly tender and not too thick. You will usually want any protein you cook this way to be dry first, again to avoid the dreaded steaming effect. And although the food will cook fast, you will need to restrain yourself and let it brown without moving it around too much.
In addition to high-heat there is also medium- and low-heat sauteing. That’s what we do to bacon and things like duck breast where we want to render the fat slowly.
Spicy Beef with Bell Peppers is on page 239 of Ruhlman’s Twenty and right here on his site.