Solving a Mystery: Beef Stir-Fry Variability Explained

I make a beef stir-fry occasionally that involved a white wine, soy sauce, olive oil, honey, black pepper, and corn starch marinade. I’ve noticed over the past two years that it varies in quality from time to time. Most notably, some times the beef just falls apart and other times it is tough. It’s been a lingering mystery that I attributed to the quality of the cut of beef, thickness of the slicing, or the length of marination.

Recently I read a little blurb in a magazine about grilling that mentioned using ingredients with enzymes that break down meats as marinades or glazes. Papaya was on the list. And suddenly the light went on. Every time I have successfully made this beef stir-fry I have used papaya; every time it has been a disappointment I have not included the papaya.

I believe my success and failure with this dish hinges on the presence or absence of the enzyme papain.

Today I tested the hypothesis. I bought the cheapest cut of beef I have ever used for the dish and a trusty papaya. Sure enough, it turned out  tender. I think I’ll be investigating this topic more in the future. I know kiwis also work well with meats. I’ve always known plants were wonderful–I just didn’t realize they could help me grill or fry tender meats.

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