You can find my CBC Radio One Alberta at Noon February food column podcast on Chinese New Year’s celebrations in Alberta here. This post will share three of my favourite Chinese recipes and a primer on how to cook with my favourite kitchen tool – my wok.
How to Cook with a Wok
Here are some great hints to help you achieve success with what I consider my most indispensible cooking implement.
- While you are preparing your ingredients you should take care that they are cut into uniform bite-size pieces to cook quickly and evenly.
- Wash all the vegetables and spin them dry and pat them completely dry with paper towels. Soggy veggies will lead to a soggy stir-fry.
- Once all the ingredients are ready you need to heat the wok on the highest heat source you can. My gas cook top goes to 12,000 BTU’s. Some Chinese restaurants use compressed gas and cook at 150,000BTU’s. While we won’t be able to achieve that our goal is to only add as many ingredients to the pan as allow it to keep a good sizzling sound going.
- Once the wok is starting to smoke a little you can drop a bit of water and it should evaporate at once, now you are ready to add the oil, making sure to swish it over all the walls and let it settle in the well.
- Vegetable oils work best because they may be heated to a high temperature without smoking. Other kinds of fats, such as olive oil, sesame oil, or butter should not be used because they burn easily.
- Work in order adding the aromatic seasonings first, then the protein, then the denser vegetables and finally the softer, leafier vegetables.
- Cook in batches – for a 14 inch wok the most meat you would want to add at one time is about a pound. Limit vegetables to about four cups at one time.
- Too much food will cool off the heat and prevent foods from browning or cooking evenly; avoid this by cooking meat first, removing it from the wok, cooking the vegetables and then returning the meat to the wok.
- Too much food in the wok will turn a stir-fry into a slow braise. You want to add the ingredients, spread them evenly in the wok, and alternate between searing and stirring.
- Meats should be cooked within 5 minutes at most and veggies even less.
- After the veggies are done, the meat is added back and any sauce is then added.
Swirl sauces or liquids down the sides to prevent the temperature from dropping.
- Always serve the stir-fry immediately to fully enjoy all the flavour you have just sealed in.
I came up with this recipe for my son who loves Shanghai noodles. Scallops have only four grams of fat per pound and are very satisfying. Being a fish snob I will only buy Nova Scotia sea scallops. They are cooked when they turn opaque. Be careful not to overcook them as they quickly become dry and hard. The Shanghai Noodles do a great job of soaking up this zippy sauce.
1 lb sea scallops (rinse and cut the really large ones in half, dry them with a paper towel and set aside)
1 lb fresh asparagus (remove the woody ends, wash under cold water, and cut into bite-size pieces, dry with a paper towel and set aside)
1 pkg fresh Shanghai noodles (remove noodles from package and place in hot water for 5 minutes to help separate them without breaking them, drain, dry with a paper towel and set aside)
1 Tablespoon canola oil
2 Tablespoons chopped ginger
6 chopped green onions
¼ cup sherry
2 Tablespoons soy sauce
2 Tablespoons sesame oil
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon chili paste
Prepare the scallops, asparagus and noodles as noted above and have them sitting at the ready in separate bowls.
Heat the wok on high and when it smokes add the oil and heat until it is at he smoke point.
Stir in the ginger and onion until fragrant – approximately 10 seconds.
Add the scallops and stir-fry for 1 minute, remove them from the wok and keep warm.
Reheat the wok and add the asparagus – stir-fry until bright green.
Stir in the sauce, noodles and scallops and turn until coated with sauce and heated through.
Seto Family Beef and Tomato Stir-Fry
My friend Richard Seto is a great and generous cook. This dish is his idea of comfort food. It is a dish his parents Fong and Norma – who owned three different Chinese restaurants in Calgayr – always made when he was growing up. They call it “home-style” Chinese cooking. The start to finish time is 30 minutes.
1 ½ lbs flank or eye of the round steak, cut into 2 x 1 inch pieces
3–4 Tablespoons white flour
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
½ cup oyster sauce
8 Tablespoons canola oil, divided
4 cloves garlic – cut in thin slices
2 Tablespoons finely chopped ginger
2 yellow onions – cut in wedges
6 tomatoes – cut in wedges
Dredge the beef strips in the flour, salt and pepper and then marinate them in 3 tablespoons of the oil and the oyster sauce for about 15 minutes.
Heat your wok on high until a drop of water evaporates immediately or the remnants of the pan’s previous oil begin to smoke.
Add 3 Tablespoons of the oil and swirl the wok a bit to coat the sides.
Add the garlic first for a few seconds and then the beef, stirring often until the beef is cooked through (about 5 minutes)
Remove the beef to a bowl.
Add the last 2 Tablespoons of oil to the pan and the onions and cook and stir for a bit along with the ginger.
Cook the onions until they become translucent, breaking them up as you stir so that the layers separate.
Add the tomatoes and stir them into the mix.
Return the beef to the wok and add more oyster sauce to taste.
Serve with steamed rice.
Chicken and Cashew Stir-Fry
This recipe comes from the May 2007 edition of Gourmet Magazine. Start to finish time 25 minutes. I made it and it became a classic at our house so I keep on making it.
1 bunch scallions
1 lb skinless boneless chicken thighs
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
3 Tablespoons canola oil
1 red bell pepper, chopped into bite size pieces
4 cloves finely chopped garlic
1 ½ Tablespoons finely chopped fresh ginger
¼ teaspoon dried hot red-pepper flakes
¾ cup homemade or reduced-sodium chicken broth
1 ½ Tablespoons soy sauce
1 ½ teaspoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon sugar
½ cup salted roasted whole cashews
Chop the scallions, separating white and green parts.
Pat the chicken dry, then cut into ¾ inch pieces and toss with salt and pepper.
Heat a wok over high heat until a drop of water evaporates immediately.
Add oil, swirling to coat, then stir-fry the chicken until golden in places and just cooked through, 4 to 5 minutes.
Transfer to a plate with a slotted spoon.
Add bell pepper, garlic, ginger, red pepper flakes, and scallion whites to the wok and stir-fry until the peppers are just tender, 5 – 6 minutes.
Stir together the broth, soy, cornstarch, and sugar, then stir into the vegetables in the wok.
Reduce the heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until thickened, 1 – 2 minutes.
Stir in the cashews, scallion greens and chicken along with any juices accumulated on the plate.
I hope these recipes help you savour it all. Try them out for Chinese New Year and have a great Year of the Monkey. I hope you enjoy a long life filled with long noodles like this lovely lady I met in China.