Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Wok special part II: Tips for better stir frying

Yaki udon with beefKing oyster mushroom and kai lan in oyster sauce

Following on from the last post on how to choose, clean and maintain a wok, here is the second part of this Wok Special, with some tips for better stir frying:

1. Wash and chop everything first.

Have an assembly line of ingredients ready, all washed and chopped and ready to go into the wok. Put them in bowls or in piles on a chopping board. Stir-frying works by cooking food very quickly at high heat so be ready to toss ingredients in at a moment's notice.

2. Have all your sauces/seasoning ready.

I keep all my sauces and seasoning items in a cupboard next to my stove. Sometimes I grab them as and when I need, or I would take out all the bottles needed for that meal and line them up on my kitchen counter. The point is, all your sauces should be readily available, for the same reason that as having all your ingredients chopped and ready.

3. Marinate your meat

If makes a different even if just for 5-10 minutes while you wash and chop vegetables or other preparations. I tend to marinate meat with 1 tbsp of light soy sauce, 1 tbsp Shaoxing Chinese rice wine, and 1 tsp of cornflour. The corn flour is a key ingredient for giving meat that velvety texture you find in Chinese restaurants. It coats the meat with a protective layer that keeps it from burning and overcooking in the wok.

4. Preheat the wok

Always start by heating a wok before adding anything to it. Wait until the surface is almost smoking, add oil to coat the surface and then wait to allow the oil to heat up before adding your ingredients. This ensure that the wok has reached a sufficiently high temperature. Pre-heating before adding oil will also prevent food from sticking.

5. Cook on high heat and keep the food moving

It is not called 'stir frying' for nothing... so stir, baby! The heat needs to be medium-high to high, otherwise food would just stew in the wok. The high heat also necessitates constant stirring of the food to prevent burning. (For this reason, gas tends to outperform electric stoves as the latter often has problems producing the high and constant heat that wok cooking requires.)

Spread the food around the sides of the wok instead of having them in a lump in the centre. The food should be tossed and stirred around to spread the heat and flavours evenly. Do not cook too much in a wok at one time. Either cook in two batches or buy a bigger wok. Overcrowding the wok means the food cannot move around the wok easily and will not cook evenly.

6. Cook in the right order

The usual rules for adding to the wok are: oil, aromatics (e.g. onion, garlic, ginger), then protein (beef, chicken etc), followed by vegetables, seasoning, cooked noodles or cooked rice if using, and finally delicate herbs and final seasoning (e.g. coriander, sesame oil). Generally, ingredients that take the longest to cook should be added first.

7. Cook the meat and vegetables separately

This is not always necessary but can be very helpful if you are new to stir frying and want to avoid overcooking the meat. First, stir-fry the meat (chicken, beef, pork, prawns etc) until about 80 per cent cooked. Remove to a bowl and set aside. Then stir-fry the vegetables until they are about 80 per cent cooked, and return the meat to the wok. Add sauces and seasoning, toss everything in the wok to mix well and you are done. Additional tip: for dense vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower, blanche them in boiling water for about 2 minutes before adding them to the wok (do this BEFORE you start the stir fry).

8. Use light and dark soy sauces, oyster sauce, Chinese rice wine and sesame oil.

These are the main seasoning agents in most Chinese stir fries. With these key ingredients, you can turn out lovely stir fries that would not be out of place in a Chinese restaurant.

Some recipes that are great for wok cooking:
Yaki udon with beef
Yaki udon with beef

Pork with ginger and spring onions 姜葱猪肉
Pork with ginger and spring onions (姜葱猪肉)

Seafood mui fan 海鲜烩饭
Seafood Mui Fan 海鲜烩饭

Kung pao chicken 宫保鸡丁
Kung pao chicken

Simple broccoli and peppers stir fry
Broccoli and peppers stir fry with garlic

Egg fried rice
Egg fried rice 1


VeggieGirl said...

**jotting down all tips**

Ninette Enrique said...

Hi, I use a skillet to get the most surface area, since a wok is best used on a wok burner where the heat can surround the lower bottom of the pan. I find on my gas burner, it doesn't work at well, and I've seen lots of people end up steaming their stir fries. So I tell them to use a skillet instead. They need to see this entry. :)

Nilmandra said...

Veggiegirl: Have fun!

Ninette: Thanks for dropping by and the comment :) I do use a large skillet sometimes when I am doing a small amount of stir fry, but for any decent amount (two or more) I just find the shape of a skillet too restrictive for proper tossing and stirring. The shape of a wok is just must better for mixing without ingredients flying out all over the place. In any case, I envy that you at least have a gas stove (they worked well in my previous house) and don't have to put up with my electric hobs!

Ninette Enrique said...

Hi Nilmandra. I just read your wok entry and yes, a flat bottomed wok would make all the difference. I guess what I've seen in friends' houses are the ones you put on the ring. I have a large skillet (12 inches), which seems enough for 4 people, and a large teppanyaki skillet (it's its own appliance), which I use for bigger applications, so I've become wok-adverse. Thanks for expanding my thinking on this. I'll change my blog entry to include the flat-bottomed wok with a link to your two entries if that's all right with you.

Nilmandra said...

Ninette: No problem! And thanks for sharing your experience too. That's what the food blogging community is about, exchanging ideas and experience, and thinking about different options. I learned something new too.

Anonymous said...

Wow! I just found your blog and am really excited about trying out these recipes and tips, as I have been a little Wok apprehensive over the years. Thanks so much for your time and easy to read blog entries on cooking.

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