Sunday, March 4, 2012

Stir Fry

A while back, I purchased a copy of Grace Young's Stir-frying to the Sky's Edge, and it has since become my go-to reference for, you guessed it, stir-frying. I was surprised to see I hadn't posted anything from it yet, so here we go....

Grace's book is a super reference. It gives advice on choosing and seasoning a wok (or using a skillet), runs the gamut of stir-fry technique with a pile of great recipes, and gets you into the mystic philosophy of the whole thing by introducing you to the elusive "breath of the wok," a.k.a. wok hei, that is so prized by the Cantonese.

The main thing to remember when stir-frying is that mise en place is everything. Many recipes cook in a minute or two, so there is absolutely no time to go and find a missing ingredient once you get started. Remember that now.

This recipe is called "wok seared vegetables" in the book. I've mixed it up a little by leaving out the cherry tomatoes and by swapping carrots for bok choi, but otherwise I followed it pretty much to the letter. You'll need some rice vinegar, some rice wine (I use vermouth -- ok another switch), soy sauce, ginger, garlic, a shallot, some asparagus, a few shiitake mushrooms, a pinch of salt, a pinch of sugar, and a head of Shanghai bok choi. You'll also need something to go with it -- I chose soba noodles, but rice would be great too. If you're doing rice, start that first.

If you're doing noodles, you need to get the water to the boiling point before you start stir-frying. The soba noodles I have cook in about 5 minutes, the stir-fry takes three minutes, so you want to start the noodles two minutes before you hit the wok. Sometimes, noodles packages don't have instructions in English, so finding the cooking time can be a trick. Luckily it's usually in another colour, and if you see that little figure that looks like the universal ladies room symbol without the head, you've just found the "minutes" character (the last of the brown characters in the photo). As for the numbers...

... you'll remember them from all that Mah Jongg you've been playing! One to three are pretty obvious, four looks like a little box so it has 4 sides, five is incomprehensible, six looks like a stickman so think six is sticks, seven is like one of those 7s with a line through it only flipped over and backwards, 8 looks like chopsticks so think you just ate, and 9 is like a reclining chair so nine is recline. Ten is a "+", and if it comes first you add the next number to it to get teens, if it comes second you multiply the first number by it to get 20, 30, etc.... So my noodle package above says they will be ready in 5 - 6 minutes (reading down the column). See!! Chinese is easy!!

ANYWAY, get your vegetables and mushrooms chopped.

Mince the ginger and garlic (you need about a tablespoon of each), and slice the shallot.

Finally, perpare the sauce with three tablespoons of vermouth, one tablespoon of soy sauce, and one tablespoon of rice vinegar.

Remember to save your mushroom stems! Just rinse them off, tear them in half, and let them dry out on a plate for a few days -- you can then store them for later use in soup stocks and stuff. Awesome!

Three minutes before your rice or noodles are done, get ready to roll! The basic stir-fry plan is to heat the wok super hot, add the oil, add the aromatics (ginger, garlic, etc), stir that around for a 10 seconds, then add the vegetables, stir them around for a minute, then add the sauce, stir for another minute, and serve. So let's do that!

Heat the wok (see how cool mine is -- it looks like The Enterprise!). I go up to heat 9 on my stove, but this will depend on your nerves and on your wok (non-stick coatings can't take this heat, but you shouldn't buy one of those anyway).

Add the oil and then immediately add the aromatics and stir for 10 seconds. (Blurry because you really shouldn't be taking pictures while doing this.) Note that you want an oil with a high smoke point so that it doesn't burn or (more fun) burst into flames -- peanut and grapeseed oil are good choices.

Add the asparagus and stir for 1 minute. (The recipe suggests blanching the asparagus for 1 minute, then to add it with all of the other vegetables. My asparagus was pretty fresh and thin, so I skipped that but figured it could use a little extra wok time so I gave it a minute longer than the mushrooms and bok choi.)

Don't worry if the aromatics ride up the side of the wok -- this is fine, and actually helps since it keeps the garlic from burning (trust me, you don't want burnt garlic taste in your stir-fry).

Add the bok choi and mushrooms and stir for 1 minute. (Easy, eh?)

Add a pinch of salt and a pinch of sugar, then swirl in the sauce and stir for 1 more minute. (Amazing!)

Get the wok off the heat.

Drain and rinse your noodles or get your rice into bowls. And serve up your awesome stir-fry!


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