One of the greatest things about getting into wok-based cooking is that, once you buy many of the key ingredients, you’ve already got a lot of the basics to make future dishes. That’s a nice bonus because sometimes things happen and you either have to completely scrap a meal or can’t get to the grocery store and just have to work with what you’ve got. A few times now I’ve turned to my copy of Stir-Frying To The Sky’s Edge and the recipe for Peppery Vegetarian Rice (page 256) and used that as a basis for dinners that have turned out pretty good. The basic idea of this recipe is that you cook a few eggs in your wok, put them aside and then cook up some carrots and other vegetables before mixing in the rice, a few other key ingredients and then have yourself a nice dinner. Luckily, I’ve always got carrots on hand, so this is usually a pretty easy one to put together. The real beauty of this recipe is that you could pretty much use whatever veggies you happen to have on hand and, as long as you’ve got some rice, wind up with a pretty tasty dish.
I’ve said in previous Wok This Way posts how surprised I’ve been by the ease I have cooking in the wok. Depending on how I’m feeling a particular day that can either be a good thing or a bad thing. If I’m really looking for a challenge or to try something different, it falls on the negative side of things, but if I want to make something really simple but also always tasty, it’s a good thing. When flipping through my copy of Grace Young’s Stir-Frying To The Sky’s Edge I came across her recipe for Barbecued Pork Lo Mein (page 273). While reading through the ingredients, I saw that I would need some Chinese Barbecued Pork which took me to page 285 and another recipe. I figured the multiple day process would make for a more interesting dish.
Of course, because I’m still less than a novice when it comes to cuts of meat, I got the wrong kind of pork. Instead of getting shoulder or butt I wound up with Blade Steak. I can’t remember now if it’s because they were out of shoulder or what, but that’s just what went down. Anyway, you rub sugar over the cubed up pork and then get it in the marinade which includes soy sauce, hoisin sauce, dry sherry, beans sauce, sesame oil, white pepper and honey. Once that’s all combined, the marinade goes into the fridge. The next day you broil it. If you’re doing shoulder there’s a whole rack system involved and water, but since I was using a different cut and don’t actually have all the necessary equipment, I just cooked my pieces on a foil-lined baking sheet and everything turned out fine.
The actual cooking of the main dish actually takes a lot less time than all that. I was pleased to discovering my grocery store carries both Chinese round noodles and packages of bean sprouts, so I picked up the appropriate amounts and felt like this one turned out a little bit more authentic than it might have otherwise. I liked the candy-like quality of the pork which popped in different bites along with the noodles and firmer bean sprouts. Next time I’m going to get the right kind of pork though, I even know where it is at the store now!
This was another pretty simple wok recipe to throw together and the results were something I’d never had before. Most of the work involved in making Five-Spice Chicken With Sugar Snaps as seen on page 120 of Stir-Frying To The Sky’s Edge revolved around getting the chicken ready. Instead of the thighs suggested in the recipe, I went with breasts as I always do. I chopped those up and then mixed it together with ginger, soy sauce, honey, cornstarch, sherry and five spice powder. I also mixed together chicken broth, ketchup and soy sauce. Aside from that, all you have to do is clean the peas. I’m not sure if I got sugar snaps or some other kind of peas to be honest. I have much to learn about peas.
From there, it’s a matter of tossing things in the wok in the right order. The chicken goes in first, cooks a bit and then gets put on a plate. Then the peas go in, the chicken rejoins the party along with a few other things and you’ve got dinner. Instead of rice, which my wife says is poisonous now (not really, but kinda), I got lucky and had a few nests of egg noodles in the pantry that I prepared as well.
I’ve used Chinese five spice before, but never as such a central part of the dish. There was a nice sweetness coming through from the honey and then that distinct mixture of peppercorns, star anise, fennel, cinnamon and cloves (the quintet of spices that make it up).
I’ve made peace with the fact that there isn’t a whole lot of challenge in wok cooking (at least that I’ve come across in my limited experience) and have embraced the simplicity and general high quality of the finished meal. Because the recipes tend to be very similar, they also offer plenty of room to change things up when it comes to cooking. Take this recipe for Hong Kong-Style Mango Ginger Turkey from Stir-Frying To The Sky’s Edge (page 124). I actually didn’t have chicken thawed out, but did have some turkey breasts, so I cut those bad boys up and used them instead. I thought it wound up a pretty good combination. I also had a half box of orzo in the pantry from when I made Smitten Kitchen’s Baked Orzo with Eggplant & Mozzarella, so instead of rice, I cooked that up and threw it in at the end to finish cooking.
I’m not great and knowing when some fruits are ripe or not. When it came to the mango in this one, I decided to buy two just in case which turned out to be a good call. The first one I tried to cut up came out super smooshy, but the second offered up better slices. I still used the mush, but wouldn’t have gotten nearly as much yield had I only bought the squishier one.
I don’t make a lot of dinners that incorporate fruit like this, but I thought the subtle flavor of the mango worked well with the crunch of the green peppers and the velvet chicken, which you soak in a mixture and then throw in a boiling pot to cook for a few minutes. I wound up using that same pot to cook the orzo, so it worked out pretty well and I only dirtied a few dishes.
I got a little burned out on cooking with the wok a while back and it’s been sitting in a cabinet since then. I recently got it back out, re-seasoned it and got back to working with it. It might not be a super challenging cooking method, but I do like how quickly the meals come together with not a ton of work. So, I got my copy of Grace Young’s Stir-Frying To The Sky’s Edge and settled on Sit-Fried Cumin-Scented Beef with Vegetables (page 72), though I did have to alter a few things. First off, I went with some stew beef instead of flank steak because of the $6-8 price difference. I also didn’t fry the beef like the recipe says because our candy/frier thermometer broke and I hadn’t replaced it just yet. I also left out the red pepper flakes because I still haven’t figured out how to not burn my face off with them at random bites (something the baby isn’t a fan of).
The prep for this one was pretty simple. The beef was already chopped, so that went right into a bowl with the cornstarch, soy sauce and cooking sherry. I then cut the cherry tomatoes, cauliflower, carrots and green onions for later use. Instead of frying the beef, I cooked it like I’ve done several other times with the wok, by spreading it out into one layer on the wok and letting sit for a minute or so before stir-frying.
Once the beef was cooked, I removed it and got cooking first the garlic, then the vegetables in some peanut oil. The cumin went on followed soon after by the beef and green onions. I decided to serve this one on egg noodles instead of rice, so I had the water going the whole time and had them both done around the same time.
The recipe was pretty tasty and actually reminded me of the Cauliflower with Tomatoes side I’ve made and really enjoyed several times. You add beef to that along with soy sauce and the other trappings of wok cooking and you’ve got a nice little meal for yourself. Some day I’ll return to this recipe and actually fry the beef and see how that goes.
You’ll notice in the title that I don’t really commit to the idea that I cooked Beef Chow Fun. That’s because the recipe I used — from page 269 of Grace Young’s Str-Frying To The Sky’s Edge — called for broad rice noodles and bean sprouts, but I could only find thin rice noodles and broccoli sprouts, so I’m not sure if what I actually made is technically Beef Chow Fun.
Aside from those few changes, this recipe went pretty smoothly, though I think I might have used too many noodles. I don’t know if the mixture was really solid along with the sauce and beef. Anyway, this was made the same way as everything else I’ve made in the wok, so there’s not a lot to tell on that end.
I don’t usually like sprouts, but I still enjoyed this meal, it was tasty and reheated well. I must admit, I’m kind of bored writing about wok recipes as it’s pretty much the exact same thing every single time. On the other hand, I like making them because they involve lots of prep and a very short cook time. Even though these things might not be thrilling, I now know enough of the basics to figure out a recipe based on a few things I might have in the fridge or freezer now that I have a pretty good stock of wok-oriented ingredients. Pretty much any combination of meat and vegetables can be done easily and well in the wok, so that’s rad.
I’ve said a few times before that, so far, my experience with wok cooking has been a lot of the same thing. Lots of prep of vegetables and meat followed by very quick cooking of each element. That was pretty much the case when I made Stir-Fried Cucumber & Pork With Golden Garlic from Stir-Frying To The Sky’s Edge (page 73). The only real difference this time was that I fried some garlic in peanut oil making what the book calls Golden Garlic. I forgot that our candy thermometer broke a while back, so I wound up using the electronic meat thermometer that we have. It didn’t work out super well, but good enough to get the job done.
And, really, that’s it. I cut the cucumber on a mandolin and just followed the recipe as stated. The meal itself turned out well with the Golden Garlic offering a nice bit of crunch amidst the chewiness of the meat and the slickness of the cucumbers. It was nice and fresh and I’ve got no complaints, but I want to really test myself coming up, so be on the look out for that!
I don’t want to sound like I’ve gotten a big head, but I think I’ve really gotten the hang of cooking with a wok. I’ve made a series of recipes, each of which has turned out pretty well and they’ve all formed something of a pattern. Cut up meat, sprinkle with cornstarch and soy sauce, get some veggies ready, lay out your ingredients and get ready for some fast cooking. Aromatics go in first with peanut oil, then meat, which sears for a minute before getting the stir-fry treatment. After that, include the vegetables, maybe a sauce involving soy sauce or fish sauce you’re already prepared and sometimes add in some sugar and salt at the end. Oh and make sure to get your rice or noodles going when you start prepping, otherwise you’re timing’s going to be way off.
That’s pretty much the deal with the recipe for Stir-Fried Chicken With Carrots & Mushrooms that I got from Stir-Frying To The Sky’s Edge (page 134). The only real difficulty here was julienning the carrots, but that was just slightly more labor intensive than usual. I used a mandolin first and then cut them into smaller matchstick like pieces. In the book, author Grace Young mentions a tool called a Kinpira peeler that I might have to look into if carrots became a regular player in our wok cooking. Overall, this was another good recipe, though I would like to find a few with a bit of a different flavor profile. The meats and vegetables really make the flavors, but the base of garlic or ginger and soy sauce tends to make these things blend together in my memory. Still, those are flavors I enjoy, so it’s not really a bad thing.
One Monday I found myself in a bit of a cooking jam. I hadn’t gotten to the store for some reason, but knew that I had chicken breasts in the freezer and asparagus in the fridge, so I looked to Stir-Frying To The Sky’s Edge and came across the recipe for Velvet Chicken With Asparagus (page 128). It was a match made in stir-fry heaven!
As I’ve said in previous Wok This Way posts, most of the real work when it comes to woking out is getting all the prep work done in advance. I chopped up the chicken I had into squares and then mixed it in a bowl with cornstarch, dry sherry, and salt. I set that aside and then split and boiled the asparagus. Instead of chopping, I just used the green’s natural breaking points and snapped them with my hands. After that, I boiled the chicken, which is something I’m still getting used to, but seems to work out pretty well.
With all that out of the way, I finally figured out that I could set up the ingredients in order of their introduction to the wok and that would make things more efficient. Nothing in this recipe cooks for more than a minute before introducing the next, so this is a good way to set things up, I hope I remember it in the future. The garlic and ginger went in first followed quickly by asparagus and then the chicken. That was followed by another mixture I forgot to mention which included broth, pepper, dry sherry and cornstarch. All that got stir-fried and was served on rice, which I started at the beginning of the process.
Like everything else I’ve made with the wok and from that cookbook, this was another winner. The flavors weren’t huge, but it was a nice meal on a warm day that didn’t get me too sweaty in the kitchen. Those are both things I’m very appreciative for.
I’m noticing a pretty strong pattern when it comes to making dishes from Stir-Frying To The Sky’s Edge. There’s chopped meat usually mixed with some kind of cornstarch mixture as well as vegetables. Most of the of time involved with the cooking process comes from prepping and cooking the rice to serve things on. It’s a really simple, wonderful way to cook that would be ideal for people who have to cook after work. You could even prep the night before and it’d only take a short time to have a full meal by the time you got home, though you might have to go with egg noodles instead of rice (or get a rice cooker, those are fast, right? I’ve never used one.)
Anyway, Stir-Fried Beef & Broccoli (page 89) was another simple recipe. You cut up 12 ounces of flank steak and put it in a bowl with ginger, soy sauce, rice win/dry sherry, cornstarch, salt and pepper. Then mix chicken broth, oyster sauce, soy sauce and more sherry/rice wine in another bowl. The recipe wanted me to boil water and cook the broccoli like that, but instead I steamed it while I was getting everything else ready and think that was a good way to go. You keep more vitamins and minerals that way, right?
With all that ready, it was stir-fry time! First went in some garlic and black bean sauce (it called for actual black beans, but I could only find the sauce) into some peanut oil. That cooked for 10 seconds before pushing it to the side and adding the beef in one layer to the wok. That goes undisturbed for one week before stir-frying for another. Once that’s done, you put that aside on a plate for a bit.
Add more peanut oil and cook the broccoli for 15 seconds with the onions (I realized after already cutting up green ones, that the recipe called for regular onions, it didn’t matter too much). You then put the beef back in with the oyster sauce mix, stir-fry for 30 more seconds and you’re done. I had gotten my rice going ahead of time and the timing once again worked out well. You’ve probably had beef and broccoli before and it’s just as good at home as it is from a store!