Tuesday, June 22, 2010
Generic Asian Stir-Fry Hints
There are some things that I have learned over the years cooking a variety of Chinese and Asian wok dishes. They are:
- Always prep (including cleaning and scraping if necessary) all your ingredients first as you won’t have time once the stir-frying begins. This means mincing (garlic, ginger root), grinding (pork, turkey), match-sticking (pork, beef, lamb, chicken), shelling and deveining shrimp, cross-cutting (beef, pork, scallions, asparagus, scallops, carrots, onions, celery, fish, peppers, scallions), de-sanding shellfish, and soaking in hot or boiling water (noodles, dried mushrooms, etc.)
- Start cooking or steaming your rice as you prep your ingredients as this will take a good twenty minutes.
- Your main ingredients should include a meat (pork, beef, chicken or even lamb or turkey) or fish/shellfish (carp, clams, shrimp, crab, scallops, lobster, flounder, etc); a vegetable or two or three (string beans, asparagus, broccoli, bok choi, baby bok choi, carrots, peppers, onions, cauliflower, celery, mung bean sprouts, baby corn, mushrooms, bamboo shoots, spinach, watercress, water chestnuts, peas, etc.); scallions; garlic, ginger root, sauce(s), and maybe noodles such as lo mein, cellophane (bean thread) noodles, egg noodles, rice noodles, or wheat noodles … and sometimes even fruit … such as pineapple in sweet and sour dishes.
- Don’t be afraid to use exotic ingredients (snails, sea cucumber, cilantro, wood mushrooms, etc.) if you can find them … and get some advice on how to prepare them.
- Strive for at least three or four contrasting colors (e.g., white meat, green asparagus, red pepper, and a brown sauce).
- Strive for contrasting textures -- crunchy as in water chestnuts, soft as in noodles, chewy as in beef, hard as in peanuts or sesame seeds, etc. Don’t overcook everything so that it is all soft and mushy.
- Strive for contrasting flavors – hot as in pepper flakes, sweet as in Hoisin sauce, salty as in soy sauce, bitter as in bok choi, sour as in lemon juice or vinegar, and umani (protein taste) as in soy sauce or MSG.
- Strive for contrasting temperatures such as a hot stir-fry situated on top of cool watercress or chopped lettuce.
- Don’t make everything in a brown sauce. Occasionally use just a clear sauce (chicken broth) or a red sauce (ketchup-based) or a yellow sauce (lemon chicken).
- Always start with a hot wok. If you need to steam a vegetable first, add it to the wok and season it with a little soy sauce, then add a little water and cover for a few minutes and remove to a side plate. Then add to the hot wok just enough oil (peanut or safflower) to get the job done. I usually start by adding the minced garlic and ginger root and then the meat. You can coat the meat in corn starch if you want to get it crispy on the outside (if your wok is hot enough).
- Then add the steamed and remaining vegetables and cook briefly.
- Then add the sauce(s). Oyster sauce goes best with beef. Hoisin sauce goes best with pork. Black-bean sauce goes best with clams and fish. Ketchup-based sauce goes best with shrimp. If you want some heat, augment these sauces with Szechuan or Hunan sauces or red pepper flakes. And then use white pepper, MSG, salt, and sugar sparingly.
- Thicken the wok sauce (as needed) with a cornstarch slurry made with a teaspoon to a tablespoon of cornstarch mixed with some water, soy sauce, dry sherry, or chicken broth. This slurry needs to come to a boil before it will thicken.
- I usually finish wok dishes with any bean sprouts (to keep them crunchy) and a good handful of chopped scallions ... a few seconds before stirring well and turning off the heat. Then, after the heat is off, I drizzle on about a teaspoon to a tablespoon of toasted sesame oil.
- You can place the finished stir-fry on a bed of cool chopped iceberg lettuce, watercress, frisee, baby spinach, etc. to create a contrasting presentation (and better taste).
- Finally, if handy, sprinkle with chopped peanuts, black sesame seeds, toasted sesame seeds, honey-coated walnuts, etc. depending on the dish. Not really necessary though.
- Serve with cooked or steamed rice.
Yes, you will make mistakes experimenting with these guidelines, but keep trying until you get a repertoire of dishes you like. Freely consult Chinese, Korean, and Thai cookbooks to get specific combinations that work well together. (Notice, I didn’t say “Japanese” as it is generally a water-based cuisine as opposed to the oil-based wok cuisine of other Asian cultures.) Even try to duplicate dishes you have enjoyed from your favorite Asian restaurant. I did with my Shrimp in Hot Spicy Paste dish. (See: Szechuan Taste)