Feedback from my Char Siu Pork post reminded me of the concept of Wok Hei, or the “Breath of the Wok.” (Thank you, James)
To impart wok hei the traditional way, the food is cooked in a seasoned wok over a high flame while being stirred and tossed quickly. Constant contact with the heat source is crucial as the addition of new ingredients and each toss of the wok inevitably cools the wok down; therefore, cooking over flame is preferred. Consequently, many chefs (especially those with less-than-ideal cookers) may cook in small batches to overcome this problem so that the wok is still as hot as it can be and to avoid “stewing” the food, instead. When cooking over gas stoves or open flame, it additionally allows for the splattering of fine oil particles to catch the flame into the wok; this is easily achieved when experienced chefs toss the wok and can be a demonstration of experience. For these reasons, cooking over an open flame is preferable to other types of stoves. Cooking with coated woks (e.g. nonstick) notably will not give the distinct taste of wok hei, which is partially imbued from previous cooking sessions. In practical terms, the flavour imparted by chemical compounds results from caramelization, Maillard reactions, and the partial combustion of oil that come from charring and searing of the food at very high heat in excess of 200 °C (392 °F). Aside from flavour, the texture of the cooked items and smell involved also describe wok hei.
One is NOT going to achieve this with the standard kitchen, but with Gan Bian’s concept or dry fry, one can come close. (I have been known to apply a chef’s torch to add a bit of additional caramelization.
One note, this takes a bit of patience and watchfulness; all ranges cook differently, so times are approximate. Do not keep stirring; allow the cauliflower to brown, but not burn. “Golden Brown is delicious, black is toast.”
Once I had the cauliflower to the desired state of browning, I did quick steam to cook for a crisp-tender state, thence add some chilies for spice, scallions for taste contrast, and toss with my char-siu sauce.
Gan Bian (Dry-Fry) Cauliflower
- 1 head Cauliflower Washed, drained, cut to bite sized pieces
- 1 tbsp neutral oil
- 6 ea Thai Chili peppers Washed, Stemmed, Sliced tto rings
- 1 Bunch Green Onions Washed
- 1 tbsp Minced Garlic
- Salt / Pepper To taste
- Cut white part of geen onions into small pieces
- Shread green part of green onions, and place in cold water
- Heat a large skillet for wok over medium high heat
- Add Cauliflower and dry fry for 3 minutes, toss and fry for 3 minutes more
- Repeat until the cauliflower starts to take color
- Add 2 tbsp water and cover, steam until cauliflower is tender and water has evaporated (~3 minutes)
- Add oil, garlic, white part of green onions, stir fry until fragrent
- Drain the green parts of the green onion, toss to wilt and remove from heat
- Season, balance flavor and serve
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