Given my adventures trying to thaw a steak yesterday, I’ve ensured I have the right meat today. But, alas, Madam Badwolf has returned home and has issued the two-word command, “Feed Me!” I will need to stretch my protein.
Searching the chill chest, I find a set of stop light peppers (red, yellow, and green bell peppers), a small package of dried Thai or birds-eye peppers, and my constant companions, ginger, garlic, soy, and mirin. It is a good day to stir-fry. (I do hope the Klingons don’t take offense.)
The chao (炒) technique is similar to the Western technique of sautéing. There are regional variations in the amount and type of oil, the ratio of oil to other liquids, the combinations of ingredients, the use of hot peppers, and such, but the same basic procedure is followed in all parts of the country.
First the wok is heated to a high temperature, and just as or before it smokes, a small amount of cooking oil is added down the side of the wok (a traditional expression is 热锅冷油 “hot wok, cold oil”) followed by dry seasonings such as ginger, garlic, scallions, or shallots. The seasonings are tossed with a spatula until they are fragrant, then other ingredients are added, beginning with the ones taking the longest to cook, such as meat or tofu. When the meat and vegetables are nearly cooked, combinations of soy sauce, vinegar, wine, salt, or sugar may be added, along with thickeners such as cornstarch, water chestnut flour, or arrowroot.
A single ingredient, especially a vegetable, may be stir-fried without the step of adding another ingredient, or two or more ingredients may be stir-fried to make a single dish. Although large leaf vegetables, such as cabbage or spinach, do not need to be cut into small pieces, for dishes which combine ingredients, they should all be cut to roughly the same size and shape.
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. The distinct taste of wok hei is partially imbued into the metal of the wok itself from previous cooking sessions and brought out again when cooking over high heat. 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, wok hei also manifests itself in the texture and smell of the cooked items.
And Yes, wok hei, is a thing I strive for in my stir-fries. I suspect the only way I will get it is over my grill in summer, but that does not stop me from trying.
- 1.5 lb Steak Cut to thin slices
- 3 ea Stop Light Peppers Green, Yellow, and Red Bell peppers washed, seeded, and cut into bite-sized pieces
- 1 ea Sweet Onion Peeled and diced to matching size
- 2 tbsp Neutral Oil
- Dried Thai Chilis Optional and to taste
- 3 cloves Garlic Peeled, minced
- 1 tsp Black Pepper Coarse Grind
- 1 tsp Ginger peeled and grated
- 2 tbsp Brown Sugar
- 1/3 cup Soy Sauce Low Sodium
- 1 cup Beef Stock Low Sodium
- 2 tbsp Rice vinegar
- 2 tsp Sesame Oil Toasted is nice
- 2 tbsp Cornstarch
- Sambol Optional and to taste
- Mix garlic, black pepper, ginger, brown sugar, soy sauce, beef broth, rice vinegar, sesame oil, sambol, and cornstarch in a medium bowl and reserve.
- Heat 1 tbsp vegetable oil over medium-high heat in a wok or large skillet.
- Add the steak to the pan and chao for 5-6 minutes or until lightly browned
- Remove steak and reserve.
- Add 1 tbsp vegetable to the skillet.
- Add the peppers and onions and cook for 3-4 minutes or until tender-crisp. (Add the Thai chilis here if used)
- Return the steak to the pan and toss to combine.
- Add the sauce, toss to coat.
- Bring to a simmer, and cook for 4-5 minutes until the sauce thickens
- Taste, season, and balance the flavor.
- Toss once more to coat.
- Serve over rice, ramen noodles, polenta, mashed veggies, or even pasta. Garnish with sliced green onions.
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