Oct 19, 2012

Not Just Any Cooking Pot!

What's 2,000 years old, environmentally friendly, fuel efficient, durable, simple, easy to use, portable, and almost indestructible? Get ready... it's A COOKING POT! I'm not talking about just any cooking pot, I'm talking about one that is almost impossible to improve upon, it's the WOK.

14 inch carbon steel wok made by Ken Hom Tao
available at Amazon.com for $29.99,
with free shipping in the U.S., including Hawaii.
Click on photo to view larger.
Most Hawaii cooks would be lost without a wok. From Oahu's Chinatown to backyard potluck dinners, the wok has found a home here in Hawaii. The wok came to us from China, most likely between 1852 and 1898, when approximately 50,000 Chinese immigrants arrived here to work as field hands on Hawaii's sugar plantations. The wok was and still is the most important piece of cooking equipment in South East Asia and China. This piece of ancient technology is perhaps one of the most, if not the most, versatile cooking tools ever invented by humans. The round shape of the wok permits maximum cooking surface based on minimal fuel contact. This explains why foods destined for the wok are routinely chopped into small, thin slices. They cook faster that way. The wok is also the ultimate tool of kitchen convenience, as it can be used for stir-frying, steaming, pan frying, deep frying, poaching, boiling, braising, searing, stewing, making soup, smoking and roasting nuts.

The wok comes in many sizes, from 12 to 79 inches or more in diameter, depending on how many people you want to feed. The most common size is 14 inches wide, which is perfect for a family of 3 or 4. You don't need to spend more than $30 to buy a carbon steel wok. Why carbon steel? It heats quickly and evenly. Stainless steel or anodized aluminum woks will not work as well. Don't get nonstick. If you season your iron wok properly, food won't stick (read below). Nonstick woks don't sear the food properly, and you don't get the proper stir-frying effect. You can buy a good wok if you look around, like the one pictured here.

Seasoning your new wok:
A new steel wok MUST be seasoned before use, much like an iron skillet. Here's the seasoning process: Scrub your new wok well with soap and water to remove any coating applied to protect it during shipping, rinse well, and dry. Place the wok over low heat, wipe lightly with vegetable oil and let stand on the heat for 10 minutes. Cool and wipe with paper towels to remove the dark film. Repeat the oiling, heating, cooling and wiping procedure until the paper towels come away clean. Once a wok has been seasoned, it should be cleaned with plain water ONLY, using a wok brush, never with soap or abrasive cleaners, then dried and oiled with just a few drops of oil and a paper towel, before storing. If the metal ever rusts, clean with steel wool or fine sand paper and re-season. If a wok is properly cared for it will last more than a lifetime.

Wok Recipes:

Hot & Sour Soup

This is one of my favorite soup recipes. I would like to suggest that you make this soup a day ahead of time to let the flavors meld, then heat and serve. If you can't wait, go for it!

1/2 pound boneless pork, or chicken, cut into 1/4-inch-thick strips
6 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon red chile paste, such as sambal oelek, or Sriracha*
8 dried lily buds*
4 dried Chinese dried black mushrooms*
4 dried tree ears*
1/2 cup canned sliced bamboo shoots*
2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
6 cups chicken broth
1/4 cup white vinegar
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 carrot, cut into thin matchsticks (julienne)
8 ounce square of firm tofu, drained and sliced in 1/4-inch strips
1 tablespoon cold water
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 teaspoon sesame oil*
2 eggs, beaten
1/3 cup thinly sliced green onion (to garnish)

*Available at Asian food markets, or in the Asian section of your supermarket.

Cut pork or chicken into 1-inch thin strips. Sprinkle strips with 1 tablespoon of soy sauce and 1 teaspoon chili paste. Meanwhile, in three bowls soak lily buds, mushrooms, and tree ears in enough hot water to cover for 30 minutes, then drain. Cut off and discard tough stem end of lily buds. Slice each lily bud into 1-inch lengths. Throughly rinse tree ears under running water; drain well. Cut off and discard mushroom and tree ear stems. Cut mushrooms and tree ears into thin strips. In a wok bring chicken broth to boiling; stir in pork, the remaining soy sauce, lily buds, mushrooms, tree ears, bamboo shoots, ginger, vinegar, pepper, garlic, and carrot sticks. Simmer, covered, 10 minutes. Add tofu strips to soup. Simmer, covered, 3 minutes more. Blend cold water into cornstarch. Stir into soup with sesame oil. Pour eggs slowly into hot soup in a thin stream, beating constantly with fork till egg cooks and shreds finely. Cook soup till slightly thickened and bubbly. Remove from heat. Serve with thinly sliced green onions. Makes 6 to 8 first course servings.

Special Fried Rice
2 cups long-grain rice, cooked
2 tablespoons canola oil
1/4 cup bacon, chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
1 cup frozen peas, thawed
2 medium eggs, beaten
3/4 cup bean sprouts
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup roasted peanuts, chopped for garnish
3 scallions, trimmed and finely chopped for garnish

Heat a wok, add the oil, and, when hot, add the bacon. Stir-fry for 1 minute before adding the garlic and ginger, then stir-fry for an additional 30 seconds. Add the cooked rice and peas to the wok. Stir-fry over high heat for 5 minutes. Add the eggs and the bean sprouts and continue to stir-fry for an additional 2 minutes until the eggs have set. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Spoon the mixture onto a serving plate and garnish with the peanuts and scallions. Serve hot or cold. Makes 4 servings.

Vegetable-Beef Stir-Fry with Crispy Noodles 
There are many types of rice wines in China, however Shaoxing rice wine is most often used in cooking because of its consistent high quality. It takes its name from the Shaoxing region of Zhejiang, an eastern Chinese province, where the wine has been produced since the fifth century. It plays a major role in Chinese cuisine, possibly coming second only to soy sauce in importance. Unfortunately it is very difficult to find Shaoxing rice wine in the U.S., and there is no western substitute for it. However some people say gin or a good dry sherry, (not cooking sherry), comes closest in flavor to Shaoxing rice wine. I use Pagoda Brand, considered by cooks as the standard for decades. Try and find Shaoxing rice wine in Chinese markets, it's really an excellent product, with a distinctive, dry fruity flavor which works well in many Chinese dishes.

2 ounce pack rice sticks (found in the Asian section of your grocery store)
3 cups canola oil for frying rice sticks
1 pound beef top round steak
1 1/2 cups broccoli cut into 1-inch pieces
3 medium carrots, bias-sliced
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons Shaoxing rice wine or dry sherry
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 medium onion, cut in thin wedges
1/2 of a 10-ounce package (1 cup) frozen peas, thawed
1/2 cup bamboo shoots, halved lengthwise

Carefully separate fragile rice sticks. In a wok, fry unsoaked rice sticks, a handful at a time, in hot canola oil (375˚F) about 3-5 seconds or just until sticks puff up dramatically, then turn with tongs for a second more. Remove; drain on paper towel lined baking sheet. Keep warm in 200˚F oven. Partially freeze beef; slice very thinly across the grain into bite-size strips. Cook broccoli and carrots, covered, in boiling salted water 2 minutes; drain. Mix cornstarch, salt, and sugar; blend in soy sauce and Shaoxing rice wine. Set aside. Preheat a wok over high heat; add oil. Stir-fry broccoli, carrots, and onion in hot oil for 2 minutes or until crisp-tender. Remove from wok. (Add more oil, if necessary.) Add half the beef to hot wok; stir-fry 2 to 3 minutes or until browned. Remove beef. Stir-fry remaining beef 2-3 minutes. Return all meat to wok. Add peas, water chestnuts, and bamboo shoots. Stir soy mixture; stir into wok. Cook and stir until thickened and bubbly. Return broccoli, carrots, and onion to wok.; cover and cook 1 minute more. Serve immediately on top of fried rice sticks. Makes 4 - 6 servings.

Pork with Eggs and Mushrooms
1/2 cup dried Chinese mushrooms
6-8 ounces pork fillet
1 head bok choy
1/2 cup drained bamboo shoots
2 scallions
3 eggs
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup canola oil
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon Shaoxing rice wine or dry sherry
few drops of sesame oil

Rinse the mushrooms thoroughly in cold water and then soak in warm water for 30 minutes. Rinse thoroughly again and discard the hard stalks, if any. Dry the mushrooms and shred thinly. Cut the pork fillet into matchstick-size shreds and set to one side. Thinly shred the bok choy, bamboo shoots and scallions. Beat the eggs with a pinch of salt. Heat a little oil in a wok, add the eggs and lightly scramble, but do not make too dry. Remove from the wok. Heat the remaining oil in the wok and stir-fry the pork for about 1 minute or until the color changes. Add the vegetables to the wok and stir-fry for 1 minute. Add the remaining salt, the soy sauce and wine. Stir for 1 more minute before adding the scrambled eggs. Break up the eggs and blend well. Sprinkle with sesame oil and serve. Makes 4 servings.

Stir-Fried Salmon with Vegetables
3 tablespoons oyster sauce
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
2 teaspoons minced ginger
1 teaspoon soy sauce
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 pound salmon, skinned, boned and cut into 3/4" cubes
5 teaspoons oil
1/2 pound bean sprouts
1/2 pound snow peas
1 cup sliced green onions
1 red bell pepper, cut into strips
1/2 teaspoon Asian sesame oil
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1/8 teaspoon black pepper

In a medium bowl, combine two tablespoons of the oyster sauce with vinegar, ginger, soy sauce and one clove garlic. Season with pepper, if desired. Add fish, turning to coat. Cover and refrigerate at least a half-hour. In a seasoned wok, heat two teaspoons of the oil over high heat. Add remaining garlic, stir fry 30 seconds. Add sprouts, peas, green onions and red pepper. Stir-fry two minutes or until tender-crisp. Stir in the remaining one tablespoon of oyster sauce, sesame oil, sugar and pepper. Remove from skillet and set aside. Drain fish, discarding marinade. Heat remaining oil in same skillet. Add fish and stir-fry about four minutes or until done. Add vegetables. Gently toss. Heat through and serve immediately. Makes 4 servings.

Crispy Shrimp Stir-Fry
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoons cornstarch
pinch of sugar
6 tablespoons canola oil
1 pound raw shelled jumbo shrimp, halved lengthwise
3/4 cup carrots, peeled and cut into matchsticks
1 cup snow peas, trimmed and shredded
1/2 cup asparagus spears, cut into short lengths
3/4 cup bean sprouts
1/4 head Chinese cabbage or bok choy, shredded
2 teaspoons sesame oil

Mix together the soy sauce, cornstarch, and sugar in a small bowl, and set aside. Heat the wok, then add 3 tablespoons of the oil, and heat until almost smoking. Add the shrimp and stir-fry for 4 minutes or until pink all over. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the shrimp to a plat and set aside in a warm oven. Add the remaining oil to the wok, and when just smoking, add the carrots and ginger, and stir-fry for 1 minute or until slightly softened, then add the snow peas and stir-fry for an additional minute. Add the asparagus and stir-fry for 4 minutes or until softened. Add the bean sprouts and Chinese cabbage, and stir-fry for 2 minutes or until the cabbage is slightly wilted. Pour in the soy sauce mixture and return the shrimp to the wok. Stir-fry over medium heat until piping hot, then add the sesame oil, give a final stir, and serve immediately. Makes 4 servings.

Papaya-Chicken Stir-Fry
1 whole medium chicken breast (3/4 pound total), skinned and boned
1/3 cup water
2 tablespoons dry white wine
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 stalk celery, thinly bias-sliced into 1/2-inch lengths (1/2 cup)
1/2 of a papaya, seeded, peeled, and cut into bite-size pieces (1 cup)
1/4 cup macadamia nuts
cooked rice
papaya slices from other half of papaya for garnish

Cut chicken into 1-inch pieces. For marinade, stir together water, dry white wine, and soy sauce. Add chicken, stirring to coat well. Cover and marinate at room temperature for 30 minutes or in the refrigerator for 2 hours, stirring occasionally. Drain the chicken, reserving the marinade. Combine cornstarch and the reserved marinade. Set aside. Preheat a wok over high heat; add canola oil. (Add more oil as necessary during cooking.) Stir-fry celery in hot oil for 3 to 4 minutes or until crisp-tender. Remove celery from the wok. Add all the chicken to the hot wok. Stir-fry about 3 minutes or until done. Push chicken from center of the wok. Stir marinade mixture; add to center of the wok. Cook and stir until thickened and bubbly. Cook and stir for 30 seconds more. Return celery; add papaya. Stir in nuts. Serve immediately over hot cooked rice. Garnish with papaya slices. Makes 2 servings.

Chicken in Black Bean Sauce
Black beans, also known as salted black beans, are soybeans that have been preserved by being fermented with salt and spices. They have a distinctive salty taste, a rich savory aroma, and are often used as a seasoning in conjunction with garlic or ginger. Buy the beans either in cans, in which case they will need rinsing and draining, or dry in bags. Dried black beans will keep indefinitely in an airtight container.

1 pound skinless, boneless chicken thighs, cut into strips
1 tablespoon light soy sauce
2 tablespoons Shaoxing rice wine or dry sherry
salt to taste
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon sesame oil
2 teaspoons corn starch
2 tablespoons canola oil
2 green bell peppers, seeded and diced
1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger
2 garlic cloves, peeled and coarsely chopped
2 shallots, peeled and finely chopped
4 scallions, trimmed and finely sliced
3 tablespoons salted black beans, chopped
2/3 cup chicken stock
shredded scallions, to garnish
freshly cooked egg noodles, to serve

Place the chicken strips in a large bowl. Mix together the soy sauce, Chinese rice wine or sherry, a little salt, sugar, sesame oil, and cornstarch, and pour over the chicken. Heat the wok over a high heat, add the oil, and, when very hot, add the chicken strips and stir-fry for 2 minutes. Add the green bell peppers and stir-fry for an additional 2 minutes. Then add the ginger, garlic, shallots, scallions, and black beans, and continue to stir-fry for another 2 minutes. Add 4 tablespoons of the stock, stir-fry for 1 minute, then pour in the remaining stock and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer the sauce for 3-4 minutes or until the chicken is cooked and the sauce has thickened slightly. Garnish with the shredded scallions and serve immediately with noodles. Makes 4 servings.

Stir-Fried Bean Sprouts
2-3 scallions
3 tablespoons canola oil
2 cups fresh bean sprouts
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon light brown sugar
few drops of sesame oil

Cut the scallions into short sections about the same length as the bean sprouts. Heat the oil in a wok and stir-fry the bean sprouts and scallions for about 1 minute. Add the salt and sugar and continue stirring for 1 minute. Sprinkle with the sesame oil, and serve. Do not overcook,  or the bean sprouts will become soggy. Makes 4 servings.

Bok Choy with Oyster Sauce
1 head bok choy
2 tablespoons canola oil
2 tablespoons oyster sauce

Trim bok choy and tear into manageable pieces. Heat a wok until hot, add the oil and swirl it around. Add the bok choy and stir-fry for 2-3 minutes until it has wilted a little. Add the oyster sauce and continue to stir-fry for a few more seconds, until the bok choy is cooked but still slightly crisp. Serve immediately. Makes 2 servings.

Stir-Fried Spinach
2 LARGE bunches of fresh spinach (spinach will wilt down to 1/10th its size when cooked)
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 red chili, sliced, or 1/3 to 3/4 tsp. dried crushed chili (chili flakes)
1/4 cup good-tasting chicken or vegetable stock
2 tablespoons oyster-flavored sauce (or vegetarian oyster sauce/stir fry sauce)
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 tablespoon Shaoxing rice wine or dry sherry
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1-2 tablespoons vegetable oil

In a cup, stir together: stock, oyster sauce, fish sauce, sherry, and brown sugar. Set aside. Rinse spinach and drain. Heat a wok over medium-high heat. Add 1-2 tablespoons vegetable oil and swirl around, then add garlic and chili. Stir-fry 1 minute to release the fragrance. Add the spinach and stir fry briefly, until the spinach leaves are lightly covered in the oil and garlic/chili (about 30 seconds). Then add the stir-fry sauce and stir-fry until spinach has cooked down to a nice dark green (stems should still be on the crisp side) - 2 to 4 minutes. Remove from heat. To serve, scoop or slide spinach onto a serving plate or bowl. Top with the remaining liquid at the bottom of your wok. Drizzle over the sesame oil. Makes 2-4 servings.

Stir-Fried Mixed Vegetables
This is a delicious mixture of Asian vegetables, which is very easy to make.

1/3 cup cold water
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon grated ginger root
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon canola oil
2 medium carrots, peeled and thinly bias-sliced (1 cup)
1 cup fresh snow peas, strings removed
5 green onions, bias-sliced into 1-inch lengths (1 cup)
1/2 cup sliced fresh button mushrooms
1 8-ounce can sliced water chestnuts, drained

For sauce, stir together water, soy sauce, cornstarch, sugar, ginger root, and pepper. Set aside. Preheat a wok over high heat; add canola oil. (Add more oil as necessary during cooking.) Stir-fry carrots in hot oil for 2 minutes. Add onions and mushrooms; stir-fry about 1 1/2 minutes. Stir in snow peas and water chestnuts and cook for 1 minute more. Push vegetables from center of the wok. Stir sauce; add to center of the wok. Cook and stir until thickened and bubbly. Cook and stir for 1 minute more. Stir in the vegetables to coat with the sauce. Serve immediately. Makes 4 servings.

Ah Bing Cherry Fritters
Cherries have been consumed since prehistoric times. Of all the varieties of sweet cherries grown in the United States, the Bing is most well known. Bing Cherries were developed in the 1870s by Oregon horticulturist Seth Lewelling and his Manchurian Chinese foreman Ah Bing (for whom they are named), in the area that is now Milwaukie, Oregon. Today, China is the largest cherry grower in the world, however the U.S. exports more fresh cherries than any other country.

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 1/4 cups milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
4 egg whites
3 egg yolks
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 3/4 cup fresh cherries, pitted and coarsely chopped
Canola oil for frying
Powdered sugar (optional)

Combine the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Add in the milk, egg yolks, oil, lemon juice and vanilla. Beat until nice and smooth.

In a separate bowl, whip the egg whites until soft peaks form. Gently fold the egg whites into the batter. The batter will gain quite a bit of volume at this point.

Coarsely chop the cherries into large chunks. Fold the cherries into the batter.

Heat oil to 375˚F in a wok or deep, heavy saucepan. Drop a couple tablespoons of batter into the hot oil and fry for 4 to 5 minutes, or until golden brown (I used an ice cream scoop for this). You want the fritters to have enough time to cook all the way through and get the cherries nice and hot AND you don’t want the outsides to burn. Fry up a test fritter and make adjustments to size and temp as needed.

Remove the fritters from the hot oil and drain on paper towels. You can keep the fritters warm in the oven – just set on a low temperature. Serve hot!

Top with powdered sugar.

Note: If the oil isn’t at a high enough temperature, the food absorbs the oil and starts taking on that flavor.

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