All about stir-frying

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Measure Ingredient
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Buying a Wok
Seasoning a Wok
Organizing Your Ingredients
The Basic Procedure

~ You can buy a wok at any Asian market and pay a good deal less for it than at a cookware shop. Woks are available in a wide variety of materials

~ The walls of the wok should be thick and heavy to ensure an even spread of heat. Don't waste money on a thin or lightweight wok; you'll burn rather than stir-fry your food. Some woks have U-shaped handles, other a single long wooden handle like a frying pan. If you can find it, buy a wok that has both. A well-made wok will last a lifetime.

~ You'll also need a wok ring - a metal collar with holes in the side that fits over the stove burner. This ring serve two purposes; it keeps the wok from wobbling and raises the base to the hottest part of the flame. For the best results, set the ring on the burner, wide part up. (If the narrow part doesn't fit over the burner, invert it.) A wok ring enables you to use a round bottom wok on an electric burner. If you have a gas stove, you can cook directly on the burner.

~ The other useful utensil is a metal wok spatula with a rounded edge that conforms perfectly to the contour of the wok. In a pinch, use a sturdy metal skimmer or even a wooden spoon.

~ First scrub a new wok with soap and an abrasive metal pad to remove any grease form the factory. This should be the last time you use soap and abrasives to clean it. Wipe it dry and place it over high heat. When it's hot enough to evaporate a drop of water in a few seconds, wipe the inside of the wok with a paper towel dipped in oil.

Heat until the wok smokes and begins to turn black in the center.

Wipe out the excess oil with a paper towel and let the wok cool completely. Repeat this procedure 3-4 times. You can also heat the wok in a 400øF oven before applying the oil.

~ Having taken the trouble to season your wok, you want to keep it seasoned. To clean it after cooking, rinse it with hot water and scrub it with a soft-bristle brush. It will be easiest to clean the moment it comes off the stove, when it's still hot. Place the wok over high heat and heat it until all the moisture has evaporated.

Wipe it with a lightly oiled paper towel and let cool.

~ Do all your minced and chopping ahead of time. Measure out and prepare all the sauces. The average stir-fry takes 2-3 minutes to cook from start to finish. Once you've begun, you don't have time to run to the other side of the kitchen to fetch an ingredient or measure a sauce. Arrange all the ingredients on a tray next to the stove; the aromatics on one plate, the main ingredients on another, the sauce in a small bowl. The prep work can be done ahead of time, but the cooking is strictly last-minute. And be sure to work over high heat to sear the ingredients and seal in the flavor. If you stir-fry over low heat, you wind up with mush.

~ First, heat the wok over high heat until it just begins to smoke.

Swirl in the oil in a circular motion around the top of the wok. It will flow to the bottom, lubricating the sides as it goes. Use canola or peanut oil, which has a high burning point.

~ To test the temperature of the oil, add a tiny piece of scallion. If bubbles dance around it, the oil is ready. If it sinks to the bottom, the oil is too cool. If it burns immediately, the oil is too hot.

Lower the flame slightly, or if you're using an electric burner, remove the wok from the heat for a few seconds.

~ When the oil begins to smoke, add the aromatics (ginger, garlic, scallions, chilies, etc.), which flavor the oil. Cook for 15 seconds, or until very fragrant, stirring and tossing with the wok spatula.

~ Next, add the main ingredients in sequence of approximate cooking times, Add the meat first, then hard vegetables such as carrots and cabbage, then soft vegetables such as squash. Stir-fry these ingredients for 1-2 minutes, or until crisp-tender, tossing with a spatula. If the ingredients start to stick, add a little more oil. If you have too many ingredients to stir-fry comfortably in one batch, work in two batches and transfer the first to a bowl.

~ The last step is to add the sauce, the liquid ingredients. Bring the mixture to a boil and simmer for a minute or so, or until all the ingredients are fully cooked. If using cornstarch to thicken the sauce, dissolve it in water or other liquid and add it to the stir-fry. Bring the mixture just to a boil again. Taste the stir-fry before serving to correct the seasoning. Add a splash of soy sauce, a squeeze of lemon, or other flavoring to obtain a balanced and richly flavored dish.

High-Flavor, Low-Fat Cooking by Steven Raichlen ISBN 0-1402-4123-X pg 153-154

Submitted By DIANE LAZARUS On 10-26-95

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