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Wok Master

Stir-frying techniques, tips, and recipes




The stir-fry is a basic Asian cooking method where small pieces of food are cooked in a small quantity of oil over a high heat for a brief period of time while stirring constantly. It’s the ubiquitous technique that we see in a lot of Asian cooking videos and street food videos where cooks toss noodles, fried rice, or meat and vegetables in a wok enveloped in flame. It’s also the name given to thousands of “dinner on the table in 30 minutes” recipes that can be found online and in cookbooks. And while the technique is fairly simple, I’ve discovered through the years that it wasn’t easy to replicate that taste that I loved from Chinese dishes that we eat in restaurants. There was always something missing when I stir-fried at home.

A few months ago I discovered a YouTube channel called Chinese Cooking Demystified that broke down the technique into something that could be easily done at home, and included tips to get that elusive stirfry taste. Since then, my vegetables have tasted so much better, and I’ve been able to add some tasty new dishes to my repertoire. Let me share what I learned from those YouTube videos with you, as well as a few tips of my own.

Before you begin:

1. The best pan is a good, old-fashioned wok or kawaling Pinoy. You can also use the newer non-stick woks or a heavy-bottomed frying pan. 2. Always prepare sauces, and slice and dice your ingredients ahead of time, and keep them within easy reach of your wok or stove. Stirfrying takes just minutes, or even seconds, so ingredients have to be added quickly. 3. Slice ingredients to the same size so that they cook in the same amount of time. 4. When stir-frying vegetables, under cook them just a little bit to retain that crisp freshness. They will continue to cook a bit when off the heat.

How to achieve that “non-stick wok” effect: 

Chinese Cooking Demystified calls the procedure longyau, and it is the technique that makes all the difference no matter what you’re cooking. 1. Get your wok or pan smoking hot over the highest flame your stove can go. This will take several minutes. 2. Add in your oil. Quickly shut off the heat, and swirl the oil around to get a nice non-stick surface. Then turn the flame back up to medium-high and begin cooking.

And now, let’s get cooking! I usually pair the two recipes I’m sharing in one meal because I can easily cook everything using just one wok. Cook the vegetables first, and when done, transfer them to a serving dish and wipe out the inside of the wok before cooking the meat dish.


Vegetables with Garlic

(use broccoli, spinach, pechay, Taiwan pechay, Baguio beans, or sugar snap peas a.k.a. chicharo)

200 grams vegetables of your choice (I like to use pechay, whole with just the ends cut off)

4-5 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 inch piece of ginger, peeled and minced

1 tablespoon water

1/2 teaspoon cornstarch

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon sugar

1. If using vegetables like broccoli, Baguio beans, or chicharo, blanch  in boiling water for 10-20 seconds then run under cool water to stop the cooking process.

2. Mix together water, cornstarch, salt, and sugar

3. Longyau. Heat wok till smoking at high heat. Add oil, turn off the heat, and swirl.

4. Turn flame back onto medium high heat. Add garlic and ginger, stir-fry for 15 seconds or until just fragrant.

5. Add vegetables (in my case, pechay) and mix quickly.

6. Add the sauce and stir-fry another 15 seconds or until sauce just clings to the vegetables and there is no visible liquid remaining in the pan. 7. Transfer to serving dish and wipe out inside of wok.


Stir-fried Beef with Leeks

(I tweaked this recipe from something I saw online, at a website I can’t remember, so credit goes to the recipe developer)

1/2 kg. thinly sliced beef, sliced into 2-inch pieces (I use the gyudon or bacon cut that I find in supermarkets)

2 teaspoons vegetable or cooking oil

1 teaspoon light soy sauce

1 tablespoon cornstarch

1/2 tablespoon sesame oil

2 tablespoons soy sauce

1 tablespoon hoisin sauce

1 tablespoon water

3 tablespoons cornstarch

1 tablespoon ginger, sliced into matchstick thin pieces

1/4 cup vegetable or cooking oil

3-4 cups leeks, cut into 2-inch lengths

2 tablespoons Shaoxing wine or Mirin

1. Marinade the beef in two teaspoons oil, one teaspoon soy sauce, and one tablespoon cornstarch for at least 30 minutes.

2. Combine remaining sesame oil, soy sauce, hoisin sauce, and water in a small bowl and set aside.

3. Just before cooking, sprinkle beef with three tablespoons cornstarch, and toss to coat beef lightly.

4. Longyau. Heat wok till smoking at high heat. Add 1/4 cup oil, turn off heat, and swirl.

5. Turn up the heat until high. Add the beef and spread into a single layer on bottom and sides of wok. Sear on one side for 30 seconds, then flip, sear for a few seconds, then stir-fry until just cooked. It will probably take a total of one minute from the time the beef is added to the pan.

6. Transfer beef to a plate.

7. Turn heat to medium low and spoon out some of the oil if you think there is too much. There should be at least two tablespoons of oil left in the wok.

8. Add ginger, cook until pale golden brown.

9. Turn heat back to highest setting, add leeks. Add one tablespoon of Shaoxing wine or Mirin, continue to stir-fry while deglazing bottom of pan and scraping up any brown bits sticking to the pan.

10. Add the beef, stir-fry about 15 seconds, and add the sauce. Continue to stir-fry until liquid has almost all evaporated and sauce is just coating the meat and leeks.

11. Spread remaining one tablespoon of Shaoxing or Mirin around the wok, and let it sizzle and stir-fry until the alcohol burns off.

12. Turn off the heat and transfer to serving platter. Serve immediately!

Enjoy the two dishes unashamedly with some steaming hot rice—brown or red rice if you must, but white rice is the perfect background for all the bold flavors in the sauce. The vegetables, by the way, are tasty enough to eat on their own with some rice for a quick meat-free meal.

It is such a hot summer that I try to spend as little time in the kitchen as I can. These two dishes call for intense but brief bursts of heat while standing at the stove—a situation more bearable than having something simmering on the stove for hours giving off constant heat. I would say that’s perfect for a quick summer meal!

Email me at cbj2005@gmail.com 

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