THIS MONTH’S EXPERT
Grace Young is the author of the cookbooks The Breath of a Wok and Stir-Frying to the Sky’s Edge.
A Prep the Protein
For moist chicken, precook it: in a medium bowl, combine 350 grams of skinless, boneless chicken breast (cut into half-centimetre-thick pieces) with two tablespoons of beaten egg whites, two teaspoons of cornstarch, two teaspoons of rice wine and a quarter teaspoon of salt. Stir until dissolved. Add two teaspoons of vegetable oil and chill for 30 minutes. Boil one litre of water and one tablespoon of vegetable oil. Reduce to a simmer. Add chicken, stir and cook until opaque; about one minute. Drain and reserve.
B Rig an Assembly Line
Once the heat is on, stir-fry happens fast. Cook smart by prepping these ingredients before firing up the wok.
1 SAUCE WITH A KICK
In a small bowl, mix together one-third of a cup of chicken stock, two teaspoons of soy sauce, a quarter teaspoon of chilli flakes, two teaspoons of rice wine and a quarter teaspoon of cornstarch.
2 AROMATICS TO FLAVOUR THE OIL
• 1 tbsp minced ginger
• 2 tsp minced garlic
• 1/2 cup thinly sliced Spanish onion
3 PRODUCE FOR EXTRA FLAVOUR AND TEXTURE
• 1 medium green capsicum, cut into strips
• 1 mango, peeled and cut into 1/2-cm-thick slices
C Crank the Heat!
Flick water into the wok. If it vaporises in 1-2 seconds, it’s go time. Pour in one tablespoon of oil and tilt the wok to coat. Add the ginger, garlic and onion, and stir-fry until fragrant; 10 seconds. Add the capsicum and cook until tender; one minute. Toss in the chicken and season with salt. Stir the sauce, swirl it into the wok, and cook until the chicken is done and the sauce thickens. Stir in the mango. Serve with brown rice.
MASTER THE MOVE: STIR-FRYING
“Stir-frying is a misleading term,” says Young. You actually want to use more of a digging and tossing motion, she says. Push a thin, slotted spoon or spatula beneath the ingredients and flip them over. This way all the ingredients touch the hottest part of the wok and achieve uniform doneness.
Stir-Fry in Stages
For the perfect stir-fry, timing is key. Size your vegetable pieces according to their density and add them at the right moment to prevent overcooking, says Young. And make sure not to overload your wok or add wet vegetables, which will prevent a good sear.
Cut carrots and broccoli stems into pieces about half a centimetrem thick so they cook evenly. (Halve or quarter broccoli florets into bite-size pieces.) Add these vegetables during the first few minutes of stir-frying, just after the garlic and onion.
Zucchini, capsicum, asparagus
Cut zucchini into half-centimetre-thick slices, capsicums into half-centimetre-wide strips, and asparagus into 5cm pieces. Add these during the midpoint of the stir-fry.
Soft Vegetables and Leafy Greens
Mushrooms, tomatoes, spinach, kale
Vegetables with high water content cook quickly. Halve or quarter mushrooms and tomatoes; roughly chop leafy greens. Wash and dry them well, and add them at the last minute to preserve their colour.
35-millimetre, flat-bottom carbon-steel wok
Avoid nonstick cookware. “Food sears better in a carbon-steel wok, which becomes naturally nonstick with use,” Young says. You want a wok you can season yourself (see “The Reason to Season”).
The Reason to Season
Before you cook with your wok, break it in to give it a natural nonstick surface.
1 Using a stainless-steel scouring pad and hot, soapy water, scrub the wok thoroughly, inside and out, to lose the factory-added antirust coating. Rinse the surface well, but don’t bother drying it before the next step.
2 Crank your exhaust fan and open the windows. Place the wok over low heat until any water evaporates; 1-2 minutes. The wok may smoke, smell slightly off, or change colour – those results are normal. Remove the wok from the heat and let it cool.
3 Heat the wok on high until a bead of water vaporises in 1-2 seconds. Add two tablespoons of vegetable oil, half a cup of sliced unpeeled ginger and one bunch of spring onions, chopped. Cook on medium, occasionally pressing the ginger and spring onions into the wok.
4 Discard the aromatics. Rinse the wok under hot tap water. Without soap, rub the surface with the soft side of a sponge. Dry it over a burner set on low until the water evaporates. Now you’re ready to start stir-frying.
SECRET WEAPON: BLACK-BEAN SAUCE
Made from fermented black beans and a hefty dose of garlic, this pungent condiment has more depth than soy sauce. Add a spoonful to beef, chicken or prawn stir-fry, or try it on stir-fried green beans and mushrooms. It’s also tasty when tossed with freshly cooked Asian noodles, steamed broccoli and thinly sliced spring onions.