Cooking with a Wok
How-to techniques for Chinese cooking
By Bob Noble
The purpose of this, is to show you how to prepare and cook Chinese food using the stir-fry method, instead of what most Americans do which is called sautéing.
|What to Buy||Sauces for Your Dishes|
|Heat Sources for Cooking||Cleaning the Wok|
|Stir Fry is Healthy Cooking||Salt and Soy Sauce|
|Stir Fry Cooking Technique||Learn by Doing|
|Preparing Things to Cook||How to Cook Broccoli and Beef|
|When to cook what||How to Cook Fried Rice|
|Most Meats are Marinated||How to Cook a Chinese Noodle Dish|
What to Buy
These are the main tools needed for stir-frying. The wok with a long handle on one side. The paddle on the left is used for turning the food in the wok. The Chinese meat cleaver is used to cut up most things and is also used to carry the cut up food to the wok to be cooked.
Buy a steel wok. Dont get one with any coating inside. It should have a straight handle on one side, so it is easy to pick up and pour. Most will come with a hand shaped handle on the other side, which is ok.
Stir-fry is done at very high temperatures, so coatings will fail. Most electric woks cannot maintain a high enough cooking temperature to stir-fry properly.
A wok paddle is also a must. The tip part is shaped with a curve to match the inside of a wok, so things can be easily turned. Get a sturdy one as this tool will get a lot of abuse. This tool is used to turn things while stir-frying. Its also used to scrape stuck food off the wok. And last, to pull the food out of the wok onto a serving dish.
The other tool that is just as important is a Chinese meat cleaver. This isnt the thick one, but a thin one, about 8 inches by 3 ½ inches or so. It should be thin, so as to be easily sharpened.
This tool is used to cut up almost everything that is to be stir-fried. Its also used to scoop up the food to be stir-fried. After the food is cut up, it is carried to the wok with the clever, for cooking.
Heat Sources for Cooking
The heat source is very important, as it must provide enough heat to keep the wok hot enough to maintain stir-frying. Most electric woks wont provide enough heat. If you have an electric stove, use the largest burner you have. This will work satisfactory. Quartz cook tops will work fine too. Again use the largest burner.
Gas stoves are good if they have large enough burners to provide enough heat for stir-frying.
Some gas stoves have too small a burner to provide enough heat. If youre not sure, try cooking something.
You will find out fast. A hot enough burner will cook the food at a sizzle and make the sound that frying with oil makes. If it isnt hot enough, the food will simmer and make the sound of water boiling.
Youre looking for that sizzling oil sound. If you hear the sound of sizzling water instead, you are not stir frying, but sautéing.
If the wok came with a ring or hoop of medal, put it aside. This is used for steaming things in the wok, such as corn. It is not used on the burner to hold the wok. If you put the ring over a burner and put the wok on it, it will reflect and hold in a lot of heat that will cause your stovetop to warp or buckle.
Stir Fry is Healthy Cooking
Some say stir-fry is unhealthy cooking because the food is fried. But the stir-fry technique is not the same as other frying methods. The food is cooked very fast using vegetable oils. The technique cooks things fast and seals most of the nutrients in. Since all the fats are trimmed off of the meats, the only fats are from the oils used in cooking. This provides for a healthy type of cooking.
Stir Fry Cooking Technique
If your wok is new, you will need to season it.
Treat it like cast iron. Heat it up to hot, than put a bit of oil in it and swirl it around to coat the cooking surface. Pour this oil out and now you are ready to start cooking.
Unless you have a huge heat source, you will need to turn the heat source to high, and leave it there most of the time. Place the wok on the heat source with the long handle facing to the left if you are right handed.
You will hold the wok with your left hand and stir using the paddle with your right hand.
Wait for the wok to heat up, until it starts to smoke a bit or the metal starts to blacken.
A very important rule for cooking with a wok goes like this:
Hot wok, cold oil, food dont stick. Don't ever forget this.
This means to heat the wok up as hot as you can reasonably get it, before you add cold oil to cook with.
Once the wok is hot, add one or two tablespoons and stir it around with the paddle and immediately add something to cook. You may need to add more oil to cook certain things.
For instance, broccoli tops absorb a lot of oil. If you find them burning black and the wok is dry, add some more oil during cooking.
If you are cooking noodles or rice and they are turning black rather fast, add some more oil.
I will sometimes reduce the heat just a bit for these two items, if my intentions are to brown them a bit.
Add as little oil as possible to do the job, but dont skimp so much that you have a hard time doing the job.
The kind of oil you use depends on you. Peanut oil is good and imparts a nice flavor and will take the high heats nicely. Corn oil works too. Use vegetable oils as they are supposed to be healthier for you.
As soon as you add the cold oil and stir it to coat the cooking surface, add the food to be cooked carefully as not to splash hot oil on yourself.
If cooking vegetables, add a bit of salt to taste, which will help keep them green and start stirring them.
Turn them over on top of themselves and cook until they are tender and just a tad lucent.
If cooking meat, add it to the oil, salt to taste and let it sit a bit to brown before stirring. Once its browned a bit, stir it until it is just done. This wont take long as they are in small pieces.
For noodles and rice, add them to the oil, adding salt and pepper to taste and turn them after they brown a bit, but before they blacken. If they blacken too soon, add a bit more oil, or turn them down to medium and continue cooking. If they start to mush out, take them off the heat and stop cooking them.
Stir-fry cooking is done with a wok, but you wont always be using the stir-fry technique to cook..
Vegetables are always stir-fried. Noodles and rice are not really stir-fried. They are browned somewhat to change their characteristics and make them taste better. I like to do meats somewhat in between. I start by putting meats into the hot oil and let it sit until the meat is somewhat browned and than move to stir-frying to finish them off.
Because we dont have a real high heat source, we need to modify the way we cook with a wok a bit.
We will normally only cook one ingredient at a time. We will cook the items that will keep the best and take the longest cooking time first. Things that dont take a lot of cooking time or will not hold up well, will be cooked last. Some items should be slightly under-cooked if they are cooked first, as they will continue to cook, as the remaining items are cooked. Cooked items will be cooked and put in a bowl while the rest of the items are being cooked. These are mixed together in the wok, once everything is cooked at the very last.
Preparing Things to Cook
Items to be cooked should be as fresh as possible. Fresh things cook-up better and stay firm.
Items to be stir-fried are cut into bite sized pieces. This makes it easy to eat and also makes things cook fast so they retain their juices and are tender.
Meats should be cut into bite sized pieces and be somewhat uniform in size. They can be cut into cubes or thin slices, or strips, or little shoestrings. Any fat or gristle should be removed, as the fast cooking time doesnt allow enough time for these things to cook properly. Removing these things also presents a nice bite sized morsel that anyone would be happy to pop into their mouth.
Fresh meats will fry a bit better than frozen meats. Frozen meats will stir-fry ok, but tend to lose more water while cooking, thus making it a bit harder to maintain the stir-fry temperature.
Vegetables should be cut up, depending on their toughness. Try to cut them into uniform size pieces so they cook equally. They should all be cut into bit sized pieces. They can be cut into cubes, slices, strips, or little shoestring pieces. The shoestrings should be about 1/8th by ¼, by about two inches long.
Tough vegetables are best cut into shoestrings, so they will cook fast and get tender quickly. Broccoli stems, asparagus and carrots fall into this class.
Vegetables that arent so tough should be cut into bite size pieces on the diagonal and can be a bit larger in size than the tougher ones.
Cut the flowers of broccoli off at the stem and cut these into halves or quarters to make them bite size. Cut the stems into about two inch pieces and peal any tough skins and cut into shoestrings.
Cut asparagus into shoestrings, unless they are very small spears, than cut diagonally, into two inch pieces.
Cut carrots into shoestrings.
Cut zucchini type squash into shoestrings.
Green onions should be cleaned and the roots cut off. The white part can be cut into two-inch long pieces and cut in halves lengthwise. The rest of the green part of the onion is usually cut into halve inch to one inch pieces.
Whole bulb type onions should be quartered or eighthed into wedges. They will fall into pieces, when they are cooked as long as you cut enough of the ends off so pieces are not hooked together.
Bok-choy stocks should be cut into bite size pieces and separated from the leafy part, as the stocks take longer to cook. Cut the leafy part into bite size pieces.
Cut celery into bite size pieces.
When to cook what
Since we only have one heat source, it is important what we cook first and last, both which dish and, what to cook first and last in a dish.
As far as dishes go, we want to cook first what takes the longest to cook and will hold up the best until serving time. For instance, noodle dishes and rice dishes take a long time to cook and will hold up well, so we cook these first. Broccoli and Bok Choy take a long time to cook to get them tender and will hold up well, so we cook them next.
Lets take a look at what to cook first and last in a broccoli chicken dish.
Cook the broccoli first, both flowers and stems. If you have bok choy or celery, cook
Next cook the chicken and last the green onion whites. Mix these together and add carrots and grreen onion tops at the last moment and serve
A consideration in cooking might be to slightly undercook something if you know it will have to sit for awhile before it gets served as most things will continue to cook while they are sitting there waiting for something else to get cooked.
Most Meats are Marinated
Most meats are marinated for a short time before cooking. Right after cutting into bite sized pieces, put the meat into a small bowl. To each cup and a halve of meat add about one tablespoon of soy sauce, one tablespoon of a dry wine and one teaspoon of corn starch. This is a basic marinade.
Other things can be added to the marinade, such as ginger, Oyster sauce, Black bean sauce with garlic, etc.
Marinade, until it is time to cook. There is really no set recipe for the marinade. Too much cornstarch will cause the meat to cook up a bit on the sticky side.
Sauces for Your Dishes
Sauces are added after all the items are cooked and mixed together in the wok. After mixing the items together, pour the sauce into the wok and mix a bit. Let cook until the sauce just thickens to gravy in the bottom of the wok and immediately remove the wok from the heat. If you leave it on the heat too long the sauce will thicken too much and make a messy goo.
To make a sauce, put about ¼ cup of water in a glass and add a heaping tablespoon of cornstarch, about one tablespoon of soy and a tablespoon of dry wine. This will make a simple sauce. You can add other things to it like, Oyster sauce, black bean sauce, ginger, other Chinese type spices, or substitute the water with a fruit juice, or a pineapple juice. Use your imagination here to achieve a sauce that pleases your tastes.
Cleaning the Wok
The wok is easy to clean if you do it right after using it. It will usually clean up with a light scrubber and water if you do it immediately after cooking. Set it back on the hot burner for a moment to dry it after washing it.
Sometimes food will stick to the wok and make a mess. Use the paddle to scrape this stuck food off the wok. Now the stuck food will be on the paddle and hard to get off. Use a spoon or butter knife to scrape it off.
One thing nice about stir-frying is that clean up is very easy and there isnt a lot of cooking things to clean up. Bowls and dishes wash very easy, as they do not have food stuck to them.
Salt and Soy Sauce
You might notice that I add a bit of salt at each step.
This will help keep the vegetables looking greener.
I add just enough salt at each step to enhance the flavor of the amount of food I am cooking at each step.
Some people think soy replaces the salt in Chinese cooking, but it doesnt.
Salt and soy enhance differently, so use them both.
They enhance each other and go together.
You may be able to cut down a bit on the salt by using the soy, but dont eliminate it.
Use only enough salt to enhance the taste of whatever it is you are cooking.
Learn by Doing
Learn by doing is an easy way to learn so I will wok you through some of my favorite recipes. Its important to learn that stir-frying is a technique, not a recipe. The technique is important. The recipe can be changed to please yourself. Once you are really a cook, you will use the recipes only as a guide, substituting things you like or have on hand.
How to Cook Broccoli and Beef
Two cups broccoli, approximate
1 bunch of green onions
Cup and a half of beef, approximate
Dry white wine
Salt and pepper
Optional, Oyster sauce and/or Black bean sauce with garlic
Clean the broccoli with water and shake dry. Cut the flowers off the stock. Cut most of the flowers in half into bit size pieces. Cut the remaining stock in about two inch long pieces. Peel the skin off the stocks with a paring knife. Slice the stocks into about ¼ inch slices and cut these into about 1/8 inch by two-inch pieces.
Broccoli cut up into bit size pieces. On the top are the flowers and on the bottom are the stems cut up in shoestring size pieces, also bit size.
Wash the green onions under water and shake the excess water off. Cut the roots off with a paring knife.
Cut two pieces of about two inches off the white end of the onions.
Cut these in half lengthwise.
Cut the rest of the greens into about 3/8-inch pieces.
Keep the onions in two separate piles.
You can use beef, pork, chicken, or turkey.
Well use beef. You dont need an expensive cut of meat You can use almost anything. Top round or fillet, your chose. Trim all the fat off and any gristle.
Cut the meat into ½ inch cubes or you can cut it into 1/8-inch slices. Put it in a small bowl.
Add about one or two tablespoons of soy sauce, one or two tablespoons of dry white wine, and a teaspoon of cornstarch. Set aside.
Note, you can add a tablespoon of Oyster sauce to this and or a teaspoon of Black bean sauce with garlic if you like.
Lets make a sauce for this one.
In a glass or measuring cup, add about ¼ cup of water.
Add about a tablespoon of soy sauce.
Add about a tablespoon of dry white wine.
Add a tablespoon of cornstarch.
Stir this mixture and set it aside, it will be mixed in last.
You can also add a tablespoon of Oyster sauce and or a teaspoon of black bean sauce with garlic, or anything else you wish. Stir it up and set it aside.
Turn the burner to high and place the wok on the burner and let it heat until it just starts to smoke.
Add the oil and add the broccoli, all of it.
Salt to taste and start stirring.
Add more oil if it blackens too quickly.
Broccoli flowers absorb a lot of oil, so you may need to add more if the wok gets dry and the broccoli is trying to burn a black color. Cook just until it is tender or almost tender as it will cook a bit more while you are cooking the rest of the dish. At the last moment, splash about a teaspoon or two of soy in the bottom of the wok, so it steams and stir a couple times and remove quickly. Put the broccoli in the serving bowl and set it aside.
Put the wok back on the burner and wait for it to get hot again, lightly smoking.
Add about two or three tablespoons of oil and add the meat. Salt and pepper to taste, but do not stir it.
Let it brown a bit before you stir it. After a few minutes of letting it brown, start stirring it for a few minutes and remove it to the serving dish with the broccoli. Do not over cook it, as it will cook very fast, because of the high heat and the small pieces.
If you used too much oil for cooking the meat, scrape the meat out of the wok and drain the oil into a container for disposal, or use it to favor another dish.
Put the wok back on the burner and let it get hot.
Add about a teaspoon of oil and add the whites of the green onions.
Salt to taste and stir.
Cook just enough to sweeten, 30 seconds to a minute.
Do this next part fast, dont take all day.
Dump the broccoli, and beef from the serving dish back into the wok.
Add the rest of the green onion tops and stir to mix.
Stir the sauce in the glass and add it to this mix.
Stir to coat the mixture and push the mix to the side so you can see the sauce in the bottom of the wok.
Watch the sauce closely to see when it starts to thicken.
When it starts to thicken, take it off the heat immediately to stop it from getting any thicker.
If you leave it on the heat too long the sauce will get very thick and be a gooey mess.
Stir to mix and pour into the serving dish.
How to Cook Fried Rice
1cup rice, uncooked
1 bunch green onions
A cup and a half of meat, chicken, pork, beef or turkey, approximate
½ a carrot
A quarter cup of raisins
Some vegetable oil
Some soy sauce
Some dry white wine
Some salt and pepper
This is a bunch of green onions cut up into pieces.
The white or bottoms cut into two-inch pieces and split lengthwise.
The onion tops cut into short pieces about 3/8 inch long.
The carrots cut into about two-inch pieces, shoestrings.
Cook the rice by any method you like. I just boil it like noodles. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and put in the rice and stir to break it off the bottom of the pot. You can add a tablespoon of salt to the water if you like. This will help salt the rice and require less later when making the rice dish. Reduce the heat so it wont boil over. Boil until the rice is tender by sampling it. The water will thicken from the starch, and the bubbles from boiling will make blob, bulb sounds when it nears done. Do not over cook or it will get too starchy and get gooey when cooking it in the wok.
When it is done to perfection, dump it into a strainer and rinse with cold water until it is cooled down. This also will rinse off most of the starch.
Wash all the vegetables. Cut the roots off the green onions. Cut the white part of the onions off at two inches and than do it again, likely getting some of the green. Cut these in half lengthwise. Cut the rest of the onion greens into 3/8 inch lengths. Put each into separate piles or into small bowls to keep them separated.
Cut the carrot into two-inch pieces and than cut it into ¼ inch slabs and cut into shoestrings.
Careful, the carrot is a hard one to cut up like this. Put in a pile or a bowl.
Cut the meat into ½ inch cubes. Put into a small bowl.
Add about a tablespoon of soy and a tablespoon of dry white wine.
Add a teaspoon of cornstarch, mix up well and put aside.
Turn the stove on high and put the wok on the burner after it gets hot. When the wok starts to smoke a little or blacken a bit, add two or three tablespoons of vegetable oil and add the cooked and drained rice.
Salt and pepper and turn it to coat with oil and salt and pepper again to taste.
Let it brown a bit before turning. If it blackens rather quickly, you will need to add a bit more oil. If this becomes a real problem, you can turn the burner down to medium, but you must remember to turn it back to high for the rest of the cooking. Some of it will stick to the wok, but should release easier after it cooks a bit. After it cooks a bit, turn it again. Repeat this several times. You may have to scrape some off the wok with the paddle if it sticks. If it gets too sticky, its also time to remove it. Just before taking it out of the wok, splash some soy onto the rice to make it a light brown. This will give it the browned fried rice color and add a lot of favor. It will likely take a tablespoon or two. Do not put the soy on the rice until you are ready to remove it from the wok, or it will stick badly and cause a mess.
Remove the rice to a bowl. Use the paddle and pick up the wok with the handle and scrape it into the bowl. You may have to scrape some of the stuck rice out of the wok with the paddle. It will stay warm enough while you cook the rest of the items.
Make sure the burner is on high.
Reheat the wok until it smokes a bit.
Add about two tablespoons of vegetable oil and add the meat that has been marinating to the wok.
Spread the meat out in the oil and let it cook a bit without turning it.
Salt and pepper it to taste.
After it browns a bit, turn it repeatedly until it is done.
Sample a piece and see. It wont take but a few minutes because the pieces are small.
Pick up the wok and scrape the meat into the bowl with the rice using the paddle.
Put the wok back on the burner and immediately put in a tablespoon of oil. You dont need it real hot for the eggs. Crack the eggs into the wok. Add some salt and pepper to taste. With the paddle turn the eggs and break them up into little bit size pieces with the paddle as they cook. Just cook them until they are solid and scrape them into the bowl with the rice.
Put the wok back on the burner and wait for it to get hot again.
Add about a half-tablespoon of vegetable oil and add the two-inch lengths of green onions. Add some salt and turn for just a minute. You dont want to over cook the onions. Just cook a little to sweatten them up.
Throw the carrots in, turn once and quickly throw the items in the bowl with the rice into the wok and throw in the raisins and the rest of the green onion tops.
Do not try to cook them as they are better just warmed up.
Mix it all up and turn it out into a serving dish.
If you followed my directions, youll have some of the best-fried rice youve ever eaten.
How to Cook a Chinese Noodle Dish
10 or 12 oz. of Chinese Noodles, uncooked
2 or 3 skinless, chicken breasts or a cup and a half of pork, beef, or turkey, approximate
4 or 5 stocks of Bok-choy
1 bunch of green onions
Half dozen mushrooms (optional)
Half a carrot (optional)
Dry white wine
Salt and Pepper
You can use whichever size noodles you like. The thinner ones are harder to stir-fry as they break down and starch quicker than the thicker ones. The thinner ones must be stir-fried for a shorter time as to not make a gooey mess of them. I prefer the thicker ones for this dish. They are about 1/8 by 1/16 inch in thickness.
Boil a big pot of water.
Break the noodles in half and add to the boiling water.
Add a tablespoon of salt to the water to help salt the noodles.
Turn down the noodles to about medium to prevent boiling over.
You want the noodles to boil with a slight roll.
Stir them just after adding them to the water to break them loose from the bottom of the pot.
Stir them occasionally during cooking.
When the water starts to starch up, they are almost done.
You want them to be just done, not chewy, but just tender.
If you cook them too long, they will get starchy and starch up badly during the stir-fry.
When they are done to perfection, remove them from the heat and dump them into a strainer.
Run cold water through them to cool them.
This will stop them from cooking any more and rinse the starch off of them.
Let them drain.
Cut the chicken breasts into ½ inch cubes.
Put them into a bowl and add about a tablespoon of soy.
Add about a tablespoon of dry wine and a teaspoon of cornstarch.
Mix and set aside.
Slice the mushrooms into about 1/8-inch slices.
Set aside in a pile or a bowl.
Cut the carrot into two-inch long pieces and cut these into ¼ inch slabs.
Cut these into shoestrings, about 1/8 inch.
Cut the green onions twice at the white into two-inch pieces.
You will cut two, two-inch pieces from each onion.
Cut these in half and again if they are from a large onion.
Put in a pile or a bowl.
Cut the rest of the onion tops in about 3/8-inch pieces.
Put these in a pile on the counter or in a small bowl.
Cut the tops off the Bok-choy stocks.
Cut the stocks into bite sized pieces, by cutting up the middle if large and cutting across the stock.
Put in a pile on the counter or into a small bowl.
Cut the Bok choy tops into bite size pieces.
Put in a pile on the counter or into a small bowl.
Turn the stove burner on high and put the wok on it when it gets hot.
When it starts to smoke a bit, put two to three tablespoons of vegetable oil in the wok.
Add the noodles immediately.
Salt and pepper to taste and turn to coat with oil.
Some usually stick when you first add them.
They will tend to free up when they get a bit brown.
Free them with the paddle.
If they burn before browning you may need to add a bit more oil.
If you are sure you already have enough oil, than turn the burner down to medium.
Remember to turn it back to high for cooking the remaining items.
Its easy to forget this.
Try to let the noodles brown a bit before turning them.
Repeat this a half a dozen times, before removing them to a serving dish.
If the noodles start to get too starchy, remove them to the serving dish, as they wont get any better.
Just before removing them from the wok, add a bit of soy to taste, a teaspoon or two.
Do this just before removing them from the wok, or it will cause the noodles to stick and make a mess of things. I hold my finger over the bottle and sprinkle some on. Stir the noodles a bit and take them out of the wok immediately.
Make sure the burner is turned to high and put the wok back on the burner and let it get hot.
Once it is smoking a bit, add the Bok-choy stocks and salt to taste.
Cook these for a bit stirring almost constantly, but not too fast.
When they are nearing done, add the Bok-choy tops.
You can tell when they are almost done as they get tender and a bit transparent.
Taste a piece for tenderness to tell when they are done.
These can be slightly under cooked as they will cook in their heat while you are cooking the rest of the items.
When they are done, add a teaspoon or two of soy to the bottom of the wok, so as to steam the soy into the Bok choy.
Put them in the bowl with the noodles.
Put the wok back on the burner and let it get hot.
Add two or three tablespoons of vegetable oil.
Add the meat spreading it out in the oil.
Let it brown a bit, do not turn it.
Salt and pepper it to taste.
After it browns a bit, turn it slowly until it done and remove it to the noodle bowl.
This will only take a couple minutes, as the pieces are small and cook fast.
Do not over cook or the pieces of meat will get tough.
Meat cooks very fast, faster than you are use to, so try a piece and see.
Remember the meat will continue cooking after you remove it to the noodle dish.
Put the wok back on the burner and heat to hot.
Put about a tablespoon of oil in the wok and add the mushrooms (optional).
Salt and pepper to taste.
Stir constantly, but not too fast.
You may need to add more oil if the wok gets dry as mushrooms absorb oil.
Cook the mushrooms just to tender and remove them to the noodle dish.
Put the wok on the burner and add a half-tablespoon of oil and add the three eggs.
Salt and pepper to taste.
As they cook, cut them into bite size pieces with the paddle and remove them when the are just firm.
Put them in with the noodles.
Put the wok back on the burner and wait until it gets hot.
Add a half tablespoon of oil and add the green onion whites.
Salt to taste and stir constantly for barely a minute.
Cook just enough to make them sweet and add the carrots.
Stir to coat and put everything in the noodle dish back in the wok.
You can turn the burner off for this step.
Add the rest of the onion tops and stir all the items up to mix.
I intentionally do not cook the carrots or the green onion tops as they are too easily over cooked.
Dump back into the noodle dish and serve.