A wok is an essential in Chinese cooking, though an ordinary frying pan can be used. The sloping sides of a wok are better suited for stir-frying and the quick tossing of ingredients. The high sides prevent the food from landing on the stove top as they are stirred. The wok was developed to be used on a primitive stove called a brazier -- a pail set on a cement floor. Wood and coal were used for fuel, and the deep sloping sides of the wok allowed the bottom to come into direct contact with the flame.
A seasoned wok is never cleaned with soap or detergent, but simply with hot water and a non-metallic scurbbing brush. The Chinese use a very simple bamboo brush for this purpose-which is stiff enough to detach food particles without scratching the surface. The wok must be thoroughly dried after washing to prevent rusting. The most efficient way of drying a wok is over high heat for half a minute. Expect your wok to blacken with use.
Woks come in different sizes. The most popular size is 12 to 14 inches in diameter. A round bottomed wok is best for use with a gas range. A ring stand must be used to keep the wok steady. Manufacturers' instructions on round bottomed woks suggest reversing the ring collar for use on electric burners, but a flat bottomed wok will make better contact with the heat coils. Large round domed covers are also available. The cover is used for steaming, or retaining the heat in the wok while continuing with the meal preparations. Make sure the cover has a knob large enough for you to comfortably life without burning your fingers.
There are several different brands of electric woks on the market and they are useful for entertaining. Cooking dishes at the table allows the host or hostess to remain with the guests.
Kitchen tools you already own can be used with a wok, or inexpensieve tools which are specially contoured to the rounded sides of a wok can be purchased. Since we're talking about a handful of inexpensive implements which do simplify wok cooking, they are worth buying. A ladle and spatula are particularly useful. The spatula is used for stir-frying and removing the food from the wok. The ladle has a gentler slope for scooping liquids or soups. A bamboo strainer has very little slope and is used for deep-frying. Another useful accessory is a steaming rack, made of metal or bamboo.
More time is spent in the preparation of ingredients for a Chinese meal than is spent on cooking. All the ingredients are cut to uniform size and shape for even cooking. The ingredients can be diced, shredded cubed, sliced or coarsely ground. If you are planning to prepare more than one dish, cut the ingredients for each platter differently.
Stir-fired dishes are cooked for very short periods of time. Short exposure to high heat produces brightly colored vegtables that are crisp and at their peak of taste. Meat and vegetables are usually cooked separately, requiring different cooking times, and combined in the end to blend with the flavorings. HOT AND SOUR SOUP (4 servings) 1/4 cup black fungus 1/2 cup golden needles 5 Chinese mushrooms 1/4 cup sherry 1 can (14 ounce) chicken broth 12 ounces water 1 bean curd cake (sliced or shredded) 3/4 cup shredded cooked pork or baby shrimp (or combination of both) 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar 1 tablespoons soy sauce 1/2 teaspoon hot pepper oil 1 teaspoon sugar 1/2 teaspoon honey 2 tablespoons cornstarch (stirred in 1/4 cup water) 1/4 cup slivered water chestnuts (optional)
Soak black fungus, golden needles and Chinese mushrooms in separate bowl of boiling water for 20 minutes. Rinse and shred black fungus. Snip off hardened ends of golden needles. Cut hardened center stem from mushrooms and slice each mushrooms into 3 or 4 sections. Add to chicken broth mixed with sherry and water. (You may also add liquid from the separately soaked Chinese mushrooms to the pot). Add pork or shrimp and cook for 5 minutes. Add all remaining ingredients except for the cornstarch and stir for 1 to 2 minutes. For a less spicy soup, use only 1/4 teaspoon hot pepper oil. Add cornstarch, stir till thickened. Serve hot. CRISPY GINGER CHICKEN (4 servings) 1/4 cup peanut oil 2 chicken breasts (cut into bitsize cubes) 1 egg white 1 tablespoon hoisin sauce 1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger 2 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch 1 tablespoon white wine 2 scallions (finely chopped),
Stir together, until well blended, egg white, hoisin sauce, ginger cornstarch and wine. Marinate chicken cubes in mixture for at least 1/2 hour. cStir fry in peanut oil over high heat until browned -- about 5 minutes. Drain chicken on paper towels. Sprinkle chopped scallions over chicken and serve with rice or noodles. HOT SWEET AND SOUR PORK (4 servings) 1 pound pork tenderloin or pork chops, cut into 1-inch cubes.
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil 2 tablespoons sherry 1/2 teaspoon salt 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon honey 1 teaspoon ground ginger 2 tablespoons cornstarch 1 egg white 1 small red pepper, cut into 1-inch cubes 1 small green pepper, cut into 1-inch cubes 2 tablespoons hoisin sauce 1/4 cup wine vinegar 1 teaspoon cornstarch mixed with 2 tablespoons water 1/4 cup peanut oil
For spicer version, add 10 drops of hot chili oil or 1 teaspoon hot pepper oil and 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper).
Parboil pork for 5 minutes. Marinate pork cubes in a mixture of sesame oil, sherry, salt, 1 tablespoon honey-ground ginger for 1 hour. Mix cornstarch to a paste with egg white and add to marinating mixture, mixing well, until all the pork cubes are covered with the lighter colored mixture. Have rest of ingredients prepared: a bowl with cubed peppers, and a bowl with honey and cornstarch mixture. Stir fry pork in hot peanut oil for about 5 minutes. Drain cubes on paper towels and drain oil out of wok. Add the bowl with hoisin sauce mixture to the hot wok, stirring till sauce begins to thicken. Add peppers and continue stirring until sauce is very thick. Add pork cubes for last moment of cooking, stirring well until meat is well coated and piping hot. Serve with rice or noodles. SPICY SESAME CHICKEN (4 servings) 2 chicken breasts (1 pound-cubed, boneless and skinless) 3 tablespoons sherry 1 tablespoon soy sauce 1 tablespoon cornstarch 1 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated ginger 2 tablespoons sesame seeds 3 small mushrooms, chopped 1 cup of snow peas 1 scallion, chopped 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper 2 tablespoon hoisin sauce 1/4 cup peanut oil
Marinate chicken cubes in a mixture of 2 tablespoons sherry, soy sauce, cornstarch, 1/4 teaspoon ginger and sesame seeds for an hour. Fry chicken in peanut oil for 2 minutes, drain chicken and remove oil from wok. Add hoisin sauce, remaining sherry, mushrooms, remaining ginger, red pepper and stir for 2 minutes, Add snow peas and scallion and stir for 1 minute before adding chicken. Stir till well coated with sauce and serve with noodles or rice.