The Wok - Take A Wok Through Stir Fry Land

Chinese New Year is a good time to celebrate the contributions of our brethren across the Pacific. The list is long: Just for starters, they gave us noodles, gunpowder, and stocked the local WalMart. And of course they brought the wok.

Resembling an overgrown, carbon-steel yarmulke, the wok is designed to cook vegetables, meat, and seafood in record time with minimal oil. How? The wok's shape insures that its belly comes very close to the fire, and its material - carbon steel - both distributes heat and helps keep food from sticking.

But woks aren't just for stir-frying - they can cook almost anything, any way you can think of. If you venture down to your city's China Town, you'll see chefs in the front windows of some of these restaurants who use essentially only one cooking vessel, and that's the wok. They fry in it, they boil in it, the even bake in it. The wok has to be the single most versatile cooking pot in the history of the world. With a few tips and a little practice, you'll earn your wokking papers.

Stir-Frying:

Get the wok very hot. Add the oil by pouring it around the rim so it coats the sides and collects in the bottom. Add your ingredients (which should be bite-size), and keep them moving - they don't call it stir-fry for nothing. Don't start cooking until you're ready to eat; vegetables and meat will cook in a couple of minutes.

Try flavoring your stir-fry with garlic, soy sauce, ginger, cilantro, red pepper, chili oil, hoisin sauce, tamari, or oyster sauce.

To turn a stir-fry into soup, add a few cups of chicken or beef broth once the ingredients are cooked, bring it to a boil, and pour over pre-cooked noodles.

Steaming:

For vegetables or dumplings, place bamboo steamers (you can stack several) right in the wok. If you're steaming something too big for a bamboo steamer - a whole fish, for example - use a wire rack.

Deep-Frying:

Heat 1 to 2 inches of oil in the wok. When the oil bubbles around an inserted chopstick, it's hot enough. The wok is a good deep-fryer because the sides keep splatters to a minimum.

A wok can also stew, braise, or poach - in short, just about anything a pot can do. You can even wok for breakfast; it's the best way to make a perfectly round fried egg.

Sizzling Wok Prawns

12 large prawns, peeled and deveined
2 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
1 Anaheim chile, seeded and sliced
1/2 jalapeno, seeded and finely diced
1/2 cup onion, sliced thin
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 tsp cumin
salt and pepper

1. Heat the vegetable oil in a wok over high heat.

2. Add the onion, bell pepper, Anaheim chile, and jalapeno, and cook for 2-3 minutes while stirring.

3. Add the shrimp and cook for another 2-3 minutes, stirring constantly.

4. Add the garlic, cumin, salt and pepper, toss to combine and serve over hot rice.

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