Why Stir-Fry?

by Anne Bennett on May 24, 2010

When you think about it, stir-frying is almost exactly like the Western method of sautéing or pan-frying, the main difference being the size and shape of the pan. Asian cooks use a carbon-steel wok, which must be seasoned and maintained in order to keep it from rusting. Once seasoned, however, it provides a nearly nonstick surface. For this reason, Asian cooks highly value their woks and treat them with respect.

61clvcxvgzl_sl500_aa300_Grace Young, award-winning cookbook author, has recently published a new cookbook, “Stir-Frying To the Sky’s Edge”. In it she gives details on how to choose and season a carbon steel wok. I emailed Grace and asked her to provide some comments that I could use here, and she graciously (must be how she got her name) sent the following:

“I really believe there’s much wisdom to learn from the old culinary traditions. A well-seasoned wok is what I call an ancient nonstick pan. I love it because it has a natural nonstick surface instead of one made from chemicals. Stir-frying is such a healthy way of cooking requiring very little cooking fat, emphasizing vegetables, and reducing the amount of meat in the diet. And because the pan is made of iron it imparts natural dietary iron into the foods that are cooked in it. But of course the best thing is that the technique brings out the natural flavor and character of ingredients—flavors are intensified and imbued with a special smokey aroma. It’s fast, easy, and the best thing is it carries on a rich culinary tradition. Let the stir-frying begin!”

My new flat-bottomed wok, which I bought from the Wok Shop in San Francisco, is now seasoned, and it’s a delight to cook with. I can cook over high heat, which Grace recommends but which is definitely not a good idea if you’re going to be cooking with a nonstick skillet. (Nonstick skillets should be used with medium heat only, as their cooking surface can be damaged at high heats.)

41gtawmem1l_sl500_aa300_Grace gives a list of essential ingredients with which you can build your own Asian pantry. One sauce she recommends is Hoisin Sauce; her favorite brand is Koon Chun. I got it at a large Asian supermarket in suburban Overland Park, Kansas (so it must be easy to get anywhere on the globe). Aside from its stir-fry uses, when combined with soy sauce, garlic and ginger, it’s also great as a marinade for grilled pork tenderloin.

Your first step: find a good Asian market. I’ll give more tips for stir-fry products as I use them in recipes.

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Bruno December 25, 2015 at 2:49 pm

Looking forward to trniyg the sauce recipe! Thanks.For your readers who’ve never done stir-fry before: it’s important to cook the meat thoroughly in a separate batch all by itself to avoid getting raw meat on veggies. I usually cook the meat first, then remove it to a plate, then do all the veggies as you say, returning meat to the wok when veggies are cooked and ready to add sauce.

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