For Better Living

Taking on some Chinese wok cooking

Sandra R. Can - Extension agent

Certainly the most popular of all Oriental cooking methods is stir-frying. The Chinese word chow literally means toss-cooking.

Stir-frying is the quick cooking of small pieces of food in a large pan over high heat while constantly and briskly stirring the food. The key is to keep the food moving constantly, so all parts of the food come in contact with the hottest part of the pan, cooking quickly and evenly.

This method of cooking requires a minimum amount of oil and results in food that is crisply tender. Stir-frying refers to the action, not to the amount of oil. Many recipes call for sesame or peanut oil, but I use a less saturated oil, such as canola or corn oil. Olive oil, butter, and margarine are not suitable for stir-fry cookery because of their low smoke point. The smoke point of an oil is the temperature when a fat breaks down, giving off smoke and producing a greasy taste and aroma.

It is important to heat the oil to a high temperature before adding the food ingredients, but the oil should not be smoking. The high heat allows the vegetables to remain tender and crisp and retain their color. Ingredients should also be stir-fried in the appropriate order.

Vegetables that take a while to cook, such as carrots or celery should be added before quick cooking vegetables, such as bean sprouts or tomatoes. In this manner all vegetables will be done at the same time.

Have all ingredients ready to cook before you heat the oil as you will not have time to cut and chop after you begin stir-frying.

Vegetables and other ingredients should be as uniform as possible in shape and size for even cooking. A cornstarch paste should be made with cold ingredients. When the paste is added to a hot mixture, it will thicken almost immediately. After one to two minutes of stirring over heat, do not expect the mixture to thicken further.

The wok is the traditional utensil for stir-frying. The most efficient wok is made of steel. It is about 14 inches in diameter and has a slightly flat bottom so it can be used on either an electric or gas stove. Electric woks are available with temperature controls that fit into a moveable base.

A new wok must be seasoned before use. Fill the wok two-thirds full of water and bring the water to a boil. Boil for 7 to 8 minutes. Let the wok cool. Remove the water and wash thoroughly with hot water and a mild detergent. Rinse and dry. Rub the inside of the wok with 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil. Place on high heat and tilt the wok from side to side to distribute the oil all over the pan. After 5 to 6 minutes, turn off the heat and allow the wok to cool. Wipe the excess oil from the cooled wok with a paper towel. Your wok is now seasoned and ready for use.

Even if you don’t have a wok, you can prepare Oriental foods. Any recipe that can be cooked in a wok can also be prepared in a large heavy skillet with deep sides or in an electric skillet. Simply make sure to keep the food moving constantly so all ingredients are cooked quickly and evenly. A wok spatula which has a long handle comes in handy for tossing, mixing and stirring food in a wok. It is shaped to scoop and lift food from the sides and bottom of the wok.

There are several advantages to stir-fry cooking:

— When small amounts of oil are used to stir-fry, less fat and fewer calories are added than when deep-fat frying.

— Canned low sodium chicken broth can be used as the basis for the stir-fry sauce offering more calorie and sodium savings.

— Vegetables retain more vitamins and minerals during stir-frying than during boiling, where water-soluble vitamins can be lost.

— Reduce waste by using small amounts of fresh vegetables from the refrigerator.

— Because stir-frying is a quick method, it can save time.

— Clean-up time is shortened since the entire meal is prepared in one pan.

— The use of a wide variety of vegetables allows for smaller amounts of meat, poultry or seafood, offering grocery savings.

— Calories and fat can be reduced by using a nonstick vegetable spray; fiber can be increased by utilizing brown rice instead of white rice; and sodium can be reduced by using low-sodium soy sauce.

Many supermarkets carry fresh Chinese ingredients, such as Chinese cabbage, ginger root, bean sprouts and cilantro; canned ingredients such as water chestnuts and sliced bamboo; and in the gourmet section you may discover soy sauce, noodles, rice wine or rice wine vinegar and various spices and flavorings.

Soy sauce is a common seasoning in many stir-fry recipes. Soy sauce is a combination of soybeans, flour, salt and water. Because of its saltiness you do not have to add extra salt to the recipe. Low sodium soy sauce is available. Keep opened bottles of soy sauce tightly closed and refrigerated to help retain flavor.

Ginger root is a gnarled root which adds a distinctive spicy flavor to many Chinese dishes. It can be purchased fresh in the produce section. If you prefer, powdered ginger, though not as flavorful, can be substituted: ½ teaspoon powdered for 1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger or for 2 slices fresh ginger.

Tofu or bean curd is another popular Chinese staple. Tofu is a high-protein, low-calorie food made from pureed soybean milk. It has a smooth texture and bland flavor so it combines well with other foods.

So gather your food ingredients and cooking equipment and try your hand at stir frying. With a little practice, all the advantages of stir-fry cookery can be yours.

Source: Kentucky Cooperative Extension


Fried Rice

1 teaspoon oil

1 egg, beaten

½ cup green peas

¼ cup diced green onion

4 cups cooked white rice

2 tablespoons soy sauce

Heat oil. Add egg; scramble loosely. Add remaining ingredients and stir-fry until all ingredients are heated. Makes 6 servings. Per Serving: 211 Calories; 2 g Fat; 35 mg Cholesterol; 2 g Fiber; 369 mg Sodium

Sesame Broccoli Stir-Fry

Vegetable cooking spray

2 teaspoons vegetable oil

8 cups chopped fresh broccoli

1 large sweet pepper, seeded and cut into thin strips

1 medium onion, cut into wedges

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 tablespoon brown sugar

3 tablespoons soy sauce

3 tablespoons beef broth

1½ tablespoons red wine vinegar

1½ teaspoons cornstarch

1 teaspoon peeled, minced ginger root

4 drops hot sauce

¼ cup sliced water chestnuts

1 tablespoon sesame seeds, toasted

Coat a wok or large nonstick skillet with cooking spray; add oil. Place over medium-high heat (375°F) until hot. Add broccoli, sweet red pepper, onion and garlic; stir-fry 4 to 5 minutes or until vegetables are crisp-tender. Combine brown sugar and next 6 ingredients in a small bowl, stirring well; add to vegetable mixture. Cook, stirring constantly, until mixture is thickened. Add water chestnuts and sesame seeds. Cook, stirring constantly, until thoroughly heated. Serve immediately. Makes 12 servings. Per Serving: 45 Calories; 2 g Fat; 2 g Fiber; 296 mg Sodium

Quick Chicken Stir-Fry

a cup cold water

3 tablespoons soy sauce

2 tablespoons dry sherry

2 teaspoons cornstarch

¼ teaspoon ground ginger

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

3 cups loose pack frozen mixed oriental vegetables, thawed

2 cups cooked chicken, cut in bite-size pieces

For sauce, stir together water, soy sauce, sherry, cornstarch and ginger. Set aside. Preheat oil in a wok or large skillet. Stir-fry vegetables in hot oil about 3 minutes or until crisp-tender. Push from center of wok. Stir sauce; add to center of wok. Cook and stir until thickened and bubbly. Add cooked chicken. Stir all ingredients together. Cook 2 to 3 minutes, or until heated through. Serve immediately. Makes 4 servings. Per Serving: 249 Calories; 7 g Fat; 60 mg Cholesterol; 8 g Fiber; 874 mg Sodium

Sandra R. Cain is the extension agent for Family and Consumer Sciences in Bladen County.
Taking on some Chinese wok cooking

Sandra R. Can

Extension agent

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