We caught up with wok-queen Ching-He Huang to discover her secrets to a mean stir-fry
Soggy veg, overcooked prawns, soy overload? Stir-fry dishes can be a minefield of all levels of wrong. But not any more.
We've got the lowdown from top Chinese cook, Ken Hom's protegee and TV presenter, Ching-He Huang. Follow her steps to wok glory below...
Ching-He's wok rules
1. Real wokking calls for a carbon steel wok because they’re quick to come to temperature and retain heat for ages. You can pick one up from a Chinese supermarket for about £15.
2. Use only peanut, rapeseed or coconut oil. These oils have a high smoke point, which means you can get them really hot before they burn – exactly what you need for wokking.
3. Prep everything first. Cut everything into similar size pieces and organise your ingredients in the order you're going to cook them. Basically it goes: oil (nice and hot), aromatics (garlic, ginger, chilli, spring onions, spices), meat or fish (if using), crunchy veg, soft veg and finally pre-cooked noodles and sauce.
4. Heat your oil until it’s just starting to smoke around the edge of the surface, then swirl around the wok – carefully though!
5. Wokking is all about timing and the eye so you must concentrate. Try to catch things when they’re ready, especially delicate vegetables.
Ching-He's wok dos/ wok don'ts
- Do drain your veg well – you're much more likely to get a good, crisp stir-fry, instead of it all going soggy.
- Don't cook with toasted sesame oil – it burns quickly and turns bitter. Use it to season your dish at the end.
- Do use your wok for other things – I deep fry, shallow fry, braise, steam, smoke and make soups in mine.
- Don't wash you wok – season it instead and your stir-fries will have so much more flavour.
- Do store your woks with a layer of greaseproof paper between them (if you're luckly enough to own more than one, that is). This ensures they don't contaminate each other with rust.
5 easy steps to season a wok
1. First give it a good scrub with a metal scouring pad in hot soapy water. This removes the industrial oil that manufactures put on to protect carbon steel woks from rusting.
2. Now you've got a clean metal base, you need to seal the pores (carbon steel is porous). Apply a clean layer of oil and and heat on the hob. Use cider vinegar if your wok is made from stainless steel.
3. To clean your wok after cooking, add water to it and heat on the hob. Gently scrub off any ingredients that have caught with a bamboo brush – don't use a metal scouring brush.
4. Once clean, throw away the water and leave your wok on a medium-hot hob to dry really well – this stops rust from forming.
5. Rub your wok with peanut oil to protect it and put it away, ready for next time.
Every time you season your wok, the layer of oil gets thicker and thicker until a pattina starts to develop. It's really beautiful when you see a wok that's been used for 20 years!
Phew! After all that, here's Ching-He doing what she does best...
Ching-He's top wok secrets
1. Stir-fries made in a professional kitchen have a wonderful smoky flavour because they're cooked over a fierce flame. Cheat it by adding a little (finely diced) smoky bacon to the oil at the beginning of a dish.
2. Other secret ingredients you can use to boost the flavour are five spice-infused soy sauce and chilli or Szechuan pepper-infused oils (these give citrus flavour and heat). Infuse your own oils by leaving chillies or whole spices in rapeseed or peanut oil and experiment with different types.
3. Did you know that you can colour your noodles? Sprinkle pre-soaked vermicelli with Chinese five spice before adding to the wok. The heat will subtly sear the colour of the spice on to the noodles.
Ching-He's Eat Clean: Wok Yourself To Health is available now.