Now that the holidays are behind us, the big sci-fi convention is over, and the dishes I'd planned are all cooked and consumed, I finally have time to resume my quest for wok hei! I may not be climbing to Tibetan monasteries atop dangerous Himalayan mountain peaks, but I am still determined to create the ancient and legendary stir-fry taste in my own kitchen. I am also learning that a properly made Oriental-style stir fry is a delicacy to be enjoyed. Unlike the dose of MSG and grease you get when you order Chinese take-out fast food, this stir fry is healthy, tasty, and very filling. An hour from now I most certainly will not be hungry again. So, even if I never achieve wok hei, I am gaining practice at creating a superior stir fry – a skill that will prove useful the next time my friends come to visit.
In this stage of my quest, I'd put together a Web page describing the preparations and stages in preparing a wok hei stir fry. Including 45 minutes to heat the cast iron wok to 500 degrees, the preparation time came to about 45 minutes…I had everything prepared, and the oven beeped 500 degrees just a few seconds before the rice finished cooking. The actual frying took only 1/3 as much time – 15 minutes – and any experienced stir fry chef would still consider this to be far too long. That simply means I'll have to continue practicing, so that I eventually reach the point where I can toss my meat (make all the crude jokes you want about that!) with the best of them.
As the stir fry was still smoking hot in the wooden bowl, I started eating it. The broccoli was still bright green and crisp, yet unquestionably cooked through; and this time, there was only a bit of a hint that any part of it had burned in the wok. Furthermore, I tasted the ginger in the broccoli, giving it an interesting taste and aftertaste. The beef was chewy but not overly tough. The rice was brown throughout, thanks to the soy and hoisin. Best of all, the dish was fresh and it lacked the greasy, oily residue you get when you order beef-and-broccoli at any Chinese food takeout joint. Even more, the entire dish was piping hot – hot as in temperature, not as in spicy. I've never been a fan of drowning my food in hot, hot spices, as I like the taste of broccoli, beef, and rice. Best of all, there was indeed a smoky flavor to the entire dish – a taste that suggests it had seared but not burned!
Was this wok hei? I still didn't know…largely because I have yet to taste "true" wok hei cooking. In fact, until this evening I had been planning on going into Boston Chinatown this coming Saturday and trying a restaurant that supposedly uses wok hei in its cooking (the Hong Kong Eatery). However, they are now talking about snow arriving this Saturday, which means it would be better to wait a little longer before I discover what wok hei is like – and to compare it to my own cooking, and see if this beginning cook with an electric stove…and a heavyweight cast iron wok…succeeded in joining the ranks of the ancient Cantonese stir fry masters with my very own wok hei.
(I like the way the camera caught the billowing smoke in this photo!)