You can do just about anything in a wok – deep-frying, searing, shallow-frying, boiling, blanching, steaming and of course, stir-frying. Its most important feature, however, is mostly overlooked, and that’s how easy it is to clean. The process for cleaning a wok is simple: give it a sweep out with a naturalfibre brush under running water while the wok is still hot. No scrubbing, no soaking, no soap – when done right, cleaning your wok takes only a matter of a few seconds.
This is how entire Chinese restaurants can be run off the back of just one burner, one wok and one whip-fast chef churning out dish after dish in minutes. When you can clean your wok that quickly, an entire meal of five different courses can be considered a “one-pot” dinner. Next time you take your wok out for a spin, don’t just make one stir-fry – make three or four different dishes for a fast, authentic Asian meal. It’ll stop you overcrowding your wok and give you better results and more variety. Here are a couple of simple recipes to get you started.
CHICKEN WITH CASHEW NUTS
This has to be one of my favourite wok dishes. Don’t be tempted to add too many vegetables to it. The contrast between the capsicum, nuts and chicken is all-important. If you want different vegetables, just make another stir-fry!
• 400g chicken breast fillet, cut into 3cm cubes
• 1 tbsp soy sauce
• 2 tsp cornflour
• 3 tbsp vegetable oil
• 1 small brown onion, peeled and cut into 3cm chunks
• 3 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
• ½ red capsicum, cut into 3cm squares
• ½ yellow capsicum, cut into 3cm squares
• ½ green capsicum, cut into 3cm squares
• ½ cup unsalted roasted cashew nuts Sauce
• 2 tbsp oyster sauce
• 1 tbsp soy sauce
• 1 tbsp Shaoxing wine
• 1 tsp white vinegar
• 1 tsp sugar
• ¼ cup chicken stock (or water)
Combine the sauce ingredients and set aside. Combine the chicken with soy sauce and 1 tsp of the cornflour. Heat the wok over high heat and add 2 tbsp of the oil around its edge, letting it run down into the centre of the wok. Add chicken and cook, tossing the wok occasionally until the chicken is browned and just cooked through, about 3 minutes. Remove the chicken from the wok and set aside.
Return the wok to a high heat and add the remaining 1 tbsp of oil. Add the onion and garlic, tossing until the garlic starts to brown. Add the capsicum and continue to toss in the wok until the pieces begin to soften. Add the sauce ingredients and bring to a simmer. Add the chicken and cashews and toss.
Combine the remaining 1 tsp cornflour with 2 tbsp of cold water and drizzle mixture into the wok slowly , shaking or stirring the wok until the contents thicken to a silky consistency. Remove from the wok and serve.
BOK CHOY WITH GARLIC SAUCE
Serves 4 as a side dish
Bok choy with garlic sauce. Photo: William Meppem
Blanching Asian greens in salted, oiled water is a much better way of cooking them than stir-frying. Try them with this easy garlic sauce for a restaurant-quality result at a fraction of the price.
• 1 bunch bok choy
• 1 tbsp salt
• 2 tbsp vegetable oil
• 6 cloves garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
• 1 tbsp Shaoxing wine
• 1 tsp soy sauce
• ½ cup chicken stock
• pinch of sugar
• 1 tsp cornflour
Wash the bok choy well and cut lengthways into quarters.
Bring about two litres of water to the boil in the wok and add the salt and oil. Add the bok choy and cook for about 2 minutes until tender. Remove with tongs, drain well and place on a warm plate. Discard the water and return the wok to the heat. Add the remaining oil and fry garlic until lightly browned.
Add the Shaoxing wine, soy sauce, stock and sugar and bring to a simmer. Taste and adjust seasoning. Combine cornflour with 2 tbsp of cold water and drizzle enough of the mixture into the wok while stirring to thicken the sauce to a silky consistency. Remove from the wok and serve.
Adam’s tip While large woks in restaurant kitchens are cleaned with stiff brushes made from bamboo, for home use all you need is an ordinary firm-bristled, natural-fibre dish-washing brush. Just make sure it’s heat-resistant – you don’t want to melt a plastic brush on the hot metal!