Classic Dry-Fried Pepper and Salt Shrimp

I love shrimp. Truly one of my favorite things to eat. I can easily eat a whole pound of shrimp with just cocktail sauce. You won’t find me more than 5 feet away from the shrimp tray at any party.

So I get pretty excited when I see a shrimp recipe coming up. The Dry-Fried Pepper and Salt Shrimp (p. 166), was no different. And I had every right to be excited. It was delicious.

It was also super simple to make. Stir-fry minced ginger, garlic, and jalapeño for about 10 seconds. Add shrimp to sear. Finish stir-frying with a little added oil and a mixture of salt and fresh ground sichuan peppercorn. Voilà!

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I put in a little more jalapeño than was called for, but it still turned out fairly mild. It was, however, packed with loads of flavor from the garlic and ginger.

My apologies for not having an in-progress photo. I simply forgot. Just imagine shrimp cooking in a wok.

I made this with some brown rice. Although the shrimp turned out great, there was little in the way of sauce because it is a dry fry. I had to bolster the rice with a bit of soy sauce. Still, I was very pleased with how this turned out. I’ll likely make it again.

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What I Would Do Differently

  • If serving with rice, I’d recommend trying to inject some flavor into the rice itself. Maybe use chicken stock instead of water along with some salt. Or add some spices to the water before cooking.
  • I think this recipe is perfectly fine, but if I were in the mood for more of a spicy kick I might incorporate some red pepper flakes.
  • Maybe a touch less salt. Perhaps the salt baths at the beginning were enough.

Next on the Menu: Stir-Fried Eggs with Tomatoes

Stir-Fried Ginger Beef

The first beef dish. Finally. I’ve been waiting for this.

The preparation for Stir-Fried Ginger Beef (p. 71)  was really very simple, as you can probably see from the picture below. It mainly consisted of marinating the meat in a mixture of corn starch, rice wine, soy sauce and ginger. Then some scallions chopped into 2″ lengths along with chopped pickled ginger and an oyster sauce mixture.

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The smell of the searing meat was awesome. The ginger really fills the air. I’ve been growing partial to these recipes that have a heavy dose of ginger in them.

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Once the meat is seared, it’s in with the oyster sauce, followed by the scallions and pickled ginger. Stir-fry until the meat is done.

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I thought this recipe was good, but it wasn’t my favorite. I think the oyster sauce slightly overtook the ginger leaving the dish slightly one-noted. Still, the sear on the meat was good, texture was good, and the overall flavor was good. It just wasn’t jump-out-of-your-chair-and-punch-a-nun good.

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What I Would Do Differently

  • Perhaps stir-fry an additional tablespoon of fresh ginger before adding the beef. This might help the flavor compete better with the oyster sauce.
  • On the same note, perhaps more pickled ginger. Although, I probably wouldn’t try adding more of both.
  • I’d cook the scallions a bit less so they maintained their texture a bit more.

Next on the Menu: Classic Dry-Fried Pepper and Salt Shrimp

Stir-Fried Garlic Spinach

This is an extremely simple recipe . Probably the easiest in the book from what I’ve read so far. It is also very tasty. You’ll find it on page 202.

As the first dish that I made in my wok, it was still a little bit hectic with getting all the spinach in before the garlic burned. I initially thought that I did just that, but most of the garlic survived and imparted a nice flavor to the spinach.

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This would be perfect as a side to any of the other recipes in this book or otherwise. I served mine with some forbidden rice and sautéed salmon. It was delicious. Unfortunately, I don’t have a picture of this.

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Definitely one of my favorites so far. I can see myself making this as an easy side in the future.

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What I Would Do Differently

  • The second time around, I added a bit more salt than I should have. I recommend sticking strictly to the recipe here so you don’t accidentally mess it up.

Next on the Menu: Stir-Fried Ginger Beef

Yin Yang Beans

I’ve been trying to get around to this one for over a week. The wait was worth it. This is a simple recipe with few ingredients that just compliment each other wonderfully.

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There are a few places I deviated from the recipe (p. 206), but I don’t feel they really took anything away from the result. In some regards they added to it. The dish was full of taste and texture from start to finish.

The first deviation was a total lack of scallions. I simply forgot to get them. The second deviation is that I decided to make this as a main dish, so I used 4 oz of ground pork rather than the 1 oz  that the recipe calls for. The third is that I tripled (at least) the dried chili flakes that the recipe calls for. You know that I like things spicy by now.

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This turned out extremely well. I really loved it. Almost on the level of the Stir-Fried Sugar Snap Peas with Shiitake Mushrooms that I previously made. Intense flavor. Great heat. Just delicious.

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What I Would Do Differently

  • Next time I make this I’ll be sure to include the scallions. I think they would provide some flavor and texture that this may have lacked with just the pork.
  • Although I was very happy with the pork level I chose for a main, if I were to make this as a side dish I’d definitely cut down on it. Most would probably be happy with the 1 oz the recipe calls for. I’d probably do 2 oz for a side.

The Wok

I’ve decided that it would be kind of cool to document the changes in my wok. I wish I had done this at the start, but I think we’re early along in the process for there to be noticeable changes.  A wok is supposed to be treated like a cast iron skillet. Over time, it develops a patina — a sort of blackened, non-stick coating. This imparts a lot of the flavor that Grace Young describes as wok hay (“the breath of the wok”) in her cookbooks.

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I was a little concerned with my wok’s advancement up until this point, but after cooking today’s recipe I noticed a difference. The silver scratch marks at the bottom of the wok had started to diminish and were beginning to darken. Maybe this is the first stage in the development of the sought-after patina that Grace describes. Here’s to hoping.

Next on the Menu: Stir-Fried Garlic Spinach

Chinese Trinidadian Stir-Fried Shrimp with Rum

So, this is the second time that I’ve made this dish (which you can find on page 180 of Grace Young’s awesome Stir-Frying to the Sky’s Edge). The first try went well enough, but I had a few drinks beforehand and simply forgot to take pictures of it. This is a shame, because I didn’t really care much for this recipe the first time around. I felt that it lacked flavor and personality. Also, I generally don’t feel that ketchup should be used for anything outside of hot dogs and BBQ sauce.

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When I first made this dish, I figured the lack of flavor was probably due to not using enough salt. I doubled the salt the recipe calls for on this go around. The other thing I have to confess is that I used shrimp that were pealed and de-veined rather than having the shell on. It’s just what my local store had and it was convenient. You could argue that having the shell on would impart more flavor, but I doubt it would make much of a difference. The shrimp flavor came out fine in both attempts. It was other balancing flavors that were lacking.

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So, there it is. I doubt I will be making this dish again. But if I did…

What I Would Do Differently

  • Even more salt. The recipe calls for 1/2 teaspoon after you cook the shrimp for 30 secs to a minute. I doubled that when I made it the second time. Maybe adding more salt when you add the vegetables would improve things. For what it’s worth, I doubt it.
  • I’m unfamiliar with Trinidadian food, so I don’t really know whether they like their stuff spicy or mild. I would like more spice in this. As such, I would put a bit of my own twist on it with something totally uncalled for. That’s just how I do.

Next on the Menu: Yin Yang Beans

Kung Pao Chicken

I made this dish for the inaugural evening of what I hope will become a monthly or bimonthly game night. Tonight’s menu: Carcassonne.

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And also Kung Pao Chicken (p. 113)! The evening started off with the intention of a quick stir-fry dinner so we could get to the gaming as soon as possible. Given the common wisdom about good intentions, you’ve probably guessed that the cooking didn’t go 100% according to plan.

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Subtle foreshadowing…

First was the rice. I brought a new bag of white rice that nobody was familiar with. The idea was to get the rice cooked first and then proceed with the stir-fry. My hosts were also planning to prepare sauteed chard from their garden to go along with it. Needless to say, the new rice provided a sticking point. Wrong rice-to-water ratios and a failure to wash the rice ahead of time resulted in a botched first go. Wet and gummy. No bueno.

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The ingredients.

This wasn’t the only do-over of the evening. Cooking in an unfamiliar kitchen can sometimes be an adventure. Sometimes that adventure involves pepper-spraying your hosts. With the best of intentions, of course.

This particular recipe calls for dried red peppers and crushed szechuan peppercorns. When it came time to begin the stir-fry, I heated the wok on the burner as per usual. Upon adding the peanut oil there was a great deal of smoke. I moved forward anyway, adding the pepper and szechuan peppercorn to the smoking oil. This created a great plume of peppery smoke within the kitchen, choking all those within, including myself. It was basically pepper spray.

I immediately removed this from the burner and into the sink. The peppers were charred black after just 5+ seconds in the wok. The heat potential of this stove was clearly far greater than what I had gotten used to at home.

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When a problem comes along, you must wok it.

The lesson here: If your oil smokes, your wok is too hot. Apparently this is possible.

And so, with irritated eyes and heavy hearts, we began again. This time with much better results.

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Before the chiles in too long, you must wok it.

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Now wok it.

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Into shape.

I’ve never been a huge fan of Kung Pao Chicken. I think it’s the peanuts. And also that I’ve only ever had it from heavily Americanized Chinese take-out restaurants. This recipe was different. The peanuts seemed much more subtle, adding just a bit of texture without overpowering everything. The flavor balance of the dish itself was great. We all really enjoyed it. And the chard was an excellent side. I’d go into more detail on that, but I drank too much wine and frankly forget what they did. I think some garlic was involved.

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Shape it up. Get straight.

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Go forward. Move ahead.

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Now do a taste test. It’s not too late.

I will absolutely be trying this again. This recipe has won me over to Kung Pao Chicken… as long as I’m the one making it.

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To wok it. Wok it good!

What I Would Do Differently

  • Try not to burn the hell out of everything.
  • More spice. I couldn’t make it to the asian market, so I substituted chile de arbol for the dried peppers. Most of the chiles sold in market here are of the Southwest or Mexican varieties. I’m not sure these carried the same amount of spicy kick. Next time I make this I’ll be sure to get the real deal so I can achieve the level of heat I crave. Or just double down on the recommended dosage.

Next on the Menu: Chinese Trinidadian Stir-Fried Shrimp with Rum

Stir-Fried Sugar Snap Peas with Shiitake Mushrooms

Holy balls! There’s really not much more to say. This was definitely the easiest dish I’ve made from the book and it was delicious!

Since this is a small vegetable dish, it’s really best utilized as a side. In that spirit, I paired it up with a nice big fillet of salmon. I scored the salmon on the skin side before pan-searing it flesh side down on medium-high heat for about 3-4 minutes. Flip and cook the skin-side for about a minute. Then place into a pre-heated 350° oven for about 4 minutes.

While the salmon is in the oven, it’s time to make the Stir-Fried Sugar Snap Peas with Shiitake Mushrooms (p. 209). Omitted from the title is a generous portion of minced ginger which plays a big role in this dish. First step is introducing the ginger to the hot oil until it becomes aromatic (roughly 10-15 seconds). Then in with the mushrooms until the oil is soaked up, adding a mixture of soy sauce, chicken broth and rice wine. Cover and simmer until most of the liquid is cooked off.

I didn’t have the wok cover that you normally see, so I made due with a generic pan cover that I had handy (upper right of the picture below). This lid sat very low into the wok. It worked fine for this dish, but for recipes that have a larger volume of food I am going to have to invest in a proper wok lid.

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I want you to have some sort of an understanding of how damned good this dish was. I am a big meat eater. I have protein with just about every meal. I rarely go bananas for vegetable dishes. That said, this dish was awesome! I’m a fan of mushrooms, generally, and this recipe really brought them to bear in a huge way. The shiitakes soaked up all that saucy goodness and still retained their firmness. Each bite of mushroom was a tiny explosion of flavor. And the snap peas were perfection. Bright green with a beautiful crispness to balance the mushroom. And the ginger! Man, did the ginger ever play a part. It perfectly straddled the fence between subtle and profound.

I will be making this in the future. A lot. It’s fast, easy, and delicious. What’s not to love?

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What I Would Do Differently

Nothing. Do yourself a favor. Eat this.

Next on the Menu: Kung Pao Chicken

Chinese Jamaican Jerk Chicken Fried Rice

This was a bit of a departure from the Wok Wednesdays schedule. I had some leftover rice from the previous recipe and decided to try my hand at making fried rice. I love me some fried rice, so I chose the first recipe off the schedule that fit the bill: Chinese Jamaican Jerk Chicken Fried Rice (p. 262).

So what to say about this dish? The first bit consisted of marinating a couple whole chicken legs in a jerk rub and resting them in the fridge for a couple hours. I let mine go overnight because I’m hardcore. The chicken is then roasted and removed from the bone. Pan drippings are reserved for the stir-fry which is a common indicator of a great recipe.

Onion and carrots are briefly stir-fried before adding the rice. A soy sauce mixture is added along with scallions, pan drippings, and the chicken (cut into bite-size pieces). That is it.

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I made a couple deviations from the recipe in the book. First, I forgot to get carrots and had to omit them. Sad face. The other is that during the initial stir-frying of the rice, I felt the soy mixture wasn’t coating the rice the way I thought it should, so I added more soy to the wok.

Overall, I thought this turned out very well. A super simple dish, although with a bit of prep ahead of time, and very quick to make. The chicken leg could easily be substituted for a multitude of leftover meats and this would still be a great go-to dish for a lazy dinner.

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What I Would Do Differently

Apparently, I don’t learn my lessons the first time around. I once again deviated from the plan and I wonder what the results would be if I hadn’t. Although the dish was good, it could have been better.

  • Carrots! These would have added some much needed color and texture to the fried rice. Not to be omitted.
  • The extra soy sauce. I think that ultimately, with a bit of patience, the rice and soy would have come together on it’s own. Next time I’m sticking to the script.
  • Try removing the skin from the legs before marinating. It could allow the jerk marinade to better incorporate into the meat, imparting more flavor. Save the skin and still roast it along with the meat so that pan drippings aren’t affected.

All in all, a successful first endeavor into fried rice in my new wok. Not perfect, but still quite good.

Next on the Menu: Stir-Fried Sugar Snap Peas and Shiitake Mushrooms

Chinese Burmese Chili Chicken

I have a confession to make. Before posting the Prologue, I had already made five of the recipes from Stir-Frying to the Sky’s Edge. Unfortunately and mostly due to absent-mindedness, I didn’t take pictures of a couple of them. I will be repeating those recipes at a later date and will post a full write-up here.

If you are referencing the Wok Wednesdays recipe schedule, you’ll find that I’ll be a little out of sync with it until such time as I remake those missed recipes, but for the most part you can use that as an indication of what to expect in coming weeks. But for now, on to the show.

Chinese Burmese Chili Chicken (p. 140) is the second recipe that I made with this new toy of mine. Of course, before endeavoring on this project, I had to stock up:

The arsenal

The arsenal.

Tools in hand, it was time to dive into what was my first stir-fry to incorporate meat. Given my initial experience with the wok (coming in a later post), I took care to ensure every ingredient was at the ready and steeled myself for the whirlwind of wok cooking.

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Although it looks pretty good there, I made a few tactical errors in this dish. First was not reading the recipe thoroughly enough. The chicken is to be marinated briefly in cornstarch, oil, salt and pepper. I mistakenly omitted the salt and pepper and instead put it into the dry spice bowl with the paprika and cumin. In addition, I put the chili powder into this bowl as well, when in fact you are supposed to add it at the end of the dish.

Second, I think I used too much oil at the start before putting in the onions. I chalk this up to inexperience and the fact that I was pouring from a full bottle of peanut oil rather than from a dispenser which would have provided more control. This caused the onions to not caramelize as much as I’d like and also they would not stay up on the side of the pan when making room for the chicken. I think this also contributed to a dish that was more wet during cooking than the recipe seems to indicate. So when it came time to put in the cornstarch/water mixture for thickening, it took a lot longer for the liquids to cook off.

As a result, the vegetables weren’t as crisp as they could have been. However, the overall flavor was very nice with a mild touch of heat and made a satisfying meal served over rice.

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What I Would Do Differently

Well, besides putting the right spices in the right places at the right times according to the actual recipe (c’mon, man!), there are a few things I’d change.

  • Add more heat. It simply wasn’t spicy enough. I’d introduce more chili powder, cayenne, or even some red pepper flake. I like it spicy.
  • Use a bit more salt than the recipe calls for. Although, this could just be a byproduct of not putting it on the chicken at the start. The extra liquid could have been a factor as well.
  • Take it easy on the oil! Although heat of the stove’s range could have been a factor, I feel the stir-fry definitely had too much liquid introduced that kept it from being all it could be.

In the event that I try this recipe again, I’ll be sure to incorporate my changes and write an addendum to this post describing the results.

Next on the Menu: Chinese Jamaican Jerk Chicken Fried Rice

Prologue

The whole premise of this blog started shortly after I got a bug up my ass to buy a wok and learn how to cook with it. The wok is a kitchen tool that has simply eluded me during my various forays into cooking over the years. It is an intimidating instrument to the uninitiated. There’s the intense heat. The rapidity of the cooking. The precise timing. Not to mention the mystique of an ancient culture which seems to be looking over your shoulder.

So, having mastered (ha!) all the other tools in my kitchen, I decided it was time to learn something new. As I did some research online, I discovered The Wok Shop in San Francisco’s famous Chinatown and, through their website, the Wok Wednesdays cooking group. This group’s goal is to cook their way through Grace Young’s Stir-Frying to the Sky’s Edge, an award-winning book containing recipes, instruction, and snippets on the history of stir-fry.

The idea inspired me to do the same, but rather than doing a recipe every other week, I will be making an average of two recipes per week. The ultimate goal being to cook through the book within the year. I’ll be following the recipe schedule that Wok Wednesdays has been using until such time as I catch them. Then I’m on my own.

Now, with wok in hand and a copy of Grace Young’s stir-fry classic (a gift from my awesome sister!), it’s time to get started. I hope you’ll enjoy reading as I endeavor to make 2014 The Year of the Wok!