Meals – Day 15: Onion bread and stir-fry tips

15 Mar

Let’s not talk too much about breakfast today- plain oats.

Day 15 breakfast: plain oats

Instead, let’s talk lunch. As I forgot to bring my tomato yesterday, I thought I’d bring it in today instead. I’ve frequently used tomato as a bread topping – it’s great excuse to add a bit of mayonnaise to a sandwich. Which, of course, I didn’t have, nor bread. So I quickly baked up something during breakfast time. It’s bread Jim, but not as we know it – I made a little onion braid out of self-raising flour, water and a small bit of very finely chopped onion. The braiding doesn’t cost anything extra, but it does make for a fancy-looking bit of bread:

Day 15 Lunch: Onion-bread braid with tomato

Please forgive the butchered tomato – there aren’t any proper sharp knifes to be found in our office environment. Health and safety and all that. I tasted it and immediately realised I forgot something. Guess what. Thankfully the subtle onion flavour somewhat made up for having forgotten to add any salt to the bread.

As a co-worker had a leftover of peppers and carrot, I decided to drop by at the supermarket to get oil and soy sauce, so I could cook up a stir-fry.

Day 15 supper: Red pepper and carrot stir-fry with rice

Now while I’m at it, you may have noticed I frequently cook stir-fries. I’m not any sort of authority on the subject, but there are some basic tips that can make your stir-fries taste just that little bit closer to the restaurant stuff. I haven’t got to the bottom of it yet, but here’s what I found out so far. Any further tips are welcome!

1. Most importantly, get your wok hot. And by hot I don’t mean “if you put a knob of butter in it will take a while to melt” sort of hot. No, you’ll need proper hot. Hot hot. If the wok isn’t hot enough, your ingredients will boil instead of fry by contact heat, and it just won’t develop the same kind of flavour. For the same reason, any moisture is only added at the end.

If you’re like me and unlike most Chinese restaurants, you don’t have a big-ass flame-throwing burner underneath your wok at home, so you’ll difficultly reach the kind of cooking temperatures that are commonly used for this style of food. Anyway, don’t be afraid to leave your wok heating up on empty for a few minutes before actually adding anything to it. Which brings me to tip number two.

2. If your wok has a non-stick layer, it’ll probably not like that sort of treatment, so don’t do that then. In my case, I’ve got a wok that I bought for about a fiver at my local Asian supermarket. It’s a round-bottom wok made of rolled steel. No non-stick. The non-stick develops over time by “seasoning” the wok. All that high temperature will slowly coat the wok with a shiny black layer of carbon. This layer prevents food from sticking to the wok – just like your grandmother’s old cast iron pan. Don’t wash it with soap, and try to avoid heavily abrasive cleaning utensils. Just brush it with hot water, then wipe it down with a piece of kitchen paper. Your Chinese supermarket will stock the matching metal wok spatulas as well – brilliant for getting that last bit of sauce out. Allow them to explain how to keep your wok seasoned.

3. Have all your ingredients ready and chopped before you start cooking.

4. First heat the wok, then add the oil. Only proceed once the oil is hot. It will probably be smoking. Unlike western cooking (where onion is added next, followed by garlic if applicable), garlic generally goes first along with other aromatics such as ginger. Don’t be afraid to sautee that oyster sauce for a few moments while if you’re using it. Vegetables follows shortly; the fastest-cooking vegetables going last. With the wok blazing hot, the stir-fry will be done in no time.

5. If you want a sauce to go with your veg, prepare a bit of water with cornflour. Once the food is done, turn off the heat, then add the cornstarch water while stirring.

6. If you use sesame oil, add it at the end or even when serving. It burns easily when cooked along.

7. Mixed vegetables are generally served over noodles rather than being mixed with them.

8. If you need a wok ring, chances are that you can put it upside-up or upside-down. If there’s a difference, I suggest positioning it such that the flame of your hob is closest to the wok.

9. If cooking meats, add them between the aromatics and the vegetables. Cut them in thin slices along the grain of the meats. In Western cooking it is advised to cook against the grain after cooking to make the meat seem even more tender; in stir fries, however, meat is cut before cooking it shortly at high heat. The argument is that cutting along the grain damages fewer cells, so more moisture is retained within them during the fast, short cooking process.

10. If you’re feeling brave and are well-insured, adding a bit of rice wine and flaming off the alcohol near the beginning of the process not only looks impressive, but can also helps getting you to those high temperatures by essentially setting your food on fire for a few seconds. This is however entirely optional and done at your own risk- the flames can easily get quite big. Stay safe!

The veg in the picture above were succulent and had a bit of crunch without being raw. As you can see, the veg have nice charred edges, showing that the wok was hot enough for the Maillard reaction to take place.

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