I joined WokWednesdays in order to stir-frying from a master, Grace Young, in the company of a supportive community of fellow cooks. What I didn’t anticipate was how much these lessons would demonstrate the universality of my 10 Rules for Meal Preparation Success.
Although “my” rules grew out of my own experience, now I imagine Grace’s Cantonese father, gently teaching her the same principles. I’m sure there’s a joke lurking in this thought, about a Jewish mother and a Cantonese father meeting over dinner or at the grocery store – anyone want to help me out here?
As I prepared today’s WokWednesdays recipe, Chinese Burmese Chili Chicken (recipe at bottom of linked post), I found myself going through Rules 4-8:
- Read recipes, completely and all the way
- Ingredients & equipment matter
- Gather equipment & ingredients, clear space before starting
- Minimize distractions while you cook
- Timing is (almost) everything
To deal with the speed required to stir-fry properly, I’ve developed 3 tricks, or maybe I just discovered age-old strategies that everyone else already knew (akin to reinventing the wheel.) Either way, they work for me – and maybe you too, if you’re also a novice stir-frying cook.
3 Tricks for Stir-Frying Success
- Prepare the rice ahead
- Put the ingredients next to the wok in the order you’ll need them, and
- Use a cheat sheet for directions beyond your ability to remember them
There is nothing more frustrating than finding your marvelous stir-fry dish is done, but not the rice to go with it. I have not yet mastered the art of juggling the quick stir-fry change-ups and paying attention to cooking rice at the same time. My solution is to time the rice so that it is finished just before I heat the wok for the stir-fry. Covered on the stove, the rice stays warm while I stir-fry and I can serve them together as soon as the stir-fry is done.
This recipe has 16 ingredients. Although I can count past 10, I had visions of putting an ingredient in at the wrong time. So, I organized them by the order they would go into the wok (after I prepared each for cooking), an easy way to keep track of the ingredients needed for each step in the stir-fry. I lined up those ingredients that would go in together vertically next to the wok and had 6 lines total, including the chili powder that was sprinkled over the dish after the wok was removed from the heat.
I have a terrible memory and love my beautiful, clean copy of Stir Frying to the Sky’s Edge. I knew I wouldn’t be able to remember the precise timing for each step and wouldn’t be able to find it in the recipe directions if I looked over at the book in the middle of stir-frying. Plus, I had visions of oil and spice splattered pages if I put the book on the counter next to the wok. Instead of relying on the clean book while I was cooking, I wrote notes on a "cheat sheet" and fried away, looking over at my easy-to-read slip of paper a couple of times.
Did I mention the cardinal rule of stir-frying? There is no time for texting or grabbing the phone between steps, so if you feel a desparate need to communicate with your public, do it before you start. If you wonder how I got these photos with no one to help take pictures - shhhh, don't tell my stir-fry mentor and most definitely don't inspect the dials and buttons of my camera too closely.
Bottom line – bravo! The chicken was delicious, both hot out of the wok and as leftovers, and I’m looking forward to our next WokWednesdays adventure on June 13th. I hope you'll join us - check here for details.
PS – Though I haven’t done one of my specific cost charts for this recipe, I did calculate the cost of the ingredients. It’s a deal - inexpensive and packed with enough vegetables that I didn’t feel the need to make a separate veggie dish. Two of us had generous portions for dinner, with enough leftover for 2 lunches. Not counting the 2 tablespoons of fish sauce (at the rate I use it, the bottle will last a long time), the whole dish, including rice, cost about $7.50, which works out to about $2.25 per dinner serving and $1.50 per lunch.