My wok incites a kitchen conundrum: It looks like hell, but it cooks like an angel. My husband says our wok is a beautiful thing; I hide it away from the shiny stove-of-my-dreams for months at a time. Then we start cooking in the wok and wonder why we ever tuck it out of sight. Seafood and bits of meat emerge perfectly browned, and vegetables cook to crisp-tender. Fast.
Made from rolled steel, the wok sports a nonstick patina that comes from decades of use and proper cleaning with hot water (no soap). That, along with the wok's concave shape, means I can cook with high heat and a minimum of oil to make amazing one-pot dinners.
This spring we've been on a fried rice kick. Stir-frying all kinds of leftover cooked rice with tidbits of flavorful add-ins. Traditionally, seafood and veggies with soy sauce, but rich steak and teriyaki sauce please too. When the fridge offers them up, we combine roasted poblano chilies, corn and cilantro with some red chili sauce or mix basmati rice with roasted eggplant and an Indian curry sauce.
Of course, it all starts with the rice. I've been singing the praises of my utilitarian rice cooker for years. Perfect rice every time with no attention from the cook. Every week starts with a simmering pot of rice — mostly brown, but sometimes basmati, medium-grain white or jasmine. Once cooked, I scrape the rice out in a shallow layer on a baking sheet and refrigerate it immediately to chill it fast. Once cool, I pack it into containers for the start of great lunches. Or, awesome dinners from the wok.
If you are new to stir-frying, start with the simple fried rice. The recipe is manageable and can be done over medium-high heat. The dish is great alongside grilled salmon or roasted pork tenderloin. I also enjoy it reheated for lunch with the addition of shredded chicken or tuna.
You’ll want to work with high heat for the steak and the scallop versions that follow. Then everything will take on golden flavors and great textures. The following recipes make great one-pot meals, especially piled over a bed of baby spinach or arugula for a stunning main course.
The better the rice, the better the stir-fry. I like jasmine rice for its fragrance when adding simple vegetables; brown rice works well with hearty add-ins such as beef; toothsome medium grain rice counters bouncy bites of shrimp nicely.
Start with cooled rice — using warm rice will stir-fry into sogginess.
Break up any clumps in the rice so each grain can be fried quickly and easily.
Don't be afraid to use the highest heat your stove can produce.
Use a large, well-seasoned wok. Or, a large, deep-sided nonstick skillet — but be aware that you may need a little more oil because of the flat cooking surface.
Heat the pan before you add the oil; then heat the oil; then start stir-frying. All this heating prevents sticking.
Stir-fry with oils that like high temperatures such as expeller-pressed canola oil, safflower oil or peanut oil. Do not stir-fry with regular canola oil or olive oil.
Don't skip the egg — it adds flavor and acts as a binder. Season the egg with a highly flavored oil such as dark sesame oil or garlic oil.
Simple fried rice
Prep: 10 minutes
Cook: 10 minutes
Servings: 3 or 4
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon dark sesame oil or garlic oil
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons expeller-pressed canola oil, safflower oil or peanut oil
3 cups chilled, cooked brown or white rice
4 green onions, thinly sliced
2 or 3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
Tamari or light soy sauce
1Beat eggs with sesame oil and salt in a small bowl. Place all ingredients near the cooking surface.
2Heat a well-seasoned wok (or large nonstick skillet) over medium-high heat until a drop of water evaporates on contact.
3Add canola oil; heat until hot but not smoking. Add the eggs; swirl with a heatproof rubber spatula until nearly set, about 30 seconds. Immediately add the rice; stir to coat it with the oil and mix in the egg. Keep stir-frying, breaking up any clumps, until the rice is very hot, 2-3 minutes. Stir in onions and cilantro. Serve with a little tamari.
Per serving (for 4 servings): 276 calories, 12 g fat, 2 g saturated fat, 93 mg cholesterol, 36 g carbohydrates, 7 g protein, 112 mg sodium, 3 g fiber.
Asparagus and teriyaki steak fried rice
Prep: 30 minutes
Cook: 15 minutes
8 ounces skirt steak (or other tender steak)
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon dark sesame oil
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup teriyaki sauce
½ to 1 teaspoon wasabi paste or powder, optional
4 cups chilled, cooked brown or white rice
4 tablespoons expeller-pressed canola oil, safflower oil or peanut oil
1 small red onion, halved, cut into thin wedges
½ teaspoon sugar
½ bunch skinny asparagus, ends trimmed, cut into 2-inch lengths
½ green bell pepper, cut into 1/4 inch pieces
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
Chopped fresh cilantro
1Cut steak into 3-inch wide pieces. Turn the pieces so you can cut the steak against the grain into super-thin slices. Beat eggs with sesame oil and a pinch of salt in a small bowl. Mix teriyaki sauce and wasabi in small bowl. Put all ingredients near cooking surface.
2Heat a well-seasoned wok (or large deep-sided nonstick skillet) over high heat until a drop of water evaporates on contact. Add 1 tablespoon oil, then add onion. Stir-fry over high heat, 2 minutes. Sprinkle with sugar and a pinch of salt. Stir-fry until nicely caramelized, about 3 minutes. With a slotted spoon, transfer onion to a large plate.
3Add 1 tablespoon oil to wok; add asparagus and bell pepper. Stir-fry until crisp-tender, about 2 minutes. Stir in garlic; cook, 30 seconds. Transfer to plate.
4Add 1 tablespoon oil to wok; add steak. Stir-fry until medium-rare, 2-3 minutes. Transfer to plate.
5Add remaining 1 tablespoon oil to wok. When hot, add eggs; stir-fry with a spatula until lightly scrambled. Add the rice; stir-fry until very hot, about 3 minutes. Stir in all ingredients from plate. Stir-fry until heated through, 2-3 minutes. Serve with the teriyaki sauce and cilantro.
Per serving: 553 calories, 25 g fat, 4 g saturated fat, 132 mg cholesterol, 61 g carbohydrates, 22 g protein, 782 mg sodium, 5 g fiber.
Scallop, eggplant and broccoli rabe fried rice
Prep: 30 minutes
Cook: 15 minutes
Servings: 6 main-dish
Note: Four cups roughly chopped kale or cabbage or bok choy can be substituted for the broccoli rabe. I like to add 1 1/2 cups steamed edamame, small lima beans or peas to the wok with the rice.
1 medium eggplant, about 1 pound
2 tablespoons olive oil or garlic-flavored oil
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
¼ cup each: reduced-sodium soy sauce, balsamic vinegar
¼ to 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
3 tablespoons expeller-pressed canola oil, safflower oil or peanut oil
8 ounces broccoli rabe or rapini, tough ends trimmed, cut into 2-inch lengths
½ red bell pepper, cut into 1/4-inch dice
1 pound bay scallops, patted dry
3 green onions, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
6 cups chilled, cooked brown or white rice
Chopped fresh chives
1Heat broiler. Cut eggplant into 1/2 inch thick rounds. Brush both sides with olive or garlic oil; sprinkle with salt. Broil 4 inches from heat source until golden, about 3 minutes. Flip; broil the other side until golden. Cool; cut into 1/2-inch pieces.
2Beat eggs with 1 teaspoon olive or garlic oil and a pinch of salt in a small bowl. Mix soy, balsamic and pepper flakes in a small bowl. Put all ingredients near cooking surface.
3Heat a well-seasoned wok (or large deep-sided nonstick skillet) over high heat until a drop of water evaporates on contact. Add 1 tablespoon oil. Add broccoli rabe and red bell pepper. Stir-fry over high heat until crisp-tender, about 2 minutes. Remove to a large plate.
4Add another tablespoon oil to wok. Add scallops, onions and garlic. Stir-fry over high heat until golden, about 2 minutes. Remove to the plate.
5Add remaining 1 tablespoon oil to wok. When hot, add eggs. Stir with a heatproof spatula until lightly scrambled. Add the rice; stir-fry until very hot, about 3 minutes. Stir in eggplant and all ingredients on the plate; stir-fry until heated through, 2-3 minutes. Serve drizzled with the soy sauce mixture and chives.
Per serving: 524 calories, 16 g fat, 2 g saturated fat, 120 mg cholesterol, 60 g carbohydrates, 35 g protein, 885 mg sodium, 6 g fiber.