A Wok Worthy of Walking Away With
I’m so thrilled to be an active member of Wok Wednesdays, the online “support” group for wok enthusiasts who praises and practices wok-cooking along with Ms. Grace Young’s treasured book, Stir-Frying to the Sky’s Edge book. The group is hosting an exciting Wok Giveaway. The challenge is to create a freestyle stir-fry using one of the “lucky” ingredients with symbolic meanings during the Chinese New Year. The cook should refer to Page 194 of Sky’s Edge for the list of these ingredients. The deadline to submit the “winning” entry is February 8th, the day of Chinese/Lunar New Year. This year is Year of The Monkey by the way. The lucky winner will receive a beautiful Cantonese wok: round or flat-bottomed cast iron. My eyes were set on the flat-bottom cast iron wok for nearly a year now but was hesitant to fork out the dough. .
I currently own two carbon steel, flat-bottomed woks: a 12″ Joyce Chen with a long black handle, and a cantonese-style 14″, with double short handles. They have seriously earned their keeps on my stovetop. I use them religiously everyday, sometimes just to fry bacon, to beef up the hard-earned, much sought-after darkened patinas. They’ve cranked out some mighty fine meals with minimal time and fuss, so far. Thus, the need for another wok and its initial upkeep just appears too much of a personal luxury.
However, the temptation to own a cast iron wok that’s completely differently to the carbon steels I have is just too darn great. With fellow wok members regularly posting delicious morsels made from their cast iron woks, I can’t help but be a tad wok-envy. Sometimes I’m ready to jump over to Amazon, click the “Buy” button, just to put me out of my self-induced misery already. Yet, I pause. My over-rationalizing and indecisiveness overwhelms me every single time. I don’t bat an eye brow when shopping for my baby divas. However, it takes an act of God for me to spend a dime on myself (I know. I got psychological issues.). Now that the Wok Giveaway is in full swing, I want to WIN that wok! The win will be most satisfying knowing I actually “won” via creative cooking instead of coughing out dough. Plus, I get to rub that sweet victory in the faces of doubt (You know who you are?)… the same doubtful faces that swears my wok cooking is borderline obsession but has no issue divulging my cooked food. The challenge is ON!
My Freestyle Stir-Fry Game Plan
I had way too much fun with this wok challenge and completely embraced the brainstorming process. I liked the idea of creating a unique dish for a special occasion using set criteria while making it my own signature dish. My strategy was quite basic but effective. I thoroughly studied Page 194 of Sky’s Edge. I knew immediately my dish would involve some sort of seafood with the shells on. After the shells are cooked, they would turn a bright red. We all know red is synonymous with the spirit of Chinese New Year. Also, one of my baby divas was born in the Year of the Dragon so incorporating the element of this regal, magical creature would be a very personal touch. Once my key ingredients were identified, a shopping list was determined and the hunt for what’s needed begins. For extra fun, I even wrote a little riddle based on the ingredients used in relation to their symbolic meanings.
RIDDLE ME THIS!
I am the red majestic “dragon” that gracefully dances through a heavenly world of “prosperity, longevity, and fertility”. “Fortunes” grow abundantly within my realm. My “flaming” breath is renowned and feared. My “intelligence” topped by my “compassion” are heavily prized. What dish am I?
Spicy Lobster and Clams Pad Woon Sen
In a nutshell… The lobster tails (dragon) were chopped into bite-size chunks, then stir-fried with a very conservative splash of sake (longevity), precisely eight “lucky” littleneck clams (prosperity), some shiitake and wooded ear mushrooms (growing fortunes), baby bok choys, a fried egg (fertility), and vermicelli noodles (longevity). The fiery breath was from dried Tabasco peppers scattered around my garden bed. I roughly crushed them before frying with my usual aromatics: minced ginger, garlic, and scallions (white part only) for an added zing. My seasoning sauce consisted of: fish sauce (Mega Chef), oyster sauce, thai light soy sauce, and granulated sugar. Green parts of the scallions (intelligence) and fresh cilantros (compassion) topped the finished product.
A Breakdown of The Spicy Lobster and Clams Pad Woon Sen
To ensure my dish acquired a smoky, spicy note true to a stir-fry, and to prevent the ingredients from being victims to the “braising treatment”, they were stir-fried separately in small batches in this order:
- Lobster pieces lightly coated in cornstarch/soy slurry were flashed fried with garlic and ginger until the shells were red, then removed.
- Shiitake and wooded ear mushrooms, and more garlic entered the picture.
- The clams followed suit. They need more time to cook, and open their shells.
- An egg was beaten and fried beside to the clams. (I was suppose to execute this fried egg step while flash-frying the lobster pieces but forgot. That’s ok; t’s not detrimental).
- Lobster pieces were added back into the wok along with green onions and baby bok choy. On a whim (or subconsciously wishing to increase my longevity), I also splashed a little Sake (instead of my typical Shao Hsing rice wine) over the shellfish.
- The vermicelli noodles, chopped cilantro and green part of the scallions, were the final ingredients to be cooked; at the very last 2-3 minutes. They take no time at all, really. Adding the vermicelli too early will result in a mushy texture; possibly sabotaging the entire dish.
The end result was fairly delicious. I am satisfied with the pop of red from the “dragon”. The lobster meat was mild, somewhat sweet, and maintained that slightly firm texture I was after. The eight ‘lucky” clams were nicely cooked, moist but not rubbery. What little clam juice they released was soaked up by the vermicelli noodles. As such, each bite had a hint of “sweetness of the sea”. The two kinds of mushrooms gave the dish a deep, earthy quality. Chopped scallions and cilantros added freshness overall.
Note to Self… To recreate this Freestyle Spicy Lobster and Clams Pad Woon Sen, here’s the recipe.
4 lobster tails, 5 oz. each
2 tsp cornstarch
1/8 tsp ground black pepper
2 tsp Thai light soy sauce
8 live littleneck clams
1 tsp cornmeal or all purpose flour
1 tbsp minced garlic
1/2 tbsp minced ginger
1/4 cup sweet yellow onions, thinly sliced
1 tsp dried chile flakes (I used homegrown dried Tabasco peppers)
1 organic egg, beaten slightly
4 dried shiitake mushrooms, presoaked, drained, chopped into thin slices
4-5 pieces wooded ear mushrooms, presoaked, drained, roughly chopped same size as shiitake mushrooms
1.5 to 2 cups dried vermicelli noodles, presoaked, drained, roughly chopped into 2-3” segments.
3 stalks scallions/green onions, white and green parts separated, roughly chopped
4 springs of cilantros, roughly chopped
canola oil for cooking
1/2 tbsp Thai light soy
1 tbsp oyster sauce
1/2 tbsp fish sauce (I used Mega Chef this time)
1 tsp granulated sugar
1) Lobster Prep and Marinade: With sharp kitchen sheers or a cleaver, split each lobster tail into halves, lengthwise. Cut each half again, crosswise. Toss lobster pieces into a large mix bowl. In a small bowl, add cornstarch, 2 tsp soy, 1/8 tsp ground black pepper. Mix well to form a slurry. Pour the soy slurry into the bowl with the lobster. Mix well to coat all the pieces. Set aside to marinate for 15 minutes, approximately.
2) Clams Prep: In a medium bowl filled with cold water, add cornmeal or all-purpose flour and mix roughly. Drop the live clams into the water bath for 30 minutes. Clam will open their shells and release some of the impurities; sand mostly. Drain well and set aside.
3) Vermicelli and Dried Mushrooms Prep: In a medium bowl filled with warm water, soak the vermicelli noodles, dried shiitake, and wooded ear mushrooms. After 10 minutes, remove the vermicelli, drain well and cut into 2-3″ segments. If mushrooms are still tough, continue soaking for another 10-15 minutes. Once softened, remove and squeeze excess moisture from the mushrooms. Roughly slice them into thin pieces. Set aside. Save the soaking liquid for later use in the stir-fry.
4) Seasoning Sauce: In a small bowl, add Thai light soy, oyster sauce, fish sauce, and granulated sugar. Mix well and set aside.
5) Preheat a wok or skillet on med-high heat until smokey. Add roughly 2 tbsp of canola oil. Swirl oil to coat the wok. When oil shimmers, add ginger, sliced yellow onions, scallions (white party only), 1/2 minced ginger, and dried chile flakes. Use a spatula to stir-fry the aromatics for 1 minute until fragrant. Add a beaten egg. (This was the step I forgot at this stage but added later after the clams.) Stir fry for another 1 minute and break up egg into tiny chunks as you go. Add lobster pieces and stir-fry for 2-3 minutes, ensuring the aromatics are infused with the lobsters. When the lobster shells turns red, remove quickly. Set aside in a bowl.
6) Drizzle another tbsp canola oil to the wok. Add both mushrooms, clams, and the rest of the minced garlic. Stir-fry for 2 minutes. Splash a few drops of the reserved soaking water to the sides of the wok. This creates the steam needed to help cook/open up the clams and avoid the wok from drying out completely.
7) Return the lobster pieces to the wok. Use the spatula to stir the clams, mushrooms, and lobsters together. Add the seasoning sauce. Stir well. Cover wok with a lid for 2 minutes.
8) Toss in the baby bok choys. Mix well. When the clams start opening, add the chopped scallions (green part only), and vermicelli noodles. Use 2 spatulas to evenly stir all the ingredients together. Splash a few more drops of the reserved soaking liquid if the noodles looks too dry. Work quickly to avoid noodles from sticking to the bottom of the wok.
9) Toss in the chopped cilantros.
Serve immediately over steamed rice.