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Not for the first time I'm following in the footsteps of Frank Bell. Frank did an HPR episode entitled "A Beginner with a Wok", episode number 1787, on 2015-06-09. On it he spoke about his experiences stir-fry cooking using a wok.
Frank got a lot of comments about his episode and there seemed to be an interest in the subject. I have been interested in Chinese, Indonesian and other Far Eastern cookery styles for some time, and do a lot of cooking, so I thought I'd record a show about one of the recipes I use.
My son visits around once a week and eats dinner with me. I offered to cook him my version of Chow Mein, which since he is vegetarian, needed to use no meat. This is my description of the recipe I used.
I loosely based this version of Chow Mein on Ken Hom's recipe in his book Chinese Cookery, page 226. This is from his 1984 BBC TV series, which I watched. I also learnt many of my preparation techniques from Ken Hom's books and TV shows.
Preparing the ingredients
I prepared enough for about six servings in this case. My son often visits twice per week, and I like to cook generous quantities of food so there is enough for us both and left-overs for a few days thereafter.
It's my experience that cutting all of the ingredients for a stir-fry into similar sizes is desirable, to ensure they all cook in the allotted time. I have also been advised to use diagonal cutting when preparing harder root and stalked vegetables because it shortens the longer fibres, increases surface area, and helps the pieces to cook faster. I'm not entirely sure that this is the case, but I enjoy chopping vegetables and have got into the habit of doing it this way!
I now use a large cook's knife for chopping vegetables. I have a few Chinese cleavers of various sizes, but I find that a standard, properly sharpened cook's knife does the job very well.
I used around six medium-sized carrots for this recipe. I always prepare carrots in the way I have shown here. This is partly for uniformity and speed of cooking and partly for aesthetic reasons.
Slice the carrots diagonally
The slices should be moderately thick, about 5mm
Cut the slices into sticks about 5mm wide
All carrots cut into sticks
I used around six or seven sticks of celery for this dish. I removed the top and trimmed the bottom of each stalk. I peeled the convex surface with a potato peeler to remove the larger fibres if they seemed a bit coarse.
Cut each stalk into manageable pieces
Cut lengthwise if the pieces are large
Cut diagonally into sticks about 5mm thick
All the celery cut into sticks
These are so-called French beans, the name commonly used in the UK. The ones found in UK supermarkets in November are often imported from Egypt. They are plain green or stringless beans. I never buy them pre-trimmed since the trimmed ends tend to dry out and go brown.
Top and tail the beans
The process of rolling the beans 180° between cuts that I used here is really only done for aesthetic reasons. So-called roll-cutting can be used to some effect with larger vegetables such as courgettes and large carrots.
Cut diagonally into manageable pieces, rolling between cuts
All beans cut up
The peas I used are sold as Mange tout (French for "eat all") in Scotland, but are probably Snow peas since they are flat.
Top and tail the mange tout and cut them diagonally into convenient pieces
All mange tout cut into pieces
I cut peppers the way shown here for stir-fries when I have a lot of long, thin ingredients. There are many alternative ways of preparing them. Leaving them in quite large chunky pieces is often seen in Chinese food.
Peppers quartered vertically
Peppers cored, halved horizontally and sliced vertically
All peppers cut into pieces
I learned this way of cutting onions for a stir-fry from various Asian friends. Again it results in pieces of a similar dimension to the other ingredients. I have seen some cooks separate all of the layers of the slices to ensure that they are well distributed in the resulting dish.
Onions peeled, topped and tailed and cut in half vertically
Onions sliced vertically into strips about 3mm wide
All onions cut into pieces
I love garlic and always use an entire bulb for anything I'm making. Some people chop their garlic up finely for a stir-fry, but I never do because I think the flavour tends to get lost if I do.
Garlic cloves, trimmed and peeled
All garlic cut into thin slices
How you prepare mushrooms really depends on how big they are. I used a variety which is sold in the UK as Chestnut mushrooms. These are a brown colour and have more flavour than the usual white mushrooms.
I have cut them fairly small in this recipe to be similar in size to the other ingredients.
Button mushrooms washed, cut in half vertically and sliced
Bean sprouts are one of the usual constituents of Chow Mein, so I have included them here.
Quorn is a meat substitute, and this particular form resembles chunks of chicken meat. I used two 300 gram bags for this recipe. To prepare it for adding to the stir-fry I stir-fried it on its own from frozen in a little oil over a medium heat. This thaws it out and browns the outside slightly, and adds to the flavour in the process.
Quorn chicken pieces (frozen)
I used medium egg noodles for this recipe, cooking enough for four people in this case - that's four blocks for this particular brand. These noodles need to be softened by simmering in boiling water for 4 minutes, and draining. I then added soy sauce and a little sesame oil to stop them sticking together.
Medium egg noodles
I have shown the rice wine I used to flavour the stir-fry in the earlier stages. I also added a fairly liberal amount of soy sauce to the cooking ingredients, and finished off with sesame oil for flavouring. This should not be added too soon because it burns.
Rice wine, soy sauce and sesame oil
I used my large two-handled wok for this. I have three, though one is actually meant for making tempura. The large wok is 18½ inches in diameter (about 47cm), has a round bottom and is made of stainless steel. Even though it has a round bottom the shallow shape allows it to balance on my gas hob quite well. A deeper wok would tend to tip over I find.
I used a stainless steel wok spatula for stirring the ingredients. Some professional cooks use a wok ladle for this, but I find the shovelling action of the spatula better.
To cook this Chow Mein I used peanut oil. I put the gas burner on full and when the oil was hot I began with the onions and garlic. These ingredients flavour the oil and much Far Eastern cookery starts with them.
I then added the ingredients which require the most cooking: the carrots, celery and beans. These were stir-fried with very frequent stirring for about five minutes. I added rice wine (about a tablespoon) and light soy sauce at this stage.
Cooking the carrot, celery, and beans
I then added the next set of ingredients: the peppers, mange tout, mushrooms and the Quorn (which had been previously cooked, as described earlier). If this had been a non-vegetarian version and had used chicken, I would have pre-cooked the chicken and added it at this point. This stage cooked for about five minutes.
Added the peppers, mange tout, mushrooms and the Quorn
Now the noodles could be added. These require a lot of mixing, which is why I used a large wok. Since they are cold by the time they are added they need time to warm through.
Added the noodles
Now the bean sprouts could be added. Again, these need to be well mixed because they need to warm through and be lightly cooked. I added sesame oil at this stage too so that it would coat everything and flavour it.
Added the bean sprouts
By now the carrots, celery and beans should be well cooked. Ideally they should still have a bit of firmness to them for a crunchy result. The bean sprouts should be slightly wilted but not over cooked, and the whole dish should have been heated through.
The end result
Both my son and I are very keen on all sorts of chilli sauces, so this meal was eaten with a Chinese sauce with the brand name Laoganma which I get from my local Chinese Supermarket.
Laoganma chilli sauce
The picture shows the Chinese symbols I use to identify this particular sauce, since it's quite hard to do so otherwise, I have found. Be aware that this sauce contains peanuts.
- HPR episode 1787, "A Beginner with a Wok", by Frank Bell: http://hackerpublicradio.org/eps.php?id=1787
- Wikipedia article on Ken Hom: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ken_Hom
- Ken Hom's Chinese Cookery:
- 1986 edition (ISBN-13: 978-0060960599): http://www.amazon.com/Ken-Homs-Chinese-Cookery-Hom/dp/0060960590
- 2009 edition (ISBN-13: 978-1846076053): http://www.amazon.co.uk/Chinese-Cookery-Ken-Hom/dp/1846076056/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1450957458&sr=1-15
- Wikipedia article on the Green bean: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Green_bean
- Wikipedia page on Mange tout: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mange_tout
- Wikipedia page on the Snow pea: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Snow_pea
- Wikipedia article on Agaricus bisporus, the Chestnut mushroom: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agaricus_bisporus
- Wikipedia article on the Bean sprout: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bean_sprout
- Wikipedia article on Quorn: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quorn
- Lao Gan Ma website: http://m.laoganma.com.cn/product.aspx
- Wikipedia page for Lao Gan Ma: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lao_Gan_Ma