At Central Market Monday night
Have Wok Will Travel: Grace Young is on a mission to make stir-fry fun
Known as "the poet laureate of the wok" and the "stir-fry guru," Grace Young has spent much of her life celebrating wok cookery and making it so simple that anyone can do it.
In anticipation of her class at Central Market Monday night, CultureMap caught up with the author of Stir-Frying to the Sky's Edge: The Ultimate Guide to Mastery, with Authentic Recipes and Stories, and acknowledged master of the wok:
Culture Map: Rumor is you carry a wok in your suitcase wherever you go.
Grace Young: I travel with my wok in my hand-carry only when I’m scheduled to do a cooking demo. I want students to see a carbon-steel wok in action and to witness firsthand how, with its natural nonstick surface, it’s ideal for stir-frying. The concave shape of the wok enables ingredients to be continuously tossed in a small amount of oil so that each morsel is constantly exposed to the well of the hot wok. Once students experience the unique seared flavor and smoky aroma of food that’s been stir-fried in a wok they understand the superiority of cooking in an iron wok. Using the correct cookware for stir-frying makes all the difference in the world.
CM: What is your earliest memory of food?
GY: Watching my parents cook in the kitchen. Even as a child I was struck by the care that they took to cook our meals and the excitement they had when they purchased great ingredients.
CM: You once said that stir-frying is “a way of life, both timeless and timely.” Can you explain what you mean by that?
GY: We live in challenging times with a tough economy and yet the need to eat healthy. Stir-frying with its emphasis on a variety of vegetables is also naturally low in saturated fat. It’s a style of cooking well suited for people cooking on a tight budget. I like to say stir-frying makes less seem like more because it stretches food. It’s also a technique that uses a minimum cooking fuel compared to roasting or stewing.
CM: When you buy a wok what should you look for?
GY: I think the best wok for the home is a flat-bottomed carbon-steel wok. The flat-bottom enables the wok to sit closer to the heat source whether you’re using an electric or gas stove. The beauty of a carbon-steel wok is that it heats quickly and evenly. Best of all the more you cook with the pan it develops a nonstick surface. I also prefer a wok with a long wooden handle and a small helper handle. The wood handle makes lifting a wok with one hand easy and it eliminates the need for using a potholder.
CM: The task of seasoning a wok can be daunting. But for you, it’s second nature. How do you even start?
GY: I begin by washing the inside and outside of the wok with hot water and liquid detergent using a stainless-steel scrubber. After it’s rinsed I dry the pan on low heat for a minute or two or until the pan is completely dry. I then swirl in a little vegetable oil such as canola and then I stir-fry some sliced ginger and scallions for about 20 minutes. As I stir-fry the mixture I use the back of the spatula to press the mixture around the entire inside surface of the wok up to the edges of the wok. Then I discard the mixture, wash the wok using hot tap water without liquid soap using a soft sponge. The wok is then dried on the stove again. This simple process seasons the wok and it’s ready for cooking.
CM: Chinese cooks have a knack for stir-frying the most tender beef and chicken. What’s their secret?
GY: It’s essential to marinate meat and chicken to infuse flavor and to tenderize. Chinese marinades are very simple and generally use a teaspoon or two of cornstarch, soy sauce, rice wine (or dry sherry), a pinch of sugar, and a little oil. Unlike Western marinades it only requires a few minutes. The marinade is easier to penetrate because the meat is cut into bite-sized pieces.
CM: What do you have in store for Houston?
GY: The class that I’ve designed covers the fundamentals of stir-frying. I’ll be teaching the basics for how to stir-fry shellfish, poultry, vegetables, and rice in addition to how to season and care for a wok. Most home cooks are disappointed in their stir-fry's and have no idea what they’re doing wrong. Students will learn all the stir-fry do’s and don’t’s from the best oil to use to how to control the heat.
CM: Give us a glimpse of your menu
GY: Chinese Trinidadian Stir-Fried Shrimp with Rum
Peppery Vegetarian Rice
Velvet Chicken with Broccoli
Yin Yang Beans