Scallops and asparagus in silver sauce. Photo: William Meppem
Stir-frying is one of the fastest and most versatile weapons in your kitchen arsenal, but it's also one that is very much misunderstood.
The biggest mistake that most of us make is thinking that a stir-fry is a one-pot dinner. If you treat a stir-fry like a stew, it will end up tasting like a stew. Don't use it as an excuse to throw everything in your fridge into the wok - two or three ingredients are often quite enough.
Volume is the other thing. Feeding a family of four on a single dish made in a domestic wok is a very difficult thing to do - not impossible, but it requires very good equipment and wok technique.
Garlic and eschallot chicken. Photo: William Meppem
Your wokking life will be made much easier if you cook two or three smaller dishes instead of one big one. A reduced volume in the wok will fry much more easily, and wok cooking is so quick you can actually make several small dishes much faster than one large one!
Next time you break your wok out, keep it simple. Try making three dishes with three ingredients each, rather than one dish with nine. It'll taste better, cook faster and save you a lot of hassle.
Scallops and asparagus in silver sauce
You don't have to stir-fry every ingredient together. Sometimes, the best results come from treating each component individually.
• dash of vegetable oil, plus
2 tbsp for stir-frying, plus
1 tsp for the sauce
• 1 bunch asparagus, trimmed and cut into 5cm lengths
• cornflour, for dusting
• 8 shelled scallops, roe removed
• pinch of sea salt
• 2 thick slices ginger, bruised
• 1 cup strong chicken stock, or Japanese dashi
• 1 tsp Shaoxing wine
• ¼ tsp salt
• a pinch of sugar
• 1 tsp soy sauce
• 2 tsp cornflour mixed into 2 tbsp stock
Heat 2 cups of water in your wok over a high heat until boiling, add dash of oil and blanche the asparagus for about 30 seconds until it is bright green and slightly softened. Drain and set aside until ready to fry.
Dry the scallops with a paper towel and dust very lightly with a little cornflour. A dry pastry brush dipped in cornflour works well for this purpose.
Heat the wok (ensure it's dry and clean) until very hot and drizzle 2 tbsp of the oil around the edges so it coats the surface of the wok. Add the scallops, season with a little salt and fry for about 30 seconds until just starting to colour. Add in the asparagus and stir-fry for a further minute. Remove from the wok and brush the wok clean.
Heat a further 1 tsp of oil in the wok and add the ginger. Fry for a few seconds, then add the stock, wine, salt, sugar and soy sauce. Bring to a simmer, taste and adjust seasoning if necessary, then drizzle in the cornflour and stock mixture while stirring, a little at a time, until a silky sauce forms. Remove the ginger, pour the sauce over the scallops and asparagus, and serve.
Garlic and eschallot chicken
Flavouring oil is key with wok-cooking: once infused with aromatic ingredients, the oil carries the flavours around the dish.
• 500g chicken thigh fillets, very thinly sliced on an angle
• ¼ cup peanut oil
• 4 eschallots, peeled and thinly sliced
• 6 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
• 1/2 tsp salt
• 1 tbsp dark soy sauce
• pinch of sugar
• handful coriander leaves, to garnish
• 2 tsp soy sauce
• 2 tsp Shaoxing wine
• 1 tsp sesame oil
• 1/2 tsp cornflour
• pinch of white pepperCombine chicken and marinade ingredients and set aside.
Heat the wok over a high heat, then add the oil around the edges so that it coats the wok. Add the eschallots and garlic and fry for about 2 minutes, until lightly browned and fragrant. Add the chicken and salt and toss until browned and nearly cooked through. Add dark soy sauce and sugar and toss to coat. Remove to a plate, rest for a moment, garnish with coriander and serve.
The goal of stir-frying is known as wok hei, which means "the spirit of the wok". It's a term that refers to the charry flavour you get from good wok cooking. The best way to achieve it: make sure you never overcrowd your wok.