I was living in Boston in the 1970’s when there was a sudden craze for dry wok stir-fry. I didn’t quite understand how the Boston public became such sudden converts of dry wok stir-fry. Possibly it was the result of a very aggressive marketing campaign by a certain Chinese restaurant in Brookline Village then known as Hunan Wok. Dry wok stir-fry was touted as a “healthy choice” just when people were becoming aware of the importance of eating right. Personally I think it is not just the technique but also the selection of fresh ingredients, and vigilant use of healthful oil and sauces that make stir-fry a wholesome cooking choice. In this conclusion of the stir-fry series let me show you why dry wok stir-fry should be part of your regular cooking repertoire.
Technically dry wok stir-fry (煸炒 or bian chao) can be further classified into raw protein stir-fry (生炒), cooked protein stir-fry (熟炒), and extreme-heat stir-fry (乾炒, 乾煸). But I think I am being too anal about technicality; the cooking process really follows closely with what I wrote in my stir-fry introductory post. The differences are in the ingredients used and heat level.
However, I am particularly intrigued by extreme-heat stir-fry because it is a very curious technique. The main ingredient is cooked to the point of dehydration, and then seasonings or sauces are added so that the flavor is completely absorbed. I love this technique because it intensifies the flavors of the ingredients. An example of this technique is Sichuan Style Stir-fried String Beans (乾煸四季豆). The string beans are fried with garlic, ginger, red chili and minced pork until they are shriveled and wrinkled. Then a mixture of soy sauce, vinegar and sugar is added. The outcome is a crunchy vegetable with such concentration of flavor as if pickled in the sauce.
The recipe I chose for today is not as exotic however. I am going to share a home-style stir-fry commonly found on a family table. It is Stir-fried Chicken with Chinese Celery (芹菜炒雞絲); a sort of Chinese comfort food one grows up with in a Chinese home. Try this recipe and I bet you will become a dry wok stir-fry fan as well.
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this series on stir-fry as much as I enjoyed putting it together. Stir-frying is so fundamental to Chinese cooking I feel remiss if I didn’t go in depth with it. Now that you’ve got the full knowledge of stir-fry be sure to take your wok out and fry away!
Stir-fried Chicken with Chinese Celery (芹菜炒雞絲)
- 12 ounces chicken breast skinless boneless and cut into thin strips
- 2 ounces Chinese celery cut into baton of 1 1/2 inch long
- 1 tablespoon garlic minced
- red chili a few strips for color (optional)
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
- 2 tablespoon Shaoxing cooking wine (紹興料酒)
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
This recipe calls for Chinese celery but regular celery can be used instead. Chinese celery has a much thinner stem and all you have to do is to cut it into 1.5 inch long pieces. If you use the regular celery you should first pull off the stringy fiber from stalks. Then cut them lengthwise into strips and then into 1.5 inch pieces.
Cut the chicken breast meat into thin strips about 1/8 inch thick. Put in the marinade ingredients of 1/4 teaspoon salt, cornstarch and vegetable oil let it sit for about 20 minutes.
Heat 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil in a wok over high heat. Put the chicken in when the oil is just beginning to smoke. Quickly stir-fry the chicken until it is just cooked, about 3 minutes. Drain the chicken, put it in a bowl and set aside. Leave about 1 tablespoon of oil in the wok. Stir-fry the garlic in the wok for just about 30 seconds, then put the celery in and continue to stir-fry for about 2 minutes. When the celery is just turning bright green put the chicken back in the wok, add 1/4 teaspoon salt, white pepper and cooking wine. Plate and serve.