thorfinn: <user name="seedy_girl"> and <user name="thorfinn"> (Default)

Found the [community profile] singleserving food community, so I posted there with this Not-quite-instant noodles recipe. Crossposting it here to my own journal. :-)

I tend to mostly cook big batches of food - cooking for two busy people who go out dancing a lot, plus "dinner parties" occasionally, so most of my recipes aren't quite appropriate for here.

But, I do tend to get home after a long night of dancing and make myself a midnight snack, which, given my relatively insane metabolism, is what most people tend to define as a single serving meal. The most common item I make is "instant noodles", except dressed up. I also vary the amount of stuff I put in based on how hungry I am. :-)

The ingredients list is not as fixed as I present it below - any kind of protein based stuff works a treat (I often have pre-cooked diced-chicken-in-garlic-and-rice-wine lying around to add), but this is the quick and easy midnight snack with nothing prepared version.

Not-quite-instant noodles


  • eggs (1-3, either beaten or just cracked and left whole)
  • bacon (1-3 rashers, optional)
  • tofu (diced, good vegan option instead of the bacon and eggs)
  • garlic (fresh diced, or dried chips work as a cheat)
  • oil (amount and type to taste - I often use a mix of corn oil, peanut oil and sesame oil, volume is dependent on taste and fattiness of bacon)
  • about a litre of water (boiling)
  • dried noodle cakes (1-2) (maggi, or ramen cakes, or a zillion other options)
  • seasonings: e.g. curry-powder/chilli-powder/soy-sauce/tamari/salt (to taste, possibly added to beaten egg mixture in advance)
  • scallions/lettuce/spinach/fresh green leaf (cut roughly or torn); and/or frozen peas/beans/corn
  • fried shallots


  1. If using dried garlic chips, put them in a small bowl and wet them to "reconstitute" in advance.
  2. If using bacon, I usually dice it, but if I'm really tired/lazy I just tear it up into a few chunks.
  3. Fry bacon and oil in wok (or bottom of appropriate size metal pan)
  4. If using "dried" tofu, possibly choose to fry them here, or simply add them later, either is fine
  5. If you're using beaten eggs, add them here once the bacon is cooked, and slosh the eggs around carefully and turn occasionally to make an omelette, then break it up into spoon sized chunks once it's mostly cooked
  6. Add garlic (the reconstituted you'll have to watch very closely) and wait until it starts to brown
  7. Pour boiling water over it (watch the steam cloud and don't splash!)
  8. add the tofu (if you didn't already fry it)
  9. add the dried noodle cakes, add more water if necessary to cover the noodles, more or less water depending on how "soupy" you want the noodles
  10. If you're using whole eggs, gently slip them into the water to poach whilst the noodles cook
  11. add seasonings to your taste
  12. simmer for slightly less than the suggested noodle cooking time on the packet, occasionally stirring. If you can avoid breaking the egg yolks if you're poaching, that's one option, otherwise, don't worry, it's tasty anyway.
  13. toss in green vegetables, bring back to simmer
  14. serve in a large bowl with fried shallots on top for fun and crunch

Recipe: Congee

2010-Feb-24, Wednesday 12:44
thorfinn: <user name="seedy_girl"> and <user name="thorfinn"> (Default)

is an awesome food for when you're ill, or just feel like something hot and tasty and soft and nice. It's easy to make, and extremely easy to digest.

  1. Put about 2 cups of washed rice in a pot.
  2. Add a bit of olive or sesame oil and garlic (dried garlic is fine), fry it up for a few minutes. Skip this step if you don't want any oil.
  3. Pour in about 4 litres of water (substitute some chicken or vegetable stock for some of this if you like). Bring to boil, then turn down to low simmer.
  4. Leave for 15-25 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  5. Add some kind "stuff" for interest, one or more of the below:
    • Sliced white fish into it about 5 minutes out
    • Chicken cut into small bits and put in about 15 minutes out
    • Some random selection of chopped veges, e.g. carrots (10 mins out), broccoli (7 mins out), zucchini (5 mins out)
    • Minced pork + cornflour + white pepper, gently hand squeezed into balls (15 mins out)
    • sliced (already rehydrated) shitake mushrooms
    • Diced Century Egg
    • Whatever you may feel like adding that will poach well
  6. Serve with optional condiments:
    • good light soy sauce (optionally with sliced chillies in the soy)
    • fresh ground black pepper
    • fresh spring onions
    • dried fried shallots/onions
    • fried egg(s)
    • Chinese Donut

If you have time, you slow simmer the congee for about 4-5 hours, adding a bit more water, but I find that the above is a perfectly adequate shortcut.

Tastes good the next day, and it's all perfectly microwaveable, with the addition of about half a cup of water into a full bowl.

thorfinn: <user name="seedy_girl"> and <user name="thorfinn"> (Default)

Hainanese Chicken Rice is one of my favourite dishes. Since I grew up in Singapore, and my father's family is originally from Hainan (my grandparents emigrated to Johore from there), I tend to do the common Singapore variant which involves making everything from scratch on the day. Usual time from starting cooking to served on the table is around 90 mins to 2 hours, depending on how many chickens you want to do, and how fancy you want to get with the condiments.

This recipe is for one chicken, which will usually serve 4 adults provided they don't all eat as much as I do. Also instructions for condiments, including my chilli sauce recipe. There are about a zillion different ways to do the chilli sauce - this is the one I happen to like. Feel free to take alternate recipes off the Intarwebz, or try some of the tweaking options below. I assume you have a normal method of cooking rice - whatever that is, stick with it.


  • Large heavy stockpot, big enough to fit a whole chicken with room to spare, must have a tight sealing lid.

  • Wok or small frypan

  • Rice cooker (microwave version, or specific pot, or stove pot for absorption method)

  • Mortar and Pestle (you can use a blender if you must, but this is a lot better with mortar and pestle)

  • A small sieve

  • A good carving knife or chef's knife


  • 1 whole free range chicken - fully defrosted or fresh

  • sesame oil and olive oil

  • 1 head of garlic

  • 3 cups of rice

  • a few knobs or so of fresh ginger

  • several fresh chillies (use big not-so-hot ones or small super hot ones or a blend, depending how hot you want)

  • 1 bunch of spring onions (scallions, for USAnians)

  • A cucumber

  • "Ketjap Manis" or "Thick Soy Sauce"

  • light soy sauce


  1. Take chicken, slice out and reserve "fat pads" from around the neck and back of thighs, including a few bits of skin.

  2. Place chicken into large pot, fill with cold water until chicken is well underwater.

  3. Put pot on stove, bring to the boil. (That will take around 30-45 mins, most likely. See below for what to do when it boils.)

  4. In the meantime, take fat pads + skin, dice them roughly, put into wok/frypan, add a small amount of sesame oil and olive oil.

  5. Fry on a low to medium heat until skin is crispy. (Usually around 10 mins.)

  6. While that's going on, take head of garlic, remove the outer skin and separate cloves of garlic, but leave the skin on individual cloves intact where possible. (Don't forget to check your frying chicken fat and skin for burning and give them a stir regularly.)

  7. Once you've done that, set up your rice cooking as you would usually do (wash rice, put in cooker, add normal amount of water), then add the head of garlic cloves and about 3 tablespoons of rendered chicken oil and skin. Smoosh those down a bit into the rice. They won't stay down really, but it's kinda fun, and helps to mix the oil into the rice a little. Start the rice cooking.

  8. At this stage, your pot of chicken should be heading towards boiling. Let it just come to the boil, quickly turn it down to only just simmering enough to swirl the water with the lid off and leave it for about 5-10 minutes, then put the lid on and turn the heat off completely. NOTE: Do not open the lid to peek. You want that pot to stay hot, because the chicken will not be cooked if you let the pot cool down. Peeking will waste a lot of heat every time you open the lid. Don't be tempted. Really. Raw chicken is not good for you. It needs to sit on the stove for about 45 minutes and remain pretty hot the whole time.

  9. If you're cooking your rice on the stove with absorption method (rather than a fire-and-forget microwave cooker or rice cooker device), then finish your rice cooking off before moving on to the next step.

  10. Slice ginger, then pound in mortar until it is all smushy and no whole pieces remain.

  11. Press the pounded ginger into the small sieve over a small bowl, separating the pounded ginger flesh from the ginger juice.

  12. Chop chillies and lime leaves, then pound them in mortar until all smushy.

  13. Mix pounded chilli and lime leaves and ginger juice, possibly adding a small amount of the pounded ginger flesh. Put in a serving bowl.

  14. Chop spring onions (approximately cubed).

  15. Mix spring onions and pounded ginger flesh, pour remaining chicken oil over, add some more sesame oil, and mix well. Put in a serving bowl.

  16. Slice cucumber on the diagonal. If you can be bothered, wait and blanch it in the chicken pot once you remove the chicken. Put in serving bowl.

  17. Put some ketjap manis in a serving bowl.

  18. Put some light soy on table.

  19. Once you've waited the 45 minutes, the chicken should now be very nice and soft. Lift it out and drain it over the pot.

  20. Carve the breasts off the chicken and dice them. If you're clever and can be bothered with presentation (I never am), you can make sure the breast stays intact but diced, and place it on a big serving plate.

  21. Joint the thighs, drumsticks and wings and add to serving plate. If you're clever and can be bothered, you can assemble this around the breasts and make a chicken-looking object.

  22. Serve up everything (condiments in bowls, rice, chicken in the middle), and give everyone a bowl to eat with.

  23. Bring a bowl for bones.

  24. The plot with eating it is to put rice in your bowl, add whatever proportions of condiments you desire, grab chicken, and eat. Don't be afraid to use fingers with the bony bits, this is not an elegant dining experience.

  25. See Chinese Chopstick Technique if you need chopstick eating hints.

  26. Warning: You will overeat.

  27. Enjoy.


  • You now have a large pot of rather good chicken stock. You can turn this into egg-flower soup immediately, or just put it away for later use.

  • You also have a chicken carcass with rather a lot of meat left on it. Peel this off for sandwiches. Goes well with left over chilli sauce.

Tweaking (alternate options you might want to try):

  • Cheap pot - If you have a cheap pot that doesn't hold heat well, or an ill fitting lid, you may need to leave the stove on absolute minimum on the smallest burner, rather than relying purely on heat retention.

  • Flied Lice - Fry the rice in the chicken fat before putting it on to cook, which results in much tastier rice.

  • Sunday Service - Slice off the bishop/parson's nose and add it to the serving plate.

  • Giblets! - Boil some chicken livers in the stock and add them to the serving plate.

  • Show a bit more leg - If you want, you can add a couple of chicken marylands (thigh+drumstick cut) as well, since many people prefer the drumstick or thigh bits. I almost always do this if serving 4, mainly because I like leftovers.

  • Lots more chicken - If you have a big enough pot, two chickens and 4 marylands will feed a lot of people. You may need to boil the chicken for 15-30 mins rather than 5-10.

  • Get to da chopper - If you're really dedicated and have a large chopper and know what you're doing with it, and can be bothered (again, I never am), you can chop the thigh and drumstick through the bone and into pieces before serving.

  • Cor 'limey - Lime juice instead of or as well as lime leaves in the chilli sauce.

  • Stocky Sauce - Take out about half a cup of chicken stock once it's done and add to the chilli sauce.

  • Stock Savers - Freeze the stock in halves, use it next time, half plus more water for boiling the chicken, half for cooking the rice. (Credit: Tien Cya)

thorfinn: Thorfi lying on a bed with a bare back (bareback)

Chinese Eating Tips

Well... I gave some Chinese Stir Frying tips and instructions on Hot Wokking Action about six months ago, promising to give more cooking tips... Then I got lazy, and didn't. So, today, I shall give some tips on eating with Chinese chopsticks.

Firstly, not all chopsticks are the same. Chinese chopsticks are cylindrical at the front end, and usually square at the back end, changing shape somewhere in the middle. Japanese ones are pointy and cone shaped from at least halfway down, or sometimes all the way to the back end. These instructions are focused on Chinese ones, and although the same techniques can be applied to both, they will work better with the Chinese ones. Chinese chopsticks aren't pointy for the same reason that you won't find knives of any kind on the table. Knives and pointy things are for killing people and animals with and also for cutting them up afterwards. Having them at the table is the etiquette equivalent of setting a loaded and unsafetied gun down next to your plate in case your steak decides to leave. This is also why Chinese food is generally cut up small enough to fit chunks into your mouth, or else into a size/shape where it can be held with chopsticks and have a chunk bitten off it.

I'm not going to give you instructions on how to hold chopsticks in your hand. It's not all that hard, and the little pictures on the paper wrappers in some Chinese restaurants give you a better idea than I will. However, the first very important tip that isn't on the paper wrappers is: once you've got the chopsticks in your hand, tap the tips against the table to get them evenly positioned. It's impossible to effectively use chopsticks that aren't evened off. Do this regularly throughout your meal, every time the chopsticks start to get even slightly uneven at the tips.

When you need to pick something up with chopsticks, you should use a gentle gripping action, just below the centre of mass of whatever it is you are trying to pick up. The ultimate tricky item is a straw mushroom coated in a light cornflour gravy. Grip the item just under the middle, and don't try to grip hard. Grip too hard, and whatever it is will just fly out from between the sticks. Grip too soft, and you won't be able to pick the item up. Grip gently, just below the middle of the item, and you should be able to just lift it up fairly effortlessly.

On to the most common use of chopsticks... As a shoveling instrument. Really. Shovel. With chopsticks closed. This is especially true when eating rice. When eating rice, you should have the rice in a smallish chinese style bowl that you can pick up in your off-hand. Place your fingertips under the bowl, where there should be a nice cylindrical rim which stays cool even if the bowl is full of hot rice and gravy, and your thumb facing down on the upper rim of the bowl. Pick up a couple of bits of not-rice-stuff and put them into your bowl. This step doesn't necessarily have to be done with chopsticks. It can be done with whatever serving implements are on the table. Lift the bowl up to your mouth (no, don't bend your head down) and shovel some not-rice (enough for flavour) along with a chunk of rice into your mouth with the closed chopsticks. That's the primary use for chopsticks when eating rice. If eating rice off a plate, do what most Chinese do... Use a fork and spoon. Well, alright, you can do it with chopsticks if you really must, but I'll get to that later.

Okay... That's chopsticks and eating rice. Chopsticks and noodles, that requires a slightly more advanced technique. The noodles will usually be on a plate, or else in a large bowl. Either way, the crockery is too big to pick up and bring to your mouth. If, for some reason, you're eating noodles out of a small tiny bowl, then you can just use the shoveling technique, just like for rice. Otherwise, you need to be able to use a spoon (and it really should be a deep Chinese soup spoon for best results, or at least a Western soup spoon, not an ordinary tablespoon, or worse yet, a dessert spoon) in your off-hand. A bit tricky, I know, but kinda necessary for this technique. First, hold the spoon so its base is horizontal and flat. Pick up and deposit a small bit of not-noodles (meat, veges, whatever) in the bottom of the spoon, possibly including a little bit of soup or gravy. Just enough for flavour.

Now, gently grip about 3-6 strands of noodles (however many will comfortably sit in the spoon - you'll see that later) with the chopsticks. Lift, slowly, until the noodles you are gripping have separated from the rest of the mass of noodles. You may need to gently shake the noodles a little bit as you are lifting. Do not grip too hard, or you will partially sever the noodles, resulting in bits of them dropping off randomly, confusing the issue a lot. Don't grab too many strands, or you will be forced to grip too hard. Don't grab too few strands, or they'll slip out regardless of grip. Gently, gently catchee monkey noodles. Now, again gently, deposit the strands of noodles into the spoon. You may want to use a spiraling action as you are lowering the noodles. This should result in a spoon that is mostly filled with a hemispherical-ish pile of noodles about a centimetre plus in height, with none of them spilling out, or at least with not too much overhang.

You can now lift the spoon up to your mouth, and shove the whole thing in. If you're worried about losing the noodles, press gently down on the noodle pile with your chopsticks as you lift the spoon to your mouth. If the pile of noodles is too high and you can't fit the whole thing in your mouth, lean forward so your head is over the bowl/plate, and bite the pile of noodles about halfway down the spoon. Make sure you bite with your incisors (the front four teeth), not any of the others, or you won't be able to sever the noodles properly.

Now, here's the trickiest bit - you will also have to violate Western table etiquette. You must slurp as you bite down. It is imperative that you have a reasonable suction coming from your mouth as you bite down on the noodles, or they will not separate, and you will wind up with a tangled mess dangling from your mouth. This may result in fellow diners mistaking you for Cthulhu, losing their sanity, and possibly attempting to stab you with their chopsticks in order to prevent you from consuming all of humanity. Don't do it! Slurp instead! Honestly, it's correct etiquette to slurp! So... slurp as you bite halfway down the spoon. You may wish to have the chopsticks pressing gently down on the back half of the spoon as you bite. This should result in the back half of the noodle pile slipping down into the spoon as you pull it out of your mouth, although it will generally happen naturally with gravity anyway. A few bits may escape regardless, which is why I recommend leaning forward over the plate/bowl before biting down.

Mmmm... Okay. Now you've got the hang of the spoon and chopstick combo technique, you can use it to eat rice effectively off a plate. I, and probably most Chinese people, don't do it very often, since fork and spoon is just a helluva lot easier, but it is possible. Basically, use the chopsticks as a fork, shoveling a pile of rice plus some bits into the spoon, then pick the spoon up and put it in your mouth. The complication here is that it does require a fair bit more dexterity to manage the spoon in your off-hand whilst shoveling rice into it, as compared to simply dropping a pile of noodles into it whilst holding the spoon flat and still.

Once you've mastered that, you've pretty much mastered all there is to know about eating with Chinese chopsticks. In summary, use a gentle grip, don't be afraid to pick your rice bowl up and shovel, and if not doing that, make sure you're using a spoon in your off-hand.

thorfinn: <user name="seedy_girl"> and <user name="thorfinn"> (Default)

It occurs to me that I forgot to actually discuss wokking technique. The thing with a wok is that it's a slice off a sphere... Don't get one of those flat bottomed ones. They work, but the flat bottom gets in the way. You'll see why a bit later on. Okay.

Let's start with the wok-stirrer. Firstly, you grip it much like you grip a tennis racket. Hold the stirrer out horizontally in front of you, with the flippy bit pointing up. Your three little fingers should be curled around the bottom of the stirrer, gripping it. Then, curl your palm inwards, so your entire thumb (all the way to the base where it joins your wrist) is flat, and paralleling the stirrer grip over the little fingers, then bending down and pressing the stirrer with the pad of your thumb. The forefinger should naturally at this point be curling below the stirrer, so the stirrer is pressed into the inside of the first joint of the forefinger by the pad of the thumb.

That's the proper wok-stirrer grip. It's actually quite a flexible but strong grip... If you hold your thumb perfectly steady, and curl your forefinger inwards, simultaneously loosening off the little fingers slowly, you will notice the stirrer can be swung in almost a ninety degree arc, without really losing strength of grip on the stirrer. In cooking, I find I'll use about forty-five degrees of that freedom as I'm shoving stuff around the wok. Fiddle with this grip a bit, until it feels reasonable in your hand. Wave it around, practice batting invisible objects with it... or visible objects, possibly including humans, if so inclined. ;-) Oh, and keep your wrist steady. You don't need to turn your wrist at all. You want your hand to be an extension of your forearm. Any flexing of the stirrer that needs to be done, you can do at your fingertips, and by rotating your whole forearm, not the wrist.

Back to the wok... So, you've dumped a bunch of stuff into your wok. Now what? Now, the first thing you do, is spread the ingredients as thinly as possible around the wok, starting by using the flat bottom of the stirrer, and pressing into the centre of the wok, and smooshing up and out. Do this quickly around the entire circle of the wok, and you should now have the ingredients spread up and around the wok. As you proceed around the wok, you'll probably find that you'll use the forearm rotation and fingertip motions a reasonable amount.

The next stage of the sequence is to dig stuff back into the middle... At this point, return to the original grip as described, because we're about to use the stirrer like a shovel. Just dig from the edge of the ingredients, down into the centre. When you hit the centre with the stirrer plate, stop, then turn your forearm out, and turn your elbow in. This should cause the stirrer plate to do a smallish 180 degree circle-flip, thus mixing the ingredients around. This works fine for the quarter circle where your arm is, but doesn't work for the rest of the wok. For that, you just pull the ingredients down into the middle, then go back to the quarter circle and dig again to mix. Now go back to the first step, and smoosh everything out again...

That's the process for stirring and turning over the entire contents of a wok. When practised, turning over the entire contents of a wok should take maybe ten or twenty seconds. Don't try it that fast initially, stuff will go everywhere. Notice that the dig and flip motion is a lot easier on a round bottomed wok, whilst a flat bottomed one will have "clunk" points, so you can't get a smooth dig and flip action... and it'll be near impossible to smoosh and flatten things up the side of a flat bottomed wok.

Now, why are we doing this at all? Well, as you're doing the smoosh, dig and flip circuit, you can pay attention to putting the less cooked pieces (usually the bigger bits) towards the bottom of the mix, thus ensuring a more even cooking process, and ensuring that everything comes out cooked at the same time. That's all for now!

However, the next time I post on cooking, I'm thinking of talking about noodles, the various kinds, and what can be done with them... Suggestions for other topics and any questions are definitely welcome, and if people have a specific noodle type preference, please say, because the topic of noodles is way too big to cover in just one post.

thorfinn: <user name="seedy_girl"> and <user name="thorfinn"> (Default)

Hiya. Most of you know me... ;-) Today, I'm going to talk about chinese stir frying, and in particular what they don't tell you in the cookbooks. Warning, this is a little bit opinionated about wok choice, and somewhat rambly. I was going to talk about chinese cooking generally, but I think that this is just going to have to be a series.

Firstly, lets start with the most important thing... cooking equipment. You must have an iron wok, the thicker the better. You can get a cheap one in Chinatown for about ten dollars, and although it won't be the thickest or heaviest wok, who's going to argue for ten bucks? The important thing is that it's not one of those cheesy non-stick things. This is important, because to do stir-fries properly, you're going to need to be violent with the wok. Violence and non-stick just don't go. Along with this, you need a device which is best described as a "wok-stirrer-flippy thing". It looks a bit like an egg flip, but it has a solid trapezoidal-ish bit, instead of the flip bit. It's got to be sturdy, for the same reason as the wok. Buy it at the same place as you bought the cheap wok. Err, you probably want a wok lid, too. I don't have one, but that's because I'm lazy, plus I've gotten really good at judging ingredient timing... more on that later.

Back to the wok... When you get it initially, it will be shiny steel coloured. This is not the way it's supposed to be. Take it out of the packaging and wash it with soap to clean off any packaging and manufacturing residues. This is the first, only and last time you'll ever wash the wok with soap, okay? Trust me on that. Err, now, put it on your gas stove. Don't have a gas stove? Err, better buy yourself a gas barbie with a wok burner. You can't stir-fry without gas. Well, alright, you can do it on wood fires, but nobody's done that since gas became readily available. Right. Back to the topic. Light the gas, put the wok on. Pour a bit of oil in. Wait for it to get hot, and start smoking. Pick the wok up, and pour it around the wok, until it covers the entire wok. Plonk the wok back on the stove. Wait for the oil to smoke again. Repeat until you're bored, for as long as you can stand it, adding oil as necessary. When you're bored, take the wok off, carry it over to the sink. Wash it with clean slightly warm water and a gentle plastic scrubber. Do not use a steel scrubber, do not use soap. Your wok should now be somewhat black. It won't be fully black yet, but that comes after about six months of regular use. Now, having washed it, put it back on the gas, and wait for it dry. When it's dry, pour a bit of oil in, and spread it around the wok. This cleaning and re-oiling process is something you must do religiously after every time you cook in the wok. The only exception is if you've cooked something that's basically oily and not high in water content (eg, asian style omelette, or a purely meat stir-fry), then you can just leave it on the stove until you're ready to rinse it off, gas-dry it, and re-oil. Repeat, never wash the wok with soap. You're trying to get the oil to settle into the wok, seasoning the metal, and eventually producing a protective black layer. With a really good thick wok that's been used for years, the entire metal gets infused with oil and turns black. This is essential for imparting a "this is wok cooked" flavour to stuff you cook in the wok. Yes, the difference is noticeable.

Okay. With the wok out of the way, lets switch briefly to the other end of the process... the eating. Asian meals are pretty much always "buffet style", in western terms. The dishes go in the middle of the table (and if you're fancy, they have individual serving implements, otherwise only the dishes with gravy have a spoon), and people serve themselves. Cultural note - knives at the table are considered as poor etiquette (knives are for chopping people up with too, y'know... so having a knife at the table is like having a gun on the table), hence everything is served in pre-cut bite (-ish) sized chunks. Rice is usually present (and I highly recommend basmati rice, not the ubiquitous jasmine rice. Basmati has a higher glycaemic index, i.e., it's slower to be digested and absorbed into the bloodstream, hence better for you.

So... rice. Electric rice cookers are good. So are microwave rice cookers. It's possible to cook rice on a stove, but it's trickier, since you have to pay attention or it'll burn. Personally, I always use a microwave rice cooker. Pour in however much rice you want. Take the rice cooker pot to the sink. Fill with cold water, stick your hand into the pot and stir it around as it fills. Tip the water (which should now be a murky white) out. Repeat the fill, stir, and empty process until the water is reasonably clear. I usually find that 3-4 times is okay, 6 is good if you want it especially non-gluggy. If you don't do this, you will get gluggy rice. Now, put cold water in, and fill it to a level which is about one finger joint above the rice in the pot (ie, if you dip your finger in the water, the tip hits the rice as the first joint starts to hit the water). Stick the lid on, put it in the microwave, set the microwave for ten minutes on high, followed by 5-10 minutes on medium. 5 for about 2 cups of rice, 10 for anything up to 5 cups of rice. Tell the microwave to go, and away it goes, fire and forget. Electric rice cooker is the same deal, except you don't even have to worry about the time.

So far, this stuff should be familiar to some of you. So lets switch to something a bit more esoteric, which probably only those of you with asian cultural backgrounds will know about... Ingredient choice. First, I'll go through the factors that you need to know about your ingredients, then I'll put it together and describe how you choose ingredients for a stir fry. Bear with me, this will all make sense at the end...

Chinese divide foods into a, err, "temperature" scale, and also into a wide variety of medicinal type effects. For the purposes of basic stir-fries, we won't worry about the medicinal-fu, that's more for soups and more esoteric dishes. The temperature scale is basically "cold" food to "hot" food, and we're not talking about the actual temperature. We're talking about its effect on the body's energy after you eat it. Basically, if it speeds up your metabolism for a while, it's a "hot" food, whilst if it slows it down, it's a "cold" food. Cucumbers are cold, chillies are hot. Carrots are warm. Potatoes are warm. Lettuce is cool to cold. Zucchini is cool. Meat is warm. Jasmine rice is... neutral. Basmati rice is warm. Beans are warm. Bean shoots are slightly cool, as are buk choy and choy sum. Prawns are hot. Lobster is cool. Crab is warm. Fish... depends on the fish, but mostly neutral. Hrm. Anyway... that's probably enough examples - the "temperature" effect is something you should be able to work out if you think about it. Your brain knows.

Another ingredient thing you have to know is the water production of the substance in question under cooking. You need to know this for all the ingredients you're putting into the stir fry. Sliced meat, for example, is not water producing for a while, but starts to produce water after a few minutes of cooking. Fresh beans are only lightly water producing. Frozen beans are reasonably water producing. Choy sum, buk choy, and other soft green vegetables are mostly highly water producing, as are bean shoots.

The last scale that you need to consider things on is their colour. Really, the colour. As in, green, white, brown, orange, red...

Okay. Let's start with how to choose ingredients and prepare them for your stir fry. Firstly, if you're not vegetarian, then a good stir fry has to contain meat. Really. If you are vegetarian, then that's okay, what you need is meat substitute. And no, I'm not talking about TVP or tofu. Both are viable, but there are much better options. What you want is beans, or zucchini, or any other vegetable that's very high in protein content. This is crucial to a good mixed stir fry. The only exception to this rule is a "pure soft vegetable" stir-fry, but I'll get to that later. So, the first thing you need to do, is choose your meat (or meat substitute). If you're vegetarian, skip this next bit, it's relevant only to actual meat. I'll get back to the high protein veges after this.

What you want, for a stir-fry, is a meat that can be sliced either into thin pieces, or small bite sized cubish bits. Chop it up, dump the chopped bits into a mixing bowl. Toss in some cornflour (about a heaped teaspoon for every few hundred grams of meat - enough to make only a very thin coating), some pepper, and some light soya sauce (enough to dampen the cornflour a bit, but not to make it really wet, just a little bit sticky). Err, on soya sauce... a good soya sauce is absolutely crucial, and the difference between good soy and bad soy is extremely noticeable. Good soy sauce is actually a very complicated flavour, and poor soy sauce is not much more flavoursome than black ink with some salt in. I highly recommend Pearl River Bridge brand. And there is light soy and dark soy... Dark soy is slightly thicker, and has a sweeter flavour. Light soy is what I recommend for stir-fries, but it's a personal preference. Anyway, having dumped the soy, cornflour and pepper on the meat, reach in and mix it around. Relax, I know it's squooshy feeling, but it's okay. It's just like playdough, only meatier. ;-) Anyway, once the coating is on the meat, set it aside on the bench. If you have a cat, or flies, then cover the dish.

Now. If you're vegetarian, you want a lot of high-protein veges (beans, etc). For non-vegetarians, choose some of these, but not a high quantity, since you're covered for the protein content by the meat. High protein veges are generally not high in water production when cooked... that can probably be used as an identifying factor, if you're not sure. Take the veges, and chop them up. Now, for something like beans, you actually want to chop them up diagonally - this increases the surface area of the vegetable that's exposed, which improves their cooking time. Zucchini, I recommend cutting into tea-light sized round flat cylinders, then halving or quartering them in order to get an approximately even size. Plonk all these vegetables either into individual bowls, or else into different spots on a plate, and set them aside.

So, you now have the "base" of your stir fry ingredients... most of these are "warm". That's good. You now want to pick a mix of other vegetables that will round out your stir fry. Firstly, by colour. Red capsicum, nice yellow corn kernels, orange carrots, these are entirely viable colour choices, and you can add them all if you want. I think about two or three different colours is nice, and more overloads it. Carrots, chop into very thin slices, again diagonally, or else they will take forever to stir-fry. Capsicum - cut in half in the long direction, tear out the seeds. Cut into quarters, then slice the quarters in the long direction, leaving you strips of capsicum. Depending on personal taste, then chop the strips into half, or even proceed to dice if you want. Note, the smaller you cut any vegetable, the more water-producing it becomes, and the quicker it cooks.

Next in your ingredient choice is temperature... You don't actually want more than one cool or cold ingredient in a mixed stir fry. Stir fry should be an overall warming food. Most of the ingredients should be warm or neutral, with maybe one cooling item (eg, bean shoots).

Semi-finally, you need to make sure that you don't have a list of stuff that's filled with a lot of heavily water producing stuff. If you do, it's going to be a problem, your stir fry will turn into a stir-soup. Not what you want, really. We're aiming to have some water by the end of the cooking, but not tons of it.

The last thing is, you really need garlic here. If you're not lazy, use fresh garlic, and chop it up relatively finely. And have lots. If you're lazy, like me, then buy dried garlic... you can get kilo bags of the stuff from a chinese grocery shop for a few dollars. You need to use more of it than the fresh stuff, but it's a helluva lot more convenient. EDIT: If using the dried garlic, dampen it a bit before putting it into really hot oil.

Okay, so now you have all these chopped up ingredients... we get to the exciting bit. Cooking it. This is the trickiest part. The first trick is - grab yourself a mug of freshly boiled and thus hot water. Set it on the bench, near the wok. We'll want that later. The key to good stir frying is to keep the wok relatively dry throughout most of the cooking process. This is absolutely crucial. Once the wok starts to have water in it, the cooking temperature drops massively, from the 150-250 centigrade point of oil with stuff in to the 100 centigrade boiling point of water. At that point, you're stewing, not stir frying. But, you do need that glass of water, because if you're keeping the wok dry, you don't want it to get so dry that stuff burns... more on that as we go.

The next big trick is for the non-vegetarians. Cook the meat first, then take it out, just at the point when it starts to produce water (which is just at the point when it's almost fully cooked). Dump oil (I use olive oil, because I'm generally not worried about adding a reasonable amount of that, it's a fairly healthy oil, but peanut is a more traditional choice) into the wok, turn the gas on. I sometimes add sesame oil for flavour (oh, and if you want, you can pick some sesame seeds up). Wait until the oil is smoking in the wok, and if you want, put some salt in the oil. Salt is not necessary at this stage. Throw in the garlic. Wait for it to start to brown (this is instantly if you're using dried garlic, and in a very short time for fresh garlic). As soon as it starts to brown (don't wait for it to all go brown, if you do that, it'll go black and burn), grab your mixing bowl of meat, and throw it in. Now, quick, stir it and mix it around. If you have a lot of meat, and a thinnish wok, I recommend doing this in batches of 300 grams or so, because if you do a large amount at the same time, it will start to ooze lots of juice before it's fully cooked. If this happens, don't worry too much, just take out the meat (just put it back into the bowl you got it out of), reduce the remaining juices to almost gravy, then pour the juices back on the meat. Now, set the mostly-cooked meat aside.

Okay, the vegetarians start here... Start with some oil, just as before, and garlic, also as before. Onions if you like them. Toss in a pile of sesame seeds if you like them. What you need to do next, is add the other veges in order of time they take to cook, basically aiming to "time on target" them all, so that they all come out perfectly cooked but not overdone at the end of the cooking process. I recommend that beginners start with stir fries of only one or two vege components, so you get used to cooking times, then add more as you get experienced. If you have any high-water producing vegetables, you'll find you don't need to add them until the very end. So, add the vege ingredients, one at a time, in order depending on the cooking time required. At any point where it seems that the wok is too dry, add a splash of light soy, and once you've added enough soy, pour some water from that glass earlier. Now, here's the trick - add the soy or water by drizzling it around the edge of the wok, not into the middle. That way, it pours down the sides of the wok and collects heat from all over, thus wetting things down without turning the stir fry into stir-stew.

For the meat eaters, at the point where you're switching from the mostly water-non-producing vegetables to the high-water producing vegetables (they are always very low cooking time, usually measured in a minute or less), you pour the meat back in. At this point, you are switching from stir-fry to stir-stew, and this is intentional. Leave the meat to cook for a minute or two before you put the watery veges in, particularly if the meat is chicken or pork, which you do not want to be at all raw. Beef or lamb is fine to be a bit raw, so feel free to throw the veges in immediately.

At this point, if you're not actually adding much in the way of watery veges, I recommend putting the cover on, thus keeping in the steam. If you don't have a lid, then you might have to keep drizzling water in... That's fine too, and in one way better, because you're paying close attention. Once it's all cooked, pour the whole thing into a serving bowl (a large deep bowl, not a shallow one, or it will get cold on the table). Now, quick, the moment you've poured the stuff out of the wok, turn the gas flame to minimum, drag the wok over to the sink, and wash it out with cold or warm water and either a cloth or plastic scrubber, pour the water out, and stick it back on the stove, turn the gas up. Wait for it to dry off, put oil back in it and pour it around the entire surface. Now you're done. At least, I hope you are, because you started the rice cooking in the microwave about ten minutes before you started the stir fry...

Take the serving bowl of stir fry to the table, put it in the middle. Take the pot of rice, put it off to one side. Give everyone bowls and implements of choice. I also highly recommend sliced hot chillies in a small bowl with light soy poured over the top, and a teaspoon, as a condiment. Voila, you now know how to construct a perfect stir fry from scratch, using whatever ingredients you want.

April 2015

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