A Well Seasoned Wok!

The other day, after dropping off some soup for a friend that is recovering from an illness, we were looking for a short walk and decided to head towards the Wethersfield Estate and Gardens in Amenia, New York. We knew that the gardens were probably closed for the season, but the area around the estate is beautiful. We parked our car at the beginning of Pugsley Road, close to the entrance to the gardens and were treated to expansive views of the surrounding hills and farmland. With all of the leaves down, the sky is open and the patterns of the bare branches are intricate and mesmerizing. I love observing the subtle combination of browns and tans with the contrast of purple and red berries.

It was a brisk and windy day-after we returned home we treated ourselves to hot chocolate made with unsweetened almond milk, cocoa powder, a few chunks of dark chocolate and a pinch of monk fruit sweetener. Paul made steamed almond milk to go on top with a dusting of cinnamon and nutmeg.

For dinner that evening, I took out my trusty and very well seasoned wok; checked available ingredients and decided to make Spicy Soba Noodles with Ginger Chicken, Broccoli and Peanuts.

Many years ago, I took a Szechuan Chinese cooking class at the New School in New York City. I still use not only the same wok that I bought in Chinatown, but also many of the cooking techniques taught by a wonderful instructor, Norman Weinstein. I had no idea at the time that Norman would become one of the most beloved cooking instructors and knife sharpening and technique experts in the city! After each class, we would gather around a big table to share the food that we had learned about and prepared. Paul and I had recently started living together on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. He very sweetly offered to accompany me home and would arrive to each class with impeccable timing just as the food was set out!

I recently read about a technique called “velveting” chicken, pork or seafood that creates a soft tender texture. This works! I thinly sliced 2 boneless chicken breasts and marinated them briefly with tamari, sesame oil, brown rice vinegar and a few drops of hot sesame chili oil. I made a slurry with some cornstarch and water and mixed it with the chicken mixture. I gathered together the rest of my ingredients; finely chopped ginger and garlic, broccoli that was steamed and cooled in an ice bath, cooked and drained soba noodles and the final sauce of more tamari, brown rice vinegar, chili oil and sesame oil. The French call this mise en place. Once you actually start to cook the dish, all goes quickly!

One of the most important tips that I remember is how to heat the wok before starting to cook. Over a high heat, place the wok and heat until it starts to smoke. After this, add a small amount of canola or peanut oil and heat that until it starts to almost smoke; now you are ready! Add the chopped ginger and garlic and cook it stirring with 2 wide spatulas in a circular motion for a few seconds- it’s important to keep everything moving so it does not burn. Then add the chicken and marinade mixture and continue to cook the same way until the chicken is cooked through. Add the broccoli, stir well for a minute or so and then add the soba noodles, peanuts; stir briefly and add the final sauce along the edges of the wok. Adding the sauce this way utilizes the heat of the wok to bring out the best flavor.

Spicy Soba Noodles with Ginger Chicken, Broccoli, and Peanuts

Ingredients:

2 boneless chicken breasts thinly sliced (the chicken was still a bit frozen and this made it easier to slice thinly)

1 medium broccoli crown- steamed until crisp tender. Remove from heat and quickly rinse with very cold water or place in an ice bath. This will retain the bright green color and texture.

1 package soba noodles- cooked and drained.

1/2 cup (or more to taste) roasted peanuts

2 tablespoons finely chopped ginger

1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic

Marinade:

2 tablespoons tamari

1 tablespoon sesame oil

1 tablespoon brown rice vinegar

1 teaspoon hot chili oil (or more to taste)

Cornstarch slurry:

2 tablespoons cornstarch mixed with water to make a smooth paste

Sauce:

2 tablespoons tamari

1 tablespoon sesame oil

1 tablespoon brown rice vinegar

1 teaspoon (or to taste) hot chili oil

To prepare:

Heat wok as described above

Add oil bring back to high heat. Add ginger and garlic and cook briefly.

Add chicken and cook until done. You can cut a small piece with your spatula to check if the inside is not pink and it slices easily.

Add broccoli and stir briefly.

Add soba noodles and peanuts and stir together for about a minute.

Add sauce alongside the wok and stir all together briefly.

Enjoy!!

The good news is that as I am writing this blog, our new stove is being installed. I will now have an oven!! The kind technicians are masked safely up and the windows are all open for maximum air circulation. I can think ahead for plans for our small Thanksgiving feast this year!

Here is the menu plan so far: A Turkey Breast Roulade based on a NY Times recipe by Ina Garten, (but mine will also have a sour dough bread stuffing with shallots, pecans and mushrooms), braised greens, steamed cauliflower with lemon, garlic, olive oil and capers, and a nod to past Italian American Thanksgiving feasts; Broken Oven Zucchini Lasagna, that I wrote about in a recent blog! Dessert will be a sugar free Apple Pie. We will look forward to ZOOM meetings with our daughter and her partner Katie’s family and with Paul’s brother. And, as some people are suggesting, maybe next summer we can all meet together and hug as much as we want!!

Here is my “Tree of the Week”

“Oh my”- maybe this week he will finally go away!!”

Happy Thanksgiving- please stay safe!

Author: Judith Dansker

Professional oboist and chamber musician- member of Hevreh Ensemble and Winds in the Wilderness, Professor of Oboe Hofstra University; observer of people, art and nature; passionate food and travel explorer.

4 thoughts on “A Well Seasoned Wok!”

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