Celebrate Chinese New Year on 28 January by grabbing a wok and mastering the art of the stir fry...
1. Choose your wok
One of the greatest things about stir-frying is that the equipment doesn't need to be expensive. You can pick up a standard aluminium wok from an Oriental grocer for well under a tenner. Just make sure it isn't too big for the largest ring on your hob, or it's unlikely you'll be able to use it to its full potential. Woks with a single, long handle are easiest to get to grips with, but you may prefer one with two shorter handles (which can be easier to carry when full).
2. Season well
Nope, we're not talking about salt and pepper, the key to a successful stir fry is a well-seasoned wok. Once washed with soapy water, dry the wok well and rub with a little flavourless oil, like sunflower or groundnut. Leave the wok over a low heat for about five minutes, wiping again with a little more oil. Leave to cool completely, then repeat without washing the pan between. Don't be tempted to crank the heat up, or you'll blacken the pan. Once seasoned, rinse with water and dry. Avoid using too much soap or scrubbing the pan after use. The more the wok becomes seasoned through use, the better it will perform and the nicer the food will taste.
3. Be prepared
Preparation is the key to success, and it's never been truer than with stir frying. When you're going to be cooking a meal in a few minutes, it's important to make sure all your ingredients are laid out and ready to hit the pan. With flavour essentials like ginger, chilli and garlic, make sure they're finely chopped or shredded. Crunchy vegetables like carrots should be sliced thinly, whereas veg that softens easily like courgettes and peppers can be left a little chunkier. Slice meat a few millimetres thick so it will brown without overcooking.
4. Keep it hot
Add a splash of flavourless oil to the pan – sunflower or groundnut are perfect – and get it really hot. You should almost be able to see a haze on top of the oil. Throw your meat, chicken or tofu (if you're using fish or prawns add these later as they cook quicker) into the pan, leave for a few seconds, stir and leave again. This will help build up lots of colour and with that, flavour. Transfer to a plate once the meat is almost cooked.
5. Spice it up
Now add more oil to the pan, and then it's time for your key flavour makers – chilli, garlic, ginger and onions. Cook for a minute, stirring, until the aromas have been released. Toss in your veg next and give a good stir to coat them in oil, pour in a splash of water or a mixture of water and soy sauce and you'll get things cooking even faster. After a minute or two, add your cooked meat back to the pan (or add cubed fish or prawns now) and keep stirring for two to three minutes until everything is cooked through and piping hot. Season with ground white pepper, soy sauce and a splash of toasted sesame oil.
There are literally millions of wok-friendly flavour combinations you can create, so play around with different spices, meat or fish combinations, vegetables and condiments. Just don't forget to keep stirring and keep the heat cranked up!