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Since getting to test out the WokMon, an ingeniously simple little device that dramatically changes the way your wok works on your home gas burner, I've been stir-frying almost non-stop. Of course, even before the WokMon, summer has always been stir-fry season for me. The meals are almost always quick, simple, and require a minimum amount of time in a hot kitchen, and, if I want to be really hard-core about it, I can fire up the grill for the ultimate wok'ing experience. (And yeah, you can always stir-fry on a normal burner as well.)
This particular recipe starts with thin strips of lean pork in a light marinade made with soy sauce, Chinese wine, sesame oil, cornstarch, sugar, white pepper, and a pinch of baking soda—ingredients designed to improve its flavor, browning characteristics, and tenderness. The pork is tossed with two different types of chives—Chinese yellow chives and regular Chinese blossoming chives (you can find both pretty easily in an Asian market, or just substitute with sliced scallions, leeks, or onions)—a few aromatics, and a touch more soy sauce and wine. If saucy, gloopy stir-fries are your thing, this is not the recipe for you.
The key to developing wok hei, the smoky flavor that is the hallmark of a great stir-fry is to use super high heat and cook quickly. I start by heating oil until it's smoking hot over the highest possible heat. Once it starts smoking in earnest, I add my chives, stirring and tossing them constantly until they're bright green and just barely cooked through. I then transfer the to a bowl while I cook the pork.
With a stronger restaurant-style range, I could cook all my ingredients at once. At home, I cook in batches to ensure that every ingredient is exposed to as much heat as possible.
Next up, I cook half of the pork, spreading it in a single layer so it browns slightly before tossing and stirring it. The marinade I applied earlier does quite a bit of the work. The sugar and soy sauce both improve browning characteristics, while the soy sauce and baking soda work to break down some of the meats proteins, helping to keep them tender and retain moisture better. Baking soda also raises the pH of the meat, which promotes better browning. Finally, the thin layer of cornstarch that coats the meat protects it, creating a buffer that prevents the raw meat fibers from coming into direct contact with the hot wok, which helps keep them more tender.
Passing the stir-frying food directly through a flame to help vaporize tiny particles of oil can also build on that wok hei flavor. It's completely possible to do at home if you're working on an outdoor grill or have a WokMon.
Once the pork is cooked (I go in two batches to maximize heat), I add minced garlic, ginger, and scallions, stir-fry them briefly, then toss everything back together in the wok for a final re-heat and saucing stage. Think of this like finishing off your pasta in the skillet to get the sauce to coat it evenly.
I push the ingredients up the side of the wok to make a small space in the center, then add a touch more wine, soy sauce, and white pepper and let it reduce slightly before tossing it all together with the other ingredients.
Tender, smoky pork and chives, with just enough sauce to give it a thin, flavor-packed coating is the end result.
About the author: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt is the Chief Creative Officer of Serious Eats where he likes to explore the science of home cooking in his weekly column The Food Lab. You can follow him at @thefoodlab on Twitter, or at The Food Lab on Facebook.