Wok braised dishes should more appropriately be called wok simmered dishes. The predominant form of home-style cooking, braised dishes are simple, not messy, and relaxed to make. The resulting flavors are comforting and intense, like in this classic braised eggplant dish from Sichuan province.
Step 1: Parcook your Ingredients
Not all braises start with parcooking, but they often do. Parcooking is accomplished by either searing (as with some meats), steaming (like with this porous eggplant), or occaionally deep frying. The purpose is to add flavor or modify texture so that once added together, the ingredients will finish cooking just as the sauce finishes reducing.
For the eggplant, I steam it until it is tender to the touch and doesn't bounce back when I make an indentation with my finger.
Step 2: Fry Your Flavorings
In most vegetable-based braised dishes, your flavor base starts with a small amount of minced meat. We're talking about 1-ounce per portion here. The meat adds texture and flavor to the final dish.
Get your oil smoking hot, and fry the meat (in this case pork) for about 30 seconds, stirring and flipping it constantly.
Simpler braises will skip this step.
Step 3: Add Aroma
After the meat is cooked, aromatics like garlic, ginger, scallions, or chilies are added ans stir-fried for another 30 seconds. That's about the extent of really active cooking you have to do for a wok-simmered dish. Easy, right?
Step 4: Add Your Main Ingredient
The par-cooked main ingredient is added back to the wok and quickly tossed to distribute the flavorings around it.
This looks pretty darn delicious to me as-is, but the key step is coming up.
Step 5: Add Sauce
Sauce is added to the wok, brought up to a boil, and left at a gentle bubble to cook everything through.
Unlike stir fry sauces which are usually very strongly flavored and small in volume, a simmering sauce will be more watered down, and much more voluminous. Flavors, salt, and sugar levels all intensify as the sauce slowly simmers away, so make sure not to overseason before simmering.
This sauce is made with soy sauce, chicken/ham stock, black vinegar, chili-bean paste, sugar, and cornstarch.
Step 6: Simmer Down
After 20 minutes of simmering, the sauce has reduced to an intense, rich, glossy gravy, and the eggplant is meltingly tender and infused with flavor.
Step 7: Serve
Serve braised dishes with a big spoon and plenty of rice.