What are your favorite wok recipes? (W/ a bonus question re: soy sauce)
June 20, 2013 12:30 PM   Subscribe

It's been a long time since I've had a wok. (At some point, the old one became repurposed as a popcorn popper and, while it was very good at that task, it was no longer useful for its intended purpose.) Besides popcorn, what are your favorite things to cook in your wok? Specific recipes welcome, or general ideas, with sauce ideas being of particular value. I'm not huge on seafood, but anything else is okay. (We cook heavy on the veggies and tofu.)

By the way, the impetus behind the purchase was to enable the quick cooking of healthy meals during the summer, when it's unpleasant to be in the hot kitchen, standing over a pot, for longer than necessary.

Bonus question: Favorite soy sauce? I bought some at the Korean market in town based on the fact that its only ingredients were soy, salt, and water, and it was AWFUL -- just tasted like salty water, and was very thin. I'd like to find something that tastes better than Kikkoman and has as few additives as possible.
posted by mudpuppie to Food & Drink (18 answers total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: This is a good soy sauce roundup. I like the San-J tamari, but the takeaway is that different soy sauces are used for different things. You may have bought guk ganjang/"soup" soy sauce, which is used to season soups and tends to be more salty than flavorful.
posted by pullayup at 12:48 PM on June 20, 2013

I'll be interested in the answers to the recipe component of this question, not having any good advice in that area myself. As for the soy sauce recommendation -- I like San-J's line of soy sauces. They have an Organic Reduced Sodium Gluten-Free Tamari one that I think has a good flavor. (On preview: I see I've been beaten to the punch in mentioning San-J, so just consider this a seconding of that brand.)
posted by Janta at 12:49 PM on June 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Pad Thai!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:52 PM on June 20, 2013

Best answer: May I present to you the SUPER EASY NEVER FAIL STIR FRY:

Your ingredients will fall in to the following categories-

AROMATICS - ginger and garlic are the standards here. Also scallions (white parts only, reserve the green stalks for later), dried chiles, and Szechuan peppercorns. Go nuts.

PROTEIN - I mostly do chicken or tofu, but beef, shrimp, pork will all work here. Fatty or lean, whatever. I did pork belly a couple of weeks ago and it was great, the fat really thickened up the sauce nicely.

VEGETABLES - Broccoli, bell pepper, bok choy, snap peas, string beans, onion, whatever you like! I keep cans of sliced water chestnuts, bamboo shoots, and baby corn on hand for the true Chinese take-out experience.

SAUCE - Mine usually start with soy sauce and chicken stock or white wine, plus whatever flavorings will complement the PROTEIN. Such things can include oyster sauce, hoisin, worcestershire sauce, rice wine, rice vinegar, dark vinegar, etc. Mix it all up and TASTE IT NOW BEFORE YOU GO ANY FURTHER. Seriously. If it sucks right now, chuck it and try again.

THICKENER - if you want, mixing some cornstarch with a little bit of warm water in a small bowl will thicken up the sauce when you cook. For particularly fatty meat like pork belly it probably won't be necessary.


If you want rice, start cooking rice. It will take awhile.

Cut your PROTEIN into bite-sized chunks (for shrimp, peel and keep whole). Marinate your PROTEIN in a mixture of soy sauce and your sauce flavoring (so, soy sauce and oyster sauce for example), or at least try to keep the flavors complementary.

Set aside while you chop your VEGETABLES into similarly sized bite size pieces. Large pepper chunks are fine, larger broccoli florets are good. Don't stress about this too much, just make sure they don't get to small. Leafy things like bok choy I usually just chop the end off and separate the leaves; they'll cook down a bit. Separate leafy things from other, heftier vegetables.

Prep your AROMATICS by mincing garlic and ginger (I usually DO want fine pieces here), split dried chiles in half and retain the seeds, slice scallion whites. Throw the sliced green pieces in your SAUCE. Crack peppercorns with a heavy pot (or grind them if you want).

Everything should now be cut, in a bowl, sitting next to your stove. Mise en place is important here because things are about to start going really fast.

Take your WOK and place it on your STOVE. Turn the burner on your STOVE to its hottest setting. You may want to turn on your range hood if you have one. Add a couple tablespoons of vegetable OIL; don't go for anything fancy like sesame oil, it's just going to smoke and go nasty.

When your WOK and OIL are hot and shimmery, throw in your AROMATICS and stir fry until you can start to smell them (about 30 seconds). Immediately throw in your PROTEIN and cook until almost done. This will vary wildly on how large your pieces are and what type of PROTEIN you have, but keep stirring!

When the time is right, add your VEGETABLES except for the leafy things. Continue to stir fry until the VEGETABLES begin to look bright and vibrant. At this point, add the SAUCE and the leafy VEGETABLES. The leafy greens will steam while the SAUCE boils. When the leafy VEGETABLES look right and proper, you may add the THICKENER and continue to boil the sauce for another few seconds.

Congratulations! Your meal is complete. Serve over rice or noodles. I can usually complete this meal (from pulling out the cutting board to spooning dinner in to bowls) in 30-45 minutes. You can vary this in infinite ways and experiment with sauce flavorings to your heart's content.
posted by backseatpilot at 12:53 PM on June 20, 2013 [31 favorites]

(On rereading, I seem to have implied it in the INGREDIENTS section but you will need to mix together your SAUCE at some point. Do that after prepping your AROMATICS.)
posted by backseatpilot at 12:55 PM on June 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

Also (sorry), you know what's super bad-ass? Turning your stir fry in the pan without any utensils. Practice flipping that sucker in the pan. Bad. Ass. Men will swoon. Women will look up to you. Throw that shit in the air.
posted by backseatpilot at 1:00 PM on June 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I too like the San-J Tamari sauce as well but go for the reduced sodium version which is plenty salty for my tastes (and I have no fear of salt).
posted by mmascolino at 1:21 PM on June 20, 2013

Best answer: My favourite soy sauce is kecap (ketjap) manis. It's thick and sweet and great for marinades.
posted by Caconym at 1:27 PM on June 20, 2013

Best answer: This recipe for honey black-pepper beef stir fry is amaaaaaaazing. The sauce is great with beef and snow peas. It would also be awesome on just a whole pile of bell peppers and onions.
posted by specialagentwebb at 1:41 PM on June 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I would like to add a variant to backseatdriver's SUPER EASY NEVER FAIL STIR FRY - lo mein.

Ingredients are much the same as the stir fry, except for an additional two ingredients:

NOODLES: lo mein noodles if you can get your hands on them. Spaghetti or linguine if you can't.

SAUCES: soy sauce obvs. Oyster sauce as well.


1. Cut up the PROTEIN and marinate as directed in the STIR FRY recipe.

2. Boil the NOODLES until al dente, just like it says on the package. Drain and put that aside.

3. When you chop the VEGETABLES, separate the harder, crispier vegetables from the softer, leafier ones.

4. As in the STIR FRY recipe, dump the AROMATICS in first, and then the PROTEIN. Let it cook as above. However, when it is cooked through, take it OUT of the wok and put it in a bowl and set it aside. Add a little more oil to the wok.

5. Put the CRISPIER vegetables in the wok first and stir fry. Add a drizzle of soy sauce.

6. When the CRISPY vegetables are about half done, add the LEAFIER vegetables and another drizzle of soy sauce.

7. When all the vegetables are about done, dump the PROTEIN back into the wok and add the NOODLES, stir that up and add another drizzle of soy sauce and a glug of oyster sauce. Stir that all up until everything is heated through.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:43 PM on June 20, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: The best soy sauce, hands-down, ever, is Ohsawa brand sauce. Unpasteurized, aged four years (which results in a sauce with naturally less salt), organic (in case that matters), and just totally all-around the tastiest. Finding it can be tricky-ish but Amazon sells it and most health-food stores do as well.
posted by bfootdav at 2:16 PM on June 20, 2013

Best answer: I wish I could give you soy sauce recommendations. Living in Japan ruined me to the point where just as many say Heinz is what ketchup tastes like, Kikkoman is what soy sauce tastes like. Although, there are a lot more Kikkoman varieties there than are generally sold abroad.

I cook Sichuan/Hunan and am a big fan of Fuschia Dunlops' respective books on those cuisines. Here is her mapo tofu recipe.

I did see a previous comment suggesting that you heat the oil in the wok and then begin cooking. One of the cardinal rules of wok cooking is "hot wok, cold oil" (热锅冷油). Heat the wok until it is the appropriate temperature, then add the oil and your first ingredients.
posted by Tanizaki at 2:38 PM on June 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: San-J Tamari Sauce. Tamari is very very similar to soy sauce, but it has a more complex flavor and is more (imo) along the umami lines and less along the salty lines. If you haven't tried it, you owe it to yourself to do so. I remember the first time I had it -- mid '80s, when I was in my mid-20s -- and it has never stopped being special or a treat since that day, even though I only keep soy sauce in the house for sushi now and use tamari for every that soy sauce used to do.
posted by janey47 at 3:03 PM on June 20, 2013

Best answer: I use a similar method to backseatpilot with just a few variations. If you want your protein (and by that I mean meat, not tofu) to be supertender, coat it with a bit of cornstarch before you add the sauce to marinate it.

As to soy sauce: I seem to recall Cooks Illustrated doing a recent rating of soy sauces and I think they liked the Koon Chun brand best, but I no longer have access to CI. Could someone else help here?
posted by DrGail at 3:48 PM on June 20, 2013

Best answer: Fuschia Dunlops' mapo tofu recipe referenced by Tanizaki above is delicious, or for a vegan approach I've found this recipe on Serious Eats (via the Blue) does a delicious job substituting minced, dry-fried mushrooms and a mushroom-kombu broth for the texture and umami of the traditional recipe's ground meat and stock.

Speaking of dry-frying and the Sichuan chili bean paste that mapo tofu calls for, one of my favorite wok dishes is Sichuan dry fried beef, seitan, or tofu with green beens. Make sure to keep the range hood on and open some windows though, as it will make some spicy smoke. Don't be afraid to keep your burner on high the whole time, just be sure to keep things moving and have everything sliced and at hand before you start cooking.

I also tend to favor San-J's Tamari for a thin soy sauce, although I often have a bottle of some dark soy sauce picked up from an asian grocery as well.
posted by JiBB at 4:00 PM on June 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: We have a few tried and true basic stir fry recipes for similar reasons.

Here are a couple.

Beef with Oyster Sauce

1/2 lb. flank steak or lean beef
1 bunch broccoli
1 clove garlic, minced or pressed
1 slice fresh ginger, diced

Slice beef.
Parboil broccoli (we do this for about 3 minutes), then separate broccoli into florets and peel the stems and then cut stems into thin slices.

Mix sauce in a bowl:
3 tbl. oyster sauce
2 tbl. Chinese cooking wine
1 tbl. soy sauce
1 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. cornstarch
Add cornstarch last and whisk it in to other ingredients till smooth.

Heat wok, then add 2-3 tbl. peanut oil (or oil of choice) into hot wok and swirl around. Add garlic and ginger and stir fry up to 30 seconds (don't let it burn). Add beef and stir fry 2 minutes more. Stir sauce and add to wok, reduce heat to medium and add broccoli and stir fry 2 minutes more. Add 1/4 teaspoon toasted sesame oil right before you are finished cooking and stir to combine.

Serve over rice. Serves 2.


Fried Rice

3 tablespoons peanut oil (or oil of choice)
1/4 to 1/2 cup chicken, pork, or shrimp, finely diced (can substitute tofu) - meat can be raw or cooked
1 stalk celery, diced
1 carrot, diced
2 scallions, sliced
1/4 cup mushrooms, thinly sliced
1/4 cup bean sprouts
2 cups cold boiled rice
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 egg, lightly beaten

Heat wok, then add 2 tbl. oil. If you are adding raw meat, add it to the pan first; stir fry 1 minute or until barely cooked through. Add celery and carrot and stir fry 30 seconds. Add mushrooms and stir fry another 30 seconds. Add bean sprouts and scallions and stir fry a few seconds more. Break up any clumps of cold rice and add rice to vegetables. Toss to coat rice with oil and heat through. Add sugar and soy sauce and mix in evenly. Push the rice mixture to the sides of the pan, leaving an empty circle in the middle. Add the remaining tbl. of oil into that empty circle, let heat for a few seconds and then pour in the beaten egg into circle. Stir the egg until it begins to set; then quickly stir in the rice. Some of the egg will coat the rice and some egg will scramble into little clumps. Taste for seasoning and add more soy sauce to taste. We don't add salt when cooking (other than what is in the soy sauce), but just shake a little over the cooked fried rice if we want extra. Serves 2 with leftovers.


Sesame Asparagus and Chicken

1 bunch asparagus - snap or trim off woody bottoms and discard, then cut asparagus on diagonal into 1 or 1 1/2 inch lengths.
4 scallions, diagonally sliced fairly thin

Slice 2 boneless skinless chicken breast halves into strips and bake on nonstick tray for about 8 minutes in 400 F oven.

Heat wok, and add 2 tbl. peanut oil. Add 1 minced garlic clove and 1 tsp. minced fresh ginger and stir fry for a few seconds (don't let it burn). Then add asparagus and scallions and stir fry for about 1 minute. Stir in chicken. Then add 2 tsp. toasted sesame oil, 1/2 tsp. fresh lemon juice, 2 tbl. soy sauce, and 2 tsp. chicken stock. Reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Season with pepper to taste and sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds. Serves 2 with steamed rice.


Wok Asparagus

1 bunch asparagus, snap or trim off woody bottoms and discard, then cut asparagus on diagonal into 1 inch lengths.

Heat wok, then add 3 tbl. peanut oil. Stir fry one clove minced garlic and 1 slice (about size of a quarter) of fresh diced ginger for a few seconds (don't let it burn). Add asparagus and stir fry one minute. Add 2-3 tbl. chicken broth, cover wok, and cook over high heat 4-5 minutes, adding additional broth if necessary (we check half way through, give things a stir, and add a bit of broth most of the time). Take off heat and add 2 teaspoons soy sauce (dark soy sauce is nice to use if you have it) just before serving. Stir well and serve with rice.

You can also cook broccoli florets this way, you just need to reduce the cooking time a little bit.
posted by gudrun at 7:25 PM on June 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Also, coming back to recommend a cookbook: Stir-Frying to the Sky's Edge by Grace Young. There is a big vegetable and tofu section. Also, the Stir-Fried Cucumber and Pork with Golden Garlic is very tasty.
posted by gudrun at 7:42 PM on June 20, 2013

You can make pretty much anything in a wok. In addition to the usual stir-fries I make soup, stews, curries, etc.

Heck, yesterday I made ratatouille the traditional way: in a wok.
posted by so much modern time at 12:17 PM on June 21, 2013

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