the appetizer:

Stir-Frying to the Sky's Edge: The Ultimate Guide to Mastery, with Authentic Recipes and Stories by Grace Young, includes recipes like The Simple Stir-Fry; Stir-Fried Squid with Black Bean Sauce; Stir-Fried Lotus Root with Bacon and Vegetables; and Wok-Seared Vegetables.

Cookbook Profile

The Simple Stir-Fry

by Grace Young


While the exact translation of siu chau is "small stir-fry," its true meaning is "simple" or "home-style" stir-fry. Never found in a banquet meal or a formal cooking institution, a siu chau requires ingredients and seasonings to be added one by one to the hot wok, and then they are stir-fried over a hot flame. There are no fancy advance preparations such as velveting, oil-blanching ingredients, or cooking different components separately before combining them in the wok. The Chinese Cuisine Training Institute in Hong Kong does not consider siu chau to be a cooking method, but, rather, a type of dish, like dim sum or barbecued foods.

Chef Chow Chung of Chow Chung Restaurant in Hong Kong explains that the Cantonese siu chau varies slightly from village to village and is the specialty of home cooks. Many Cantonese claim this elemental dish as their own, although, in fact, it is made throughout China and Southeast Asia, where small inexpensive eateries, most notably outdoor food stalls or hawker stands, specialize in siu chau dishes. "These cooks are stir-frying like home cooks without fancy stoves," says Chef Yong Soon of Toronto, Canada. Without the luxury of a real kitchen, most are typically using only a single wok set over a crude metal drum fueled with coal, or a wok stove. The siu chau is thus the easiest and most practical stir-fry for cooks to execute. Many people regard a siu chau as "fast food" because the stir-fry time is so short. The Cantonese take such pride in their execution of the dish that siu chau often appears as its own category on Cantonese restaurant menus.

The mastery comes from the freshness of the ingredients and the cook's exact timing and control of the heat. Unsurprisingly, Cantonese connoisseurs judge a siu chau by its wok hay—the breath of a wok—and its heung hut, or fragrance. This classic stir-fry is heralded for its range of textures, tastes, aromas, and the intensity of wok heat seared into the food.

One popular example of a siu chau is stir-fried lotus root, or leen ngao siu chou, in which aromatic slices of ginger are stir-fried in a wok with a little oil until fragrant. Thinly sliced Chinese bacon is then added and cooked quickly until the fat is just rendered. Next, delicate half-moon slices of lotus root are stir-fried briefly, before snow peas, sliced carrots, and cloud ears are added and stir-fried another minute. Then a mixture of broth, rice wine, soy sauce, and sesame oil is splashed into the wok with salt and pepper and fine shreds of scallions added last. The contrasting textures of the crisp lotus root, carrots, and snow peas, all with different levels of sweetness, combine with the earthy hints of bacon to make this a revered stir-fry classic.


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This page created September 2010