Wednesday, October 20, 2004

What Polly learned in cooking class


Five steps to Oriental cuisine

"Chinese cooking always takes 5 steps," says Mike Wong, owner of the Oriental Wok in Fort Mitchell and Taylor Mill.

1. Cut up the ingredients. "Preparing takes a long time, but cooking very quick," Wong says. Executive chef T.C. Long uses a big, rectangular-bladed Chinese cleaver. "We use the cleaver in so many ways," says Susanna Wong Burgess. "You can slice fresh ginger root with it, then hit the pieces with the flat part to separate the fibers from the meat. You can use the dull side to tenderize meat, or use the handle like a mortar and pestle. My mom always used two cleavers to chop things fine."

2. Marinate the meat: You don't have to use anything special to tenderize it. Coat it with spices, then add water. "Let the water tenderize the meat," advises T.C.

3. Mix a sauce: "Forty years ago, Chinese restaurants used MSG to make food taste good. But we have so many good sauces and ingredients now, like mushroom soy, we don't need to use MSG," says Mike.

Those ingredients are far more available to home cooks now, too. "We get deliveries from Jungle Jim's (in Fairfield) twice a week," says Susanna, "There's also a new market called CAM, for Cincinnati Asian Market (in Evendale).

4. Stir-fry: A key secret to Chinese cooking as it's done in a restaurant is very high heat. It took a matter of seconds to cook the beef on the demonstration burner set up for class. But Guy Burgess, Mike Wong's son-in-law, says woks in the kitchen are far hotter and faster. Go as hot as you can at home without burning down the house.

How do you know when it's hot enough? "When you can see the smoke," Mike says.

Or use the onion test: Drop a piece of onion in the oil, if it floats to the surface right away, the oil's hot enough.

T.C. also used an instant-read thermometer, especially when deep-frying the won tons, looking for a temperature of 375.

5. Mix it all together. Most stir-fries use a "slurry" of cornstarch and water - 1 tablespoon of cornstarch to 1 tablespoon water - added into the center of the wok with the sauce ingredients.

Each dish also got a squirt of sesame oil at the end. "We never cook in it - always add last minute," Mike says of the sesame oil.

Too much direct heat takes away the smell and taste.

Recipes

Peppercorn Beef

MEAT, MARINADE

11/2 cups flank steak, sliced thin

1 egg white

2 tablespoons cornstarch

1/2 teaspoon white pepper

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup cold water

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

VEGETABLES

3/4 cup white onion, julienned

11/2 cup fresh mushrooms, sliced

3 cloves garlic

1 tomato for garnish

SAUCE

4 tablespoons ketchup

2 tablespoons sugar

1 tablespoon A-1 steak sauce

1 tablespoon oyster sauce

1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

1 teaspoon cracked black pepper

1/4 cup beef or chicken stock

2 tablespoons rice wine

1 teaspoon cornstarch dissolved into water

Marinate beef: coat the beef with the mixture of egg, cornstarch, pepper and salt, add water. Set aside in the refrigerator 30 minutes to three hours. Prepare sauce: mix ketchup, sugar, A-1, Worcestershire sauce, oyster sauce, lemon juice and black pepper. Heat wok and add 1 tablespoon vegetable oil. Place steak into wok and stir fry for about a minute. Add mushrooms, onions, and garlic Add stock and cook until steak is cooked through. Add sauce and cornstarch. Stir until evenly coated.

Garnish with tomato and serve with steamed rice.

Makes 4 servings.

Five-Spice Tofu over Spinach

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon sugar

1/8 teaspoon ground ginger powder

1/8 teaspoon 5-spice powder

1/8 teaspoon Szechwan peppercorns, ground

1/8 teaspoon white pepper

1 pound tofu, cut into 3/4-inch squares

6-8 cups spinach

Cornstarch

Vegetable oil for deep frying

1-3 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 cup onion, finely diced

1/4 cup red pepper, finely diced

2-3 dried Thai chili peppers

Mix all ingredients for the seasoning spice and toast in a dry hot skillet until aromatic, about 1-2 minutes.

Heat oil in a saucepan to 325 degrees.

Dredge tofu cubes in cornstarch with a pinch of salt and pepper.

Fry tofu in oil until crispy and lightly browned. Remove tofu from wok or skillet and drain excess oil.

Stir fry the spinach in a wok with garlic until very hot and wilted. Drain and arrange on plate.

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a hot wok or skillet.

Stir fry onions, chili peppers and red pepper until fragrant.

Add tofu cubes and stir. Sprinkle the spice mixture to taste and stir to coat evenly.

Place hot tofu mixture on bed of spinach and serve.

Makes 4 servings.

Polly Campbell




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