The trick is to smoke the meat and not make the meat smoke

Big Green Egg - Pt 18 - First Stir Fry

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Part I of this blog entry covered getting started in stir frying and wok cooking-the equipment & accessories needed. It does have some aspects that are specific to the Big Green Egg, but most of it would apply to wok cooking on any grill or wok cooking in general. This entry covers seasoning my new wok and my first stir fry. It has some Egg specific information, but most of it is also general information.

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The first step was to wash the wok in some hot soapy water. You can use a somewhat abrasive sponge at this point. This one cleaning is the one time you can use some dishwashing soap on your wok. Once it is seasoned, you will only use hot water. Once the wok is cleaned off and dried, the next step is to apply some oil and put the wok in the oven. I used peanut oil, but any high temperature oil will do. The oil should be applied in a thin layer to the inside and outside of the wok. Any excess oil should be mopped up. The oven is preheated to 425 degrees and the wok goes in for 20 minutes. I put one shelf in the lowest position and put a 1/2 sheet pan on it to catch drips and keep hot oil off of the heating elements at the floor of the oven. The wok went on the second shelf on the second lowest position. My oven is relatively narrow and I found out I had to both tilt my wok from side to side and position the D-handles pointing towards the corners of the oven so the door would close. If you have a narrow oven like mine, you might want to test out the positioning of the wok BEFORE you have the oven heated to 425 degrees. Also if your wok has wooden handles, you will need to remove them or otherwise protect them from the heat.

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You may want to consider seasoning the wok on your BGE or other grill. About half way through the 20 minute seasoning time there was a LARGE buildup of smoke. My range hood is about 3’ (1 M) away from the oven and even on high there was more smoke buildup than the hood could handle. Luckily for me, my Kitchen has a pocket door separating the Kitchen from the Dining Room and the rest of the house. Otherwise I surely would have set off the smoke detectors. But to keep the smoke level from increasing, I also had to open my Kitchen door and Kitchen window. I also had to turn off the heat to avoid circulating this smoke around the house. All of this is solved simply by curing the wok on your Egg or grill. You will want and need to put your wok so the lid is down and the entire wok is inside. If your wok has a single handle instead of D-handles, you may not be able to close the lid. You will also want to take steps to protect wooden handles, if your wok has them.

Part 2 - Cook up some Aromatic Vegetables:
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The wok emerged from the oven a very golden brown. It immediately went on the stove over high heat. I added a little peanut oil and tossed on a bunch of Chinese Chives to cook. The tradition is cooking an aromatic vegetable in the wok which serves to remove any left over metallic taste from manufacturing the wok. The Chinese Chives are the traditional vegetable used to season a wok, but any aromatic veggie like scallions would do. The Chinese Chives actually look a lot like scallions, because they are much larger in size than the chives you see in your regular supermarket. I used the wok spatula to keep the chives moving around the bottom and sides of the wok.You basically keep the chives moving until they are withered and blackened, then you remove them and let the wok cool down. After it has cooled down it gets rinsed with hot water and dried off.

FIRST COOK: Shopping:
I was happy to find that most of the ingredients I needed were actually found in my regular supermarket. The baby corn and sliced bamboo shoots were found in the international section of my regular supermarket. Granted it is a more higher end supermarket, not a deep discount style supermarket. I would say take some time to look around carefully yourself and see what types of Asian foods, spices and seasonings that your supermarket stocks. In my experience, it seems some of the workers at the store don’t know the international aisle as well as they should. I was actually told with certainty that they didn’t carry baby corn and sliced bamboo shoots, when in fact they did. I did have to go to a local Aisian market to get the Chinese chives and a couple of sauces.

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The prep was fairly straight forward and not terribly time consuming. The one thing you are looking to do is get the various ingredients that will cook together on the wok to be about the same size. This way they will cook evenly. Initially, as is my habit, I measured everything out into bowls. Later several of the ingredients were combined to make sauces or marinades. I also took items that were going to be added to the wok together and put them in a single bowl. Working a short high temperature cook like this, you want to not have to do much searching or thinking out at the grill. I placed the bowls on a metal half sheet pan arranged in the order I would be using them. I also included a small bowl of water to test out the wok for temperature.

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I loaded a second sheet pan with an empty bowl and a piece of foil, my wok spatula, 2 pairs of gloves, my iPhone which would be serving as a timer. The empty bowl was to hold the partially cooked chicken until it went back on the wok at the end. The foil was to serve asa cover. Many of these recipes have you almost cook the meat or the main vegetable and then hold it in a bowl. You cook the rest of the stir-fry and then add in the meat or main veggie at the end to finish up. One of the pairs of barbecue gloves I used had long sleeves that go up almost to my elbows. Working over such a hot flame, I wasn’t sure whether I needed to have long sleeved gloves. But it never hurts to have them around.

Make sure you have everything you need out at the grill BEFORE you start stir-frying. Once you get started there is no time to run in to the Kitchen to grab something you forgot to bring outside with you.

Grill Prep:
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Before I started my food prep, I got the grill ready so later I could just come out and light it. I was shooting for a 550 degree (290 C) cooking temperature and generally I can hit most temps within 30 minutes. For this cook though where I was looking for a high temperature and was going to cooking with the lid open, I wanted to make sure I was good and stabilized at 550 degrees (290 C) so I was going to allow 45 minutes from lighting the grill to the start of cooking. So I would do the prep until there was 45 minutes of work left and then I’d go out and light the grill, and come back in and finish. Another reason for doing this before the prep, is although I wear rubber gloves to handle the charcoal related tasks I still may get charcoal dust on my hands. When I go back in to the Kitchen to start the prep I can wash my hands thoroughly before starting the prep. This as opposed to rushing out midway through the prep and loading charcoal. All I need to do is light the charcoal, which doesn’t get my hands dirty.

Whenever I do a high temperature cook, I do a thorough cleaning of the Egg. I swirl the lump around with the Ash Tool to clear out the excess ash and small pieces of lump at the bottom of the cooking chamber. Then I thoroughly clean out the ash drop and top off the Egg with some fresh lump up to the top of the ceramic cooking chamber. Then I put in the Spider to hold the wok. I preposition 4 paraffin fire starters at the 12:00, 3:00, 6:00 and 9:00 positions. I place some small pieces of lump so they partially cover the fire starters.

Food Prep:
The food prep was nothing out of the ordinary, the main trick was to make sure the various ingredients were cut up so that all of Item A were the same size as the other pieces of Item A and all of Item B were the the same size as the other pieces of Item B. The recipes were all quite detailed about what size to cut the various ingredients so they will cook quickly and evenly. Some of the ingredients were actually canned and so they were already at the proper size. The most time consuming aspect of the prep was cutting the chicken down to the proper size and even that didn’t take a tremendous amount of time.

The Cook:
The actual cook was the quickest part of all of this. The recipes from Breath of a Wok follow a pattern: The wok is preheated & around a tablespoon of oil is added to the wok and heated. The main ingredient (meat so far for me) is placed on the wok and then is spread out evenly and allowed to cook undisturbed for around a minute. then it is stir-fried for 1-2 minutes until browned on all sides and ALMOST cooked through. Guessing what almost cooked through looks like may be the trickiest part until you do a few wok cooks. Then the ALMOST cooked meat is pulled and set in a bowl. A small amount of oil is added to the wok and the veggies (peppers, onions, shallots) are stir-fried next. These get cooked quickly and the sauce is added in. Sometimes it is allowed to thicken and reduce before the ALMOST cooked meat is added back in and other times the meat goes right back in. This mixture is stir-fried 1-2 minutes until it has thickened and reduced. As of this writing I have done 6 different stir-fry recipes and they have all followed this same basic pattern.

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The Big Green Egg was up to 550 degrees in about 30 minutes and I adjusted the upper and lower vents to stabilize the Egg. I checked on it a couple more times to insure it held 550 degrees and I was ready to go. Be sure to burp the lid, when you open it, or you will get flashbacks. Now there are several combinations of upper and lower damper settings that will achieve the same cooking temperature. Be sure that your lower draft door settings allow you some room to close the draft door down further. In other words better to have the lower draft door 1 1/2 inches open (4 cm), than 1/2 inches (1.25 cm). If you need to cool down the Egg the 1 1/2 inches give you more adjustment range.

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Once the Egg was stabilized, I pre-heated the wok with the lid down for two minutes. I then opened the lid and flicked a few drops of water onto the wok to see if it was up to temperature. The water sizzled and evaporated in about a second, which is just what I was looking for. Before starting the cook, I adjusted the lower draft door to 50 percent of it’s current setting. This would help make up for the extra air brought in because the lid was now going to be up for the duration of the cook. The first step was to swirl on some vegetable oil and then throw on the chicken pieces and the garlic. Allow the oil to heat up before adding food. If the oil is hot, the food will always sizzle when you add it to the wok. I used the wok spatula to spread the chicken out in an even layer across the bottom of the pan. Once distributed, the chicken was left undisturbed for 30 seconds to begin browning.

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After the 30 seconds had passed I began stir-frying it, using the wok spatula to move the food around the wok and flipping it continuously. One thing nice about the wok spatula I bought was it had a real long handle. This allowed me to stand far enough back from the wok that I wasn’t catching the intense heat coming off the Egg & wok. Also I highly recommend using an actual wok spatula. In addition to the longer handle, the curved front edge fits the shape of the wok and allows you to stir-fry and not have the food slip under the crack so to speak. The turned up sides help you gather more food and flip it, without the food slipping off the sides of the spatula. When a tool is well designed for the task at hand, you can tell right away. The wok spatula is just such a tool. The chicken was to be stir-fried until it was almost cooked. It took a bit longer than the recipe called for but the chicken was finally turning opaque on all sides and you couldn’t see any pink peaking through, meaning it was getting close to being done. The chicken was pulled and put into a bowl and covered with foil to hold for a few minutes.

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The veggies were up next. Check the recipe to see if you need to add more oil before cooking the next food items. The baby corn, carrots & sliced bamboo shoots were placed on the wok and cooked for about 2 1/2 minutes until they were softened and beginning to brown. The food is kept in constant motion between pushing and pulling the food back and forth, up & down the sides of the wok. This motion is alternated with flipping the food over to get all sides to cook. The chicken was added back on for 30 seconds and then the sauce was poured on top and the entire group of ingredients was stir-fried for another 30 seconds and it was done. I brought the wok inside and transferred the finished stir-fried chicken to the serving platter. I garnished it with some diced scallions and it was time to eat.

End Results:
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This first stir-fry was a great success. The food was cooked just the way I like it. The chicken was moist and tender and the veggies were crispy with a nice snap to them, but not too chewy. There is a little winter wrinkle I’ve discovered to all of this. The food continues to cook until you have transferred it from the wok into your serving platter. Once you start the stir-fry you don’t have time to run into the Kitchen to fetch a serving platter. If you bring the serving platter out to the grill with you it will be too cold. So in my case I have to bring the wok inside to transfer the food. The food is still sizzling and cooking in the wok during this time. I discovered this during my second wok cook, a beef dish using flank steak. When I pulled the wok off the grill, the pieces of steak looked perfectly cooked. When I got the stir-fry in the serving platter the edges of the beef had blackened and were a bit past where I’d intended to take them. They weren’t burned but were headed in that general direction. Since then I have been stopping about 30 seconds sooner than I might otherwise do, to make up for the additional 30 seconds it takes me to run the wok into the Kitchen.

Also the wok handles are blisteringly hot, you would be wise to use double gloves. Have a wok ring pre-positioned on the counter so you aren’t fumbling around for a place to land the hot wok. I also have my serving platter right there so I can get the food out of the hot wok ASAP.

So there you have it. I’ve had good results so far, but key was having lots of help from experienced Big Green Egg wokers and several good cookbooks. I am really looking forward to exploring this new method of cooking and the wide variety of new ingredients and flavors I have in my future.

Here is a link to Part 1 of this blog where I describe what is needed to start stir-frying on the Big Green Egg and a link to the picture entry of my first stir-fry.
  BIG GREEN EGG PT. 17 - STIR-FRYING ON THE BIG GREEN EGG - Part 1 of this Blog entry on stir-frying.
  CHICKEN WITH GARLIC & SNAP PEAS - Picture entry for my first stir-fry.

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