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

The Art of Stir Frying - Online Course

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A few blog entries ago I wrote two blog entires about an online video class from Crafsy called Low & Slow BBQ at Home (PART 1 and PART 2). I received some email from Craftsy announcing their courses were on sale for up to 50 percent off. When I went to their site to check it out I was THRILLED to see a course called the The Art of Stir Frying. What was even more exciting is the course was taught by Grace Young. Two of her cookbooks came highly recommended to me when I was learning how to stir fry on my Big Green Egg. To me her teaching this class was like having an outdoor photography course taught by Ansel Adams. I immediately added the class to my shopping cart and watched it the first time in one sitting.

If you are unfamiliar with Craftsy online video courses I would suggest you read PART 1 of my blog reviewing of Low & Slow BBQ which will describe everything you will need to know about these online video course.

If you are just getting into stir frying or are an intermediate level wok cook there is some great knowledge to be had here. One thing I will mention about this class, is the assumed cooking method. The class assumes you are cooking on a typical non-professional type kitchen range, not a high heat range, or outdoor charcoal grill like the Big Green Egg. Cooking on a low powered residential range, affects the choice of wok and how some of the recipes are cooked. Ms. Young recommends a flat bottom wok for this use case vs. the traditional round bottom wok. I do my stir frying on my Big Green Egg using a third party Eggcessory called a Spider which is made to hold a wok. With the Spider to hold the wok securely and the high heat I can achieve on the BGE, a traditional round bottom wok is what I am able to use. Some of the recipes brown the meat for a minute or so before stir frying it. This again is to make up for the low heat of the typical residential kitchen range. Ms. Young talks about the alternative methods if you are using a high heat source. So if you are stir frying on a Big Green Egg or other grill capable of high heat you will be able to try the variations she suggested for high heat wok cooking.

Why did I choose to buy this online course:
  • As I mentioned earlier, in my opinion having Grace Young teach this course is the equivalent of having an outdoor photography class taught by Ansel Adams.
  • I own two of Grace Young’s cookbooks, the The Breath of a Wok and Stir Frying to the Sky’s Edge. They are what I used to learn stir frying and I had great results right from the start.
  • A picture is worth a thousand words. As mentioned, I leaned stir frying from Grace Young’s cookbooks. But I figured seeing the techniques would be a huge benefit. It would confirm my interpretation of the words in the cookbook was correct.
  • Another benefit to visuals is I could see if the way my wok had become seasoned was similar to the woks used for the class. Also I could see the doneness of the food and if the coloring of the finished product matched the results I’ve been having.
  • As it turns out the wok talks to you too while you cook. Hearing is an equally important component you can’t get from a cookbook.
  • You get the recipes for the dishes made in the course. Getting several new recipes for some of my favorite dishes was a bonus. Plus I would see the right way to make these recipes.
  • Though I would have gladly paid full price for a stir frying class taught by Grace Young, having it on sale made it a no-brainer.
  • With Craftsy classes you are able to post questions for the instructor. I have two questions I have been dying to ask and plan on posting them in the discussions forum.

Grace Young has been involved with Stir Frying from the age of 3. She speaks of her father who always wanted a table closest to the kitchen door so he could get the food coming closest to fresh off the wok as possible. Her passion for stir frying is evident the minute you start reading on of her cookbooks. She has visited China to learn the recipes and traditions of stir-frying. She has written 3 cookbooks and her Stir Frying to the Sky’s Edge won a James Beard Award for excellence in culinary writing. She is not just interested in writing recipes, she knows the history and traditions of stir frying. To me this made her cookbooks special, because I like learning about the background and history behind things. She also was the Director of the Time-Life test kitchens and Director of Food Photography for 40 plus cookbooks. As she mentions in this class, over the years she has probably tried and tested just about every method, technique and device for stir-frying. Her list of published articles, appearances, reviews, honors etc. could fill an entire blog entry. Recently she has discovered the Big Green Egg and her bio and a recipe of hers were featured in the latest edition of Big Green Egg Lifestyle Magazine. All of these things are why I said I couldn’t have wished for a better person to be the instructor for this course.

I am going to discuss the various lessons in the course briefly and in a general manner. Even though I have been stir-frying for several years using Grace’s books, I still picked up some very valuable information from this course. I feel you should pay for the course to get this information, rather than me just give it away for free here. Supporting authors of cookbooks by buying there products is the best way to get them to write more or do more classes like this.

The course is divided into seven lessons, which are further divided into various sub-sections related to the main topics. The organization is as follows:

LESSON 1 - Introduction
Basic info to get started
  • About Grace & Stir-Frying
  • Variety of Woks
  • What Not to Use
  • Wok Tools
The class starts off reviewing Ms. Young’s extensive background with stir-frying and food-writing and publishing. Right from the start her passion for stir-frying is clear. Next up is a discussion of woks where she has 6 woks or pans that might be used for stir-frying. She describes the reasons for their various shapes, the plusses and the minuses of each design. She also brings up a reoccurring theme: Typical American residential Kitchen ranges are not powerful enough to use a traditional Chinese round bottom wok on. Then she does something that is an ongoing theme throughout the class. She shows you what woks or pans not to use and why. She shows you 4 pans or woks that she doesn't feel you should use at all under any circumstances. Throughout the course she shows examples of what NOT to do and what it looks like when you go down that wrong path. In fact in later lessons she uses several woks shown here to illustrate their disadvantages. After discussing the wok and pan styles, she moves onto a discussion of wok tools for stir-frying. Once again she doesn’t hold back, she describes the good and the bad tools out there. This information was very helpful and I particularly liked when she discusses what not to use and why. If she had only covered what to use, some folks might buy one of the bad choices. The line of thinking might be: Well she just didn’t cover this type and the packaging says it is perfect for stir-frying.

LESSON 2 - Stir-Fry Basics:
Best Practices

  • History of Stir-Fry
  • Correctly Preheating the Wok
  • Overheating the Wok
  • Grace’s Water Test
  • Best Oils for Stir Frying
  • How to Season a Wok
  • Washing a New Wok
  • Seasoning a New Wok
  • Setting Up the Stir-Fry Station
In many ways this lesson is the most important lesson in the course even though no food is cooked. Assuming you used the information in the first lesson to chose the correct wok for your type of stove, this chapter includes all of the fundamentals you need to get right in order to be successful stir-frying. Ms. Young begins by describing the typical stove used by a Chinese household to stir fry. There are similarities and differences which affect how Americans should do their stir-fries. Next she shows what it looks and sounds like when you have correctly preheated your wok. Then she shows you how it looks when you overheat your wok. This is very useful because the overheated oil is unstable (dangerous) and the oil, which has been broken down, can impart a bad taste to your dish. Next she shows how to use water to test if the wok is correctly preheated. A discussion of some of the methods traditionally used to season a wok follows. Afterwards she demonstrates her favorite method. Ms. Young shows you how to wash the wok correctly, season it wash it again and dry it. To arp this lesson up she shows you how to set up for a wok cook. Everything happens so fast, it is important to have your ingredients close at hand and organized by the sequence you will be using them.

LESSON 3 - Stir-Frying Vegetables:
Veggies are part of most every stir fry.
  • Chinese vs. American Stoves
  • The Most Common Mistakes
  • Correctly Stir-Frying Spinach
  • Prepping Mixed Vegetables
  • Common Mistake: Crowding the Wok
  • Correctly Stir-Frying Mixed Vegetables
Grace Young once again discusses the differences in heat output between Chines and American stoves. The stove used in the typical American residential Kitchen has the least power output of all. Next she discusses 3 things that cause problems when stir-frying veggies: Too much food, the veggies are wet and not using a wok, with it’s high flared sides to cook with. She actually illustrates these points by starting to cook spinach in a stainless steel pan which was one of the ones she said never to use in Lesson 1. Then Ms. Young cooks up a second batch of spinach the right way. She gives several handy tips along the way about the proper way to add dry spices and also liquids to the wok. Next she shows the proper way to clean and prepare ginger, snap peas, bok choy and shitake mushrooms and carrots for stir frying. Once again, she starts off by showing you the wrong way to cook mixed vegetables. While Ms Young describes the problems you will have, being able to see and hear what this looks like is very handy. To finish off the lesson Grace takes you through stir-frying mixed vegetable from start to finish. This includes classifying the veggies by texture (hardness) and adding them to the wok moving from hardest first to softest last. Along the way there are valuable pointers on what to look or listen for, plus the proper ways of adding ingredients to the wok .

LESSON 4 - Fried Rice
A good starting point for learning how to stir-fry. Many Chinese restaurants train and evaluate their chefs base on their skills making stir fried rice.
  • Prepping Rice
  • Cooking Rice
  • Frying Rice
  • Common Mistake: Using a Skillet
  • Frying Rice in a Wok
Fried rice is a simple dish that is a good way to start learning to stir-fry. Ms. Young shows you the traditional Chinese way of preparing the rice. It is somewhat different than the typical method we use. Ms. Young’s method is simple and turns out a rice that is very fluffy and will not clump when you cook it. Just as in the other lessons, she shows you some of the common mistakes people make. She discusses the wrong ways to mince ginger and then show you the right way. Next she illustrates several other problems by cooking the rice in a cast iron skillet. She uses vegetables that weren’t cut up correctly based on their difference in textures and uses rice that wasn’t fluffed up. Seeing the problems caused makes it hard to deny this is NOT the way to do things. Then she prepares the fried rice correctly which reinforces the points she had made by doing the rice incorrectly the first time.

LESSON 5 - Simple Stir Fry: Kung Pao Chicken
Done both the right and the wrong way.
  • About Kung-Pao Chicken
  • Incorrectly Stir-Frying Chicken
  • Prepping the Chicken
  • Cutting the Meat
  • Maxing the Marinade
  • Stir-Frying Kung Pao Chicken
This chapter was very interesting because Ms. Young discusses some of the dirty little secrets about food cooked in a Chinese restaurant. She points out the your stir-fries at home can actually be BETTER than stir-fries from the majority of Chines restaurants. Similar to the other lessons she shows you what not to do. She starts a batch of chicken with several problems: The wok was not preheated correctly, there was too much chicken used, the chicken was not marinaded and the chicken was not cut up into evenly sized pieces. Next she steps back and does the dish correctly. You are shown how to prepare Sichuan peppercorns, how to cut up the chicken into evenly sized pieces and a different technique that is often used for preparing Chinese marinades. She sets up her prep area with the ingredients measured out and organized by sequence of use. Ms. Young shows a technique for low temperature stoves where you pre-brown the chicken in the wok, prior to stir-frying it.

LESSON 6 - Classic Meat & Vegetable Stir-Fry
Done both the right and the wrong way.
  • Why Stir-Frying is Healthy
  • Incorrectly Stir-Frying Beef
  • How to Correctly Stir-Fry Beef
  • Cutting the Meat
  • Making the Marinade
  • Frying the Beef
  • Stir-Frying the Veggies
Once again Ms Young starts off by showing you the wrong way to cook beef on the wok. She adds too much beef to the wok to show you what this looks like. The beef is so disgusting looking, that after seeing it you will never be tempted to over-crowd your wok. She then goes through the proper way to prepare beef & veggies for a stir-fries. She shows the correct way to cut the beef and discusses several things NOT to do. She then shows you the proper way to prepare the marinade for the beef. It is different from a traditional pre-mixed marinade that is poured over the meat. She then shows her “stir-fry station” with the food prepped and in containers arranged by sequence. One of the things I really liked is, that in the case of the ketchup and hoisin sauce, she mentions specific brands she feels are noticeably superior to all of the other brands out there. This dish illustrates a 2-part stir-fry where the meat is partially cooked, removed from the wok while the veggies are cooked, and then added back in together with the sauce to finish stir-frying. This is technique many stir-fry recipes use.

LESSON 7 - Wok Maintenance
Your wok can last a lifetime with the right maintenance.
  • Bringing Your Wok Back to Life
  • How to Wash Your Wok
  • Washing the Wok
  • Grace’s Wok Facial
Ms Young concludes the class by illustrating how to clean and maintain your wok. She begins by discussing some things not to do. She discusses whether or not to use soap. Then she describes and illustrates how to clean the wok after a cook. She also covers some things not to do with a new wok because it will break down the patina you are building up. She also discusses some ingredients that can cause problems for any wok and how to deal with these. Lastly she discusses how to clean a rusty wok using a technique she calls a wok facial and then cleans a rusty discolored pan using this technique.

This was an excellent class for me. You couldn’t ask for a better instructor than Grace Young. She was very good at breaking things down to make them easy to understand. I really liked the way she often made her points by first showing you what NOT to do. Hearing someone say: “Don’t do this or…” is one thing. But sometimes you are still tempted to be stupid, somehow naively figuring that won’t happen to you. Seeing the results of some of the common mistakes, leaves no doubt in your mind. I have said this several times, but seeing and hearing these dishes being stir-fried was invaluable to me where I was taught from reading cookbook. I also picked up some little pointers along the way that will definitely improve my results. If you are new to stir-frying this will be the best money you’ve ever spent on it. The course will help get you off to the correct start. For someone who has been doing stir-fries for several years like I have this is still money well spent. I learned some new things and it confirmed for me I was doing other things correctly. I really hope there are other stir-frying classes to come from Grace Young.

Here are some links to earlier blog entries about stir-frying. Also the Link to Low & Slow BBQ Part 1 will describe Craftsy online courses.

  LOW & SLOW BBQ AT HOME - PT. 1 This entry describes the Craftsy experience.
  BIG GREEN EGG - PT 18 - FIRST STIR FRY 2012 Blog entry
  BIG GREEN EGG - PT 17 - STIR FRYING ON THE BGE 2012 Blog entry


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