Photography by Andre Baranowski
Oh, you CIA graduates in your crisp white jackets, you’ll never know what it’s like to be Chef Zhou Guang Zan. Imagine standing over a jet engine as it blasts more than 30,000 BTUs. Your task is to work at dizzying speed in its cone of flame, tossing endless, complicated dishes in your wok while trying not to faint.
Such is the life of a Chinese wok cook, and the kicker is that he or she’s paid for the pleasure through long and—to American eyes—arduous apprenticeships.
China White Noodle Bar’s Chef Zhou Guang Zan began his career at age 15, with a job in a banquet hall in Shenzhen, a city just outside of Hong Kong in China’s Guangdong Province. The scope of events produced in this kitchen is hard to fathom: a banquet might serve 1,000 at a sitting, with each diner feasting on a vast, multi-course spread. For one of the 100 kitchen staffers required to produce such a meal, the right to cook at a wok station is a hard-won privilege.
No cuisine is as wedded to a single tool as Chinese cooks are married to their woks. That’s because the wok performs so many functions. A single, basic wok is able to deep-fry, sauté, steam, braise, and boil. For his own woks, Chef Zhou prefers carbon steel, a metal that is lightweight and an excellent conductor of heat. Sadly, without careful seasoning, these woks are prone to rust—but the good news is that they’re relatively inexpensive, and easy to find in any Chinese kitchen-supply store. Like most other Chinese chefs, Chef Zhou uses a design with an integral steel handle, and finds that a 16” diameter wok is the handiest size for most tasks.
Most of the ingredients in these recipes can be found at Kam Sen Asian Market in White Plains (22 Barker Ave 914-428-4500; kamsenfoods.com). You can even find a serviceable collection of carbon steel woks and wok accessories (rings, brushes, ladles, and paddles) there.
Spicy Fried Rice
â– 1 egg
â– 1 bunch scallions (green part only)
â– 1 tsp Lee Kum Kee brand chili sauce
â– 3 cups cooked jasmine rice
â– 1½ Tbsp packaged fried shallots
(available at many Asian markets)
â– 1 tsp kosher salt
â– 2 Tbsp + 2 tsp vegetable oil
In a nonstick pan, cook egg over easy and set aside. In a blender, purée scallion green (reserve one stalk for garnish) until smooth, then set aside. Heat wok on medium-high heat and add vegetable oil. To this, add the scallion green purée and chili sauce and cook for about 15 seconds. Add cooked jasmine rice and fried shallot mix and toss together in wok, still over medium heat, for about 2 minutes. Season mixture with kosher salt, and toss for one minute more. Serve in a shallow bowl with over-easy egg on top, and garnish with finely sliced scallion green. Serve with additional soy sauce if desired.
Chinatown Vegetable Stir Fry
MAKE THE SEASONING
â– ½ cup chicken stock
â– â…” tsp kosher salt
â– 1 tsp granulated sugar
â– ½ tsp sesame oil
â– 1 Tbsp Shaoxing wine (Chinese rice wine, available at most Asian markets)
â– â…” tsp cornstarch
In a small bowl, combine all ingredients and set aside.
MAKE STIR FRY
â– 2 Tbsp salt
â– 1 cup broccoli, cut into small florets, stems discarded
â– â…“ cup jicama, cut into 1” thin, diamond-shaped pieces
â– ¼ cup red onion, cut into ¼” julienne
â– 1 cup sugar snap peas, stripped of fibers
â– 4 baby Shanghai bok choy heads (about 3 oz total),
each cut into quarters
â– 4 whole, fresh shiitake mushrooms, quartered (Chef Zhou
recommends Chinese shiitakes because “they are larger
â– â…“ cup chive flower buds, cut into 1½” lengths
â– ½ tsp minced ginger
â– ½ tsp minced garlic
â– 1 tsp finely chopped scallion (white parts only)
â– 1 Tbps + 2 tsp vegetable oil
Boil a large pot of water to which you have added 2 Tbsp of salt. When boiling, blanch the broccoli, jicama, red onion, sugar snap peas, baby bok choy, and shiitake mushrooms for about 2 minutes. Drain the vegetables and set aside. Heat a wok over medium-high heat, and add the vegetable oil. Add chive flower buds, ginger, garlic, and scallion, and toss for about 30 seconds. Add blanched ingredients and toss together in your wok for about 30 seconds on high heat. Add seasoning, and toss for 30 more seconds. Serve immediately.
Makes 24 Dumplings
â– 1 lb ground pork
â– 2 cups napa cabbage, minced
â– ¼ cup scallion, minced
â– ½ Tbsp garlic, minced
â– ½ Tbsp ginger, minced
â– 2 Tbsp soy sauce
â– 2/3 tsp kosher salt
â– 1½ tsp granulated sugar
â– 1 tsp all-purpose flour
â– 1 Tbsp sesame oil
â– 1 whole egg
â– 1 package dumpling skins (Available at most Asian markets and many supermarkets. Chef Zhou recommends Twin Mark Kee Shanghai brand.)
Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl, and mix with your hands for about 2 to 3 minutes or until mixture begins to get sticky. Fill each dumpling skin by placing about 2 tsp of the filling in the center of the wrapper. Moisten edges with water and pinch together. Place on plate covered with plastic wrap to avoid sticking.
MAKE DIPPING SAUCE
â– 4 Tbsp soy sauce
â– ½ cup hot water
â– 1 tsp granulated sugar
â– 2 tsp rice vinegar
â– 2 tsp sesame oil
â– fresh julienne ginger (to taste)
â– chili oil (to taste)
Blend all ingredients together. Add chili and ginger to taste and serve as a dip.
COOK THE DUMPLINGS
Fill a wok with water about two thirds of the way to its top, and bring the water to a rolling boil over high heat. Reduce the fire to medium-low and cook dumplings for 3½ minutes, or until the dumpling skin becomes a bit wrinkled and the dumplings float to the top of the water. Drain the dumplings and set them aside while you discard water from the wok and wipe it clean. For pan-fried dumplings, replace the wok over medium heat with 2 Tbsp of vegetable oil. When the oil is hot, carefully place the dumplings in a pan and fry until they are golden brown. Drain on paper towels and serve immediately with dipping sauce.