Monday, August 07, 2006

My New Toy: The Wok - Beef Chow Fun & Beef Chow Mein (Crispy) Recipe

In a conversation that extended over 15+ emails, Kirk of Mmm-Yoso and Elmo of Elmomonster convinced me that the Big Kahuna Burner was a good investment for wok cooking and that I wouldn't be going to jail for involuntary arson. (They both own it too). For only $49.99 off Amazon, this burner reaches BTU's as high as 55,000. Just how high is that? The stove burner you use daily averages 5,000 to 8,000 BTU's. For so long I wondered why I couldn't achieve that same restaurant-quality taste with Chinese food. Why was the food cooked on the outside so beautifully, yet so gummy-tender on the indside? Why was there such a different, indescribable taste to the food that used the same ingredients I had used at home? And why did food come out in less than 5 minutes? It's called 'wok hay', the 'heat/energy of the wok'. The wok, when burning hot, sears/singes the meat nicely on the outside and adds a taste unachievable on a 10" Emeril pot and home stove. The domed shape of the wok distributes heat faster than the flat surface of a pan. (I got my 16" wok at a restaurant supply store in San Gabriel for only $9. It's decent.) Combining rocket-boosting heat and domed cookware, you get Asian-style cooking.

In Chinese, 'chow fun' means fried rice noodles and 'chow mein' means fried egg noodles. Fresh 'fun' noodles are shown on the left. Their made with rice, starch and water and come oiled up to keep from drying in room temperature and are already pre-sliced. 'Fun' noodles require the most labor because it is necessary to separate each strand of noodle for equal cooking. On the right is steamed 'chow mein'. Do not confuse these with wonton egg noodles, which come heavily doused in flour. If you were to use wonton egg noodles for the 'Beef Chow Mein' dish, they wouldn't turn out out too well because of the high flour content. Also, if you add liquids to the dish, the noodles will become thick and gooey. Not good. Steaming egg noodles removes the flour and making it easier for pan frying. 'Fun' is $1.79 a pack and 'mein' is $1.59 a pack at most Asian markets.

The key to cooking Asian stir fry and noodle dishes is having everything prepped out. I've been over to my Uncle's restaurant to watch him cook and their walk-in fridge is stocked with prepped out food. He punches out orders in less than 3 minutes because everything is ready to go. I combined the ingredients for both dishes.

Marinating the beef:
- Flank steak
- Rice Wine/Sherry (Shao Xing)
- Oil
- Salt
- White Pepper (Chinese rarely use black pepper)
- Chicken Bouillon Powder
- Corn starch

Mix those up well and let it steep for at least 30 minutes.

For Beef Chow Fun, you need:
- Green onions (green part 2.5"-3")
- Bean sprouts (handful)

For Beef Chow Mein, you need:
- Greens like Yau Choy or Gai-Lan (Chinese Broccoli)
- Green onion stalks (thick slices)
- Straw Mushrooms (canned)
- Carrots (cut into rhombus-shape)
- Ginger (cut into rhombus-shape)
- Garlic

The sauce aisle is probably the most overwhelming section of the Asian market. Who knew that they could fill up one long aisle with soy sauce, oyster sauces and oil. It'll take a while finding these if you don't already have them. You'll need soy sauce, dark soy sauce (aka mushroom soy sauce), oyster sauce and sesame oil. Disregard the jar on the left.

After prepping everything, I spent a good 10 minutes bringing out all the equipment/sauces I needed to the area in front of my apartment. Never wok cook inside a kitchen unless you have an overhead, proper stove and fire extinguisher. Those flames could catch oil and wreak havoc. Plus the smell of smoke can be overwhelming. I stood there for a few minutes getting myself ready for this mentally. There isn't a lot of time to think and you must act fast. I opened the gas valve on the propane tank and could see the gas slowly fill out throught the tube. I then opened the control valve for the burner and I immediately heard hissing. I used a stick lighter and ignited the burner. Whooom! Ok, here we go. Here's what went down.

Beef Chow Fun
Add a little oil and swirl it around the wok. It should take no longer than 30-45 seconds for the oil to smoke. Toss the beef in and stir it around. Once it's cooked through about 60%, take it out. Toss the noodles in and stir. In about 2-3 minutes, they'll be cooked. Simply add the beef back in along with bean sprouts, green onions and a few pieces of ginger. Add dark soy sauce to achieve that recognizable 'beef chow fun' color. *Note, dark soy sauce really has no taste and it's only used for coloring. Soy sauce is used for taste along with salt and white pepper. Add some soy sauce and sugar to taste. You're done when the green onions and bean sprouts are wilted. This dish came out delicious except for the fact that I used too much sugar. It kinda tasted like Thai "pad see eew". The beef was cooked about 85% with a few pieces showing some rareness, which I don't mind. Next round, I'm adding less sugar and more ginger.

Beef Chow Mein
First, add a cup of oil into the wok for shallow frying the egg noodles. Fry each side for about 2 minutes and watch that you don't burn it. It should be a light golden brown. Take it out once you're done. Throw the beef in and stir - cook 50% through and dump about 2 cups of water to make the gravy. Add dark soy sauce, soy sauce, oyster sauce, white pepper and sugar to taste. Once you get the right taste, throw the beef back in and add corn starch mixture (water/corn starch) to thicken the gravy. Next toss in the carrots, straw mushrooms and yau choy. Cook for about another 2 mins. Add about 2-3 drops of sesame oil and pour the gravy over your perfectly fried noodles. I did none of this. I really messed up on this dish because I didn't add enough water to make the gravy. The noodles were fried decently, yet I ran into some uncooked parts. The soy sauce I added had caramelized, giving it a gooey/burnt taste. No good. For the next round, I am mixing all of the sauces together into one pot.

I didn't realize how much practice is needed for wok cooking. My arms are sore from lifting the wok. Prepping this dish is the most crucial element because you really don't have much time to think/act. Overall, I'm very happy with the purchase of the Big Kahuna Burner and unhappy with the way the 'Beef Chow Mein' turned out. Stay tuned for Round 2. Thanks for reading.


BoLA said...

Wow! This looks SO cool! Maybe this will be my next investment too. Hmm... I LOVE Beef Chow Fun! So sorry Miss J was sick last night. Tell her to get better soon!!!

Yuzu said...

So you got your new toy! I remember how excited you were when you first told me you wanted to get that thing. You were like, "55,000 BTUs!!!" Haha.

The chow fun looks yummy. I don't think I have the determination to make a really good Asian noodle dish. Props to you for that. :D

Daily Gluttony said...

yes, wok use requires mad skillz, but i'm sure you'll be an expert in no time! i stay away from it 'cuz i'm always afraid my hair's going to catch fire.

"chao ngow hoh" is one of my faves of all time--mad, mad props to you!

Steve Wasser said...

Yeah, that's awesome man. I gotta get me one of those since the new place has a weak range. The only place I can safely do it is in the garage out back, hopefully that won't catch the place on fire.

That's exactly the same experience I've had with my Martin Yen Circulon wok, it just doesn't cut it, and I don't think any self respectable wok should be teflon coated.

Colleen Cuisine said...

55,000 BTUs!?!?!? I don't even know what that means, but it sounds awesome! Do you have to be sober to operate one of these things?

elmomonster said...

Niiiiice! You got it! It took a while for me to get used to the power. The one thing I've learned also is not to crank it up to "Eleven" all the time. Full blast seems to turn small cuts of meat into carbon if I'm not careful. Although stir frying veggies calls for full throttle -- leaves 'em green and mean.

"But these go to eleven!"

eatdrinknbmerry said...

Bola, this is definitely a nice investment. It is a b*tch to keep bringing it outside to cook, including preparing all the food/sauces. But i still enjoy it. J is finally better. Go with us to Silverlake Wine next monday.

Yuzu, I'm still excited about my new toy haha. I think about it everyday when I'm at work. "what should i cook next?" or actually "what dish should i screw up next?"

Pam, I've already burned my hand on the wok. Now I use a towel to wrap around the wok handle and I can still feel heat running up my wrist. Ho toong! I don't know too many Cantonese people that dislike 'Beef Chow Fun'.

Zteve, dude you gotta get one so we can talk about sh*t to make. It'll be a nice way to tease your new neighbors too - with the odors and all. Just try to keep the fish sauce usage down to a minimum haha.

CC, basically it's 7-8 times hotter than your stove. It gets crazy hot! Hey when are we going wine tasting again with the Israeli Bruce Lee? Monday okay with you? This is definitely something you wanna stay away from after a few drinks. I can already see myself adding hard liquor to the wok just for the thrill of seeing flames.

Elmo, haha, for sure the wok can hit ELEVEN. I love Spinal Tap. I love the part in the movie when they bring out the 13" stonehenge replica, when it was supposed to be 13' haha. Thanks again for selling me on this, I'm very happy.

Jeni said...

While I was sick in bed with food poisoning, all that racket you were making outside made me wanna puke. Bllaaaaaah! The stuff smelled naaaasstay.

Kirk said...

Hi EDBM - Sorry the Chow Fun didn't quite turn out the way you wanted - it still looked pretty good. Congats on your new "toy". That Baby sure can heat up, and it takes a bit of getting used to. I once turned my back on some shrimp, to answer a question, and turned back to find charred carbon.....

Patty said...

Hello! I enjoy both of your sites (Noodle Whore). I especially love "beef chow fun", almost order the same thing from different restaurants but hardly find them make good beef chow fun. They were either not tasty enough, or lack of deep brown color, two wet or too dried....
This type of noodle dish is not easy to cook at home. The "wok" has to be extremely hot enough and with lot of oil to keep the noodle from sticking. Got to have good soy sauce and the amount of beef slices and bean spout and green onion have to be just the right amount not overpower each other.

Passionate Eater said...

So cool EDNBM! I read this post twice I was so excited! I want to get a burner with that many BTUs, but I live in a studio that doesn't have a common yard area. Did you find some good woks at the wok shop?

Hope that Jeni feels better, and I hope the food poisoning wasn't from SF! Take care, PE

themirthmobile said...

that looks so fucking delicious. and fun!

yoony said...

the fun noodles look delicious! just like pad see ew. :)

rick james said...

d, was good to see you guys...

you look tired bro, maybe add some vitamin b12 to your wok meals for energy man...

maybe you can make use that sucker to fry up taquitos like on olvera street, now those are some bomb ass taquitos!

see you guys soon...

monkey_see said...

ah man, Now I have a new toy to add to my backyard artillery!

Backyard WOKKING! oh yeah!

Chubbypanda said...


OMG! I'm in serious gadget lust. I'm so getting me one of those. I'm getting really fed up trying to coax heat out of my electric stove, and I know my fiancee is getting sick of the smoke from when I cook Chinese food.

Two bits of advice.
1) Keep a fire extinguisher handy.
2) Get a welding glove. Great for oven work, cast iron work, grill work, and (you guessed it) sizzling hot woks.

Keep writing these great articles and check out my new food blog when you get the chance.

- Chubbypanda

eatdrinknbmerry said...

Jeni, you are ungrateful haha.

Kirk, your'e definitely right about turning around and getting a carbonized surprise haha.

Patty, thanks for dropping by. I know what you mean about obtaining the right 'color' in beef chow fun. you don't want the beef chow fun to be light nor too BLACK.

PE, good to see you again! We didn't find anything in the wokshop. And no, Jeni's food poisoning was due to Taco Hell's chalupa.

Mirthmobile, thanks for dropping by. I'm going on round 2 of beef chow fun very soon.

Yoony, pad see eew is next on my list. Well, after pad kee mow of course.

Rick James, good to see you again too!

Monkey_See, it's tons of fun, literally. that wok is heavy.

chubbypanda, thanks for dropping by. i think i'm going to have to get a glove/mitten pretty soon. i burned my hand a little while cooking. thanks for the pointers. i'll check your site out.

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