Lynne Rossetto Kasper: I have to smile to myself because of course your go-to pot is the wok. Mine is a 12-inch saute pan. But people don't realize what they can do with a wok.
Ming Tsai: You can do a lot.
By the way, for those who don't own a wok, you could absolutely do all the wok dishes in a large saute pan as long as the volume of the pan is big enough. But if you do have a wok or have the hankering, definitely get a good flat-bottom wok. No one has a stove at home that's big enough BTU-wise, enough heat, for the round one. The round ones are great for restaurants. A flat-bottom wok is just better for a home cook.
MT: Obviously you stir-fry. The concept of the wok being concave, nice and curved, is you don't need as much oil to cover the surface. When you move your food around it, it always ends up touching oil. You don't need to add as much. That's one reason why wok cooking is so good -- and healthier.
There are some classic stir-fries. There is a Pork Kimchee with Noodles stir-fry. There is a green peppercorn beef with asparagus. That actually uses rotini pasta, which is not a Chinese noodle, it's an Italian one. I love my take on a Kung Pao Chicken with rice; that's the peanuts with chicken that has carrots, celery and onions. Those are some classic stir-fries.
MT: But if you fill it with water -- one of my tips is to actually add a pinch of tea leaves to flavor the water because sometimes water has an off flavor -- then it's a steamer. Take one of those bamboo steamers and put it on top. It's a wonderful pot to use to steam because of the great surface area; it's obviously much bigger toward the top.
LRK: I think a lot of people are gun-shy about steaming. They don't realize how great it can be, or how simple it is.
MT: It's a wonderful technique. Regardless of the fact that it's really healthy, it's a great way to keep certain meats and proteins and fish moist. It's great for vegetables too, but again you need flavor, so make sure there's garlic, ginger, or soy or sesame oil. If you steam broccoli and that's all you're doing, it's going to taste like mushy broccoli. You need to do better than that. But by adding flavor and seasoning, it can be delicious.
MT: When you boil pasta, you can use a wok. With the Italian ratio and the Chinese as well, you want at least five times water to the amount of pasta you're boiling. You can absolutely achieve that with a wok.
LRK: You do a one-pot spaghetti or pasta and meatballs with an Asian touch.
MT: My take on East-West cuisine is really getting as much flavor into the protein or into what you're making. I took the classic meatball. Of course there are different schools of thought, but it's either veal-pork, veal-pork-beef or whatever school you may be from. I use ground chicken.
LRK: But that's super lean.
MT: It is, but you get to add fat. I have olive oil. It has tons of onions (onions, of course, have flavor and moisture) with garlic. I use panko as a breadcrumb because you need something in a meatball to make it light. You can't just have 100 percent meat.
I always recommend that you use dark chicken, which has so much more flavor than chicken breast, white chicken. By the way, there's new research now through something called angiogenesis that actually dark chicken is better for you than white chicken. I'm elated, as are all my chef friends. Dark chicken, as long as it's cooked just right, is incredibly moist and flavorful. It does not have to be dry.
MT: It's a wonderful pot for frying. You don't need as much oil because it's so concave toward the bottom. You can fill just a few inches of oil and fry spring rolls or wontons.
MT: We use the wok to do what I call flashing. I steam fish. Then an old Chinese technique is you flash whole fish with oil to add lusciousness and a nice silkiness to the fish.
Nobu Matsuhisa, who is a great friend, has completely popularized flashing with a Japanese technique he calls new-style sashimi. He takes raw fish and flashes it with a hot olive oil so it partially cooks the fish. I call it sashimi 101.
But in Chinese cuisine, which would predate this technique, we would always steam a whole fish, traditionally with a little soy, ginger and scallion. At the end right before serving, you'd flash it with hot peanut oil. It would add a lusciousness and richness to the dish. It actually almost forms its own sauce as it goes to the fish on the platter. It's just a wonderful way of eating fish. The fish flavor really shines through, which is the key.
LRK: So you would take the fish out, you would empty out the hot water and then you'd dry the wok. Then you'd quickly heat oil in it, and a little bit of that would be spooned over the fish? That's the flashing?
MT: Exactly. You basically heat the oil until it's just starting to smoke. You take a stainless steel spoon, and then you just literally flash it on. You will hear a little sizzle because it's cooking it a little bit more.
It adds that richness that I find luscious. Again, you're adding so little fat, but you're adding so much flavor. It's a must-do.
MT: To make a classic soup, you usually saute all your aromatics -- it could be garlic, onions, ginger. If there's meat in the soup, you would saute that. You would then usually deglaze with a wine, Shaoxing, or some type of alcohol if you like alcohol.
LRK: A Shaoxing is Chinese rice wine.
MT: Exactly. It tastes kind of like sherry.
You add your stock, you bring it to a simmer and you let it simmer. Because the top of the wok has a great surface area, it can reduce quickly for you.
LRK: You cook much faster. I think the thing too is you can make minestrone. It doesn't have to be an Asian recipe.
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