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Problem: cast iron wok, extra hot, burning aromatics and such

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Hello all,

I appologize if this is not an appropriate place to ask questions but I have probably searched whole of internet without any luck. This is my last resort (maybe it should have been the first) ;)

I have an Iwachu traditional, round bottom cast iron wok, which I use on my home stove. The double gas burner with the wok ring has about 3 or 4 kW in power; arround 10.000 BTUs I think. My normal proceedure includes pre-heating the wok for about 5-10 minutes before I start cooking.

The first problem is the oil. I use sunflower oil which starts smoking immediately as I put it in. The second problem are the aromatics - garlic and ginger. I throw them in, shove them around a little bit, after 5-10 seconds I put the meat in. Aromatics always burn :(.

The third problem is the meat. Just today I cut some beef into thin strips, say 5mm thick and about an inch long, and stir fried them with the aromatics. They let out a lot of water which did evaporate but it left the meat pretty tough.

Im losing sanity here ;), any help appreciated!

Cheers and many greets from Croatia!

Alex

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5-10 minutes is a really long pre-heat. It sounds like you're getting the pan too hot, especially if the meat is coming out tough. Try taking the temperature of the inside of the pan with an infrared thermometer and see what the temperature is and adjust from there. Garlic does burn pretty quickly, and lose its flavor quickly even if not burnt, which is why I like to add it partway through stir-frying not at the start. The oil is the main clue here, if that's really smoking, the pan is too hot.

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I can help you with the oil smoking: The same friend that introduced me to cast iron woks also switched me to rice bran oil:

http://www.sfgate.co...fry-3248043.php

http://californiaric...m/orderdesk.htm

The four gallon pack is quite the deal; you can easily use a gallon if you're unsure. This oil is neutral in flavor (at least compared to peanut oil) and makes anyone look like a frying genius. It has around a 500 F smoke point, and no one belongs in that range. While breaking in various carbon steel pans (a binge started by a different thread here; the Spring USA pans can cause dangerous object lust: http://www.cooksdire...-steel-fry-pans, http://springusacom....ware/blackline/), I've been deep-frying ripe plantain slices and they come out stunning in this oil. It's my go-to oil for any Chinese deep-frying.

I agree also with Lisa Shock. You're overreacting to the idea that we can't get woks hot enough at home. Same with pizza, I took lessons with an engineer-turned-Calabrian-author who took her IR shooter thermometer all around Italy. People talk a big game about their pizza oven temps, but the truth where the pizza actually cooks is more moderate.

I have an awesome cast iron wok, but my 14" round bottom carbon steel wok gets all the use, lately, including tonight if I can hit "post". They're more nimble, when the heat gets too hot.


Edited by Syzygies (log)

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As others have said, the wok is way too hot.

If you are getting a lot of water coming from your beef, I suggest you change your butcher.

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I don't think your wok is too hot, I don't think there is such a thing. If your meat is letting out water then your wok is either not hot enough or your meat is wet. Garlic and ginger are going to burn in any reasonably hot wok/skillet if cooked in oil by itself. I think your process needs some tweaking.

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I can't imagine it's hotter than restaurant woks with many times the heat output...

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My normal proceedure includes pre-heating the wok for about 5-10 minutes before I start cooking.
I can't imagine

The same friend set up private group lessons at an SF Chinese restaurant, a few years back. 5-10 minute pre-heats weren't part of the technique.

One would also imagine that it hurts more to get hit by a restaurant wok. It depends on far you drop the home wok.

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I think that actually with only around 10k BTU and a heavy cast iron wok, a 5 minute pre-heat is not that unreasonable. I think that any of us doing wok cooking expect the oil to hit its smoke point immediately when added to the wok, so that's not unusual. What cut of beef are you using here? When I get my wok screaming hot I basically add the beef as fast as I can after the garlic and ginger (for that style of stir-fry) - 5-10 seconds is much longer than I give them, I think. How long are you cooking it for, and how much beef are you putting in at once? You don't want the beef to steam, so if you are adding too much at once that might be the only problem you've got. If your beef is exuding too much liquid it's likely that low temperature, not high, is to blame: you need to get the outside seared before the muscle fibres contract too much.

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. . . . If your beef is exuding too much liquid it's likely that low temperature, not high, is to blame: you need to get the outside seared before the muscle fibres contract too much.

That was my thought, too.

Regarding the toughness, pre-soaking the strips of meat in a solution of sodium bicarbonate and water (5g in 130g) makes a huge difference, and I wouldn't do a stir-fry without that (I first came across this recommendation in Cook's Illustrated). Also, have you tried velveting?

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you need to get the outside seared before the muscle fibres contract too much.

I thought that McGee et al established that searing doesn't seal liquid in meat.

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When I get my wok screaming hot

Can you confirm that you're talking about a cast iron wok, not a carbon steel wok? They handle very differently.

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Ive forgotten what MC says about Stir Fry ( good SF) but the mechanism for changing the protein fibers from 'raw' to 'cooked' must be almost unique to this method:

SF 'protein' (chicken, beef) is stunningly tender and juicy if the connective fibers are not too long: ie the meat is cut before hand to make these fibers that make meat tough as short as possible.

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you need to get the outside seared before the muscle fibres contract too much.

I thought that McGee et al established that searing doesn't seal liquid in meat.

He's talking about something completely different (cue Monty Python theme): Over high heat, the exterior browns very rapidly, and the inside remains relatively cool during that short time. Over a lower heat, the exterior of the meat takes longer to brown, giving the interior time to also become warmer; as the meat warms, the fibres contract, causing the juices to be squeezed out (the effect you get when you sqeeze a sponge, if you can imagine the sponge self-squeezing). 'Sealing' doesn't enter into it.

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If your aromatics are quickly burning, the pan's too hot.

A lot of recipes I've seen suggest completely removing the aromatics after they've had time to flavor the oil. So don't bother dicing them. Smash some garlic cloves and ginger pieces, toss into your hot oil, stir fry a bit and then remove them before they burn.

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When I get my wok screaming hot

Can you confirm that you're talking about a cast iron wok, not a carbon steel wok? They handle very differently.

I'm not: the mechanics of their actual use are different, but the physics of the heat transfer are the same. You don't want to overcook the centers of your strips/chunks of beef (this is what causes the muscle fibers to contract and liquid to exude), but you want a sear on the outside. This requires very high heat. If your heat is too low, then (as Michaela mentioned above), the interior will become overcooked and tough before the exterior gets its sear.

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Don't pre-heat for so long then.

Also, you can pre-heat, turn the heat off, swirl the oil on, and then turn the heat back on. And make sure to keep the aromatics moving, and have everything else ready to go in.

We are talking about Chinese style cast iron, and not a super heavy cast iron wok (the kind you can't lift), right?


Edited by Will (log)

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My normal proceedure includes pre-heating the wok for about 5-10 minutes before I start cooking.
I can't imagine

The same friend set up private group lessons at an SF Chinese restaurant, a few years back. 5-10 minute pre-heats weren't part of the technique.

Of course they weren't - those restaurant burners probably put out 10x the amount of btus, so the need to preheat for 5 minutes is not therer.

Was the beef frozen previously?

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If the OP wants to do 'chinese' stir fry, then i would recommend:

1. heat wok until you can feel the pan heating up with your palm at a safe distance of about 10 cm from bottom of pan. Once you get used to your pan, you will not have to do this 'palm' test. I assume your pan has been well seasoned?

2. pour in oil. It is not necessary to use rice bran oil which from where i live is several times more expensive and (from my stir frying experience) has no advantages over peanut or canola oil. My wife actually prefers sunflower oil because it is cheaper still. Swirl the oil around the pan (assuming you can lift it :-)). This will help to even out any hot or cold spots in the pan.

3. when the oil starts to 'shimmer', or smoke, and i do know some people with senstive noses being able to smell when the oil is hot enough (whichever comes first for you), then add in the garlic/ginger/aromatics. Stir immediately- this is stir frying, right?

As mentioned several times in previous posts, if the aromatics burn right away, then your oil is too hot, and all you need to do is to add in the aromatics earlier (dont preheat for so long then), or add in the meat right after the aromatics and before the aromatics burn, or 'turn the heat off, swirl the oil on, and then turn the heat back on', etc.

4. Add in the meat as soon as the aromatics begin to change color, ie turning light brown - and usually it is about 2 or 3 seconds after you add in the aromatics.

Then add in soy sauce/oyster sauce/ whatever sauce that you wish, and stir like crazy to get even cooking. Then add in any vegies (eg blanched broccoli, carrots, etc ) if that is the combination that you want to stir-fry.

If the meat gets tough and exudes lots of water then try the technique known as 'marinating and velvetting' (search this forum as it has been well documented and discussed). In fact i do this all the time as it allows me to use 'tougher but more flavorful" cuts of meat when stir-frying meat+vegie combination as above. As the marinated meat has already been seasoned, then be careful when adding additional seasoning in the final woking step.

With or without the 'marinating and velvetting' technique, if you find the meat letting out lots of water, then what i would do is to put the meat on a strainer/sieve and let it drip dry for perhaps 15 minutes or until it looks like it has drained itself, and/or divide the meat into portions and stir fry each portion separately, lots of work but should help.

happy woking

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Are you using an electric stove?

A round bottom wok touching an electric heating element can give you very hot center, but not hot enough everywhere else.

Have you tried a wok ring?

dcarch

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My technique is different to the common method. I put the sauce ingredients (e.g. soy, oyster, rice wine) and the aromatics (e.g. ginger, garlic, shallott) into a small bowl and combine. I microwave the vegetables. I dry the meat with paper towel before slicing it into strips.

I get a wide, heavy based pan screaming hot. I add the oil (ghee, coconut, or rice bran) which will smoke immediately. I then add the meat strips and evenly distribute them in the pan, pressing them down a little (but not stirring). I wait for about 10-15 seconds or so before I begin stirring the meat. Any sooner than that and there is a risk some of the meat will stick. I then quickly stir the meat for a few seconds until it is nearly cooked. I drop the heat to medium and add the sauce/aromatics. The lower temp combined with the sauce drops the temp fast, allowing a little braising. I give the sauce/aromatics enough time for the aromatics to cook - maybe 30 seconds or a little longer. The I add the vegetables, up the temp, and quickly combine.

I find that using this method, I don't have burnt aromatics, burnt vegetables or tough meat. :smile:

I should add that I use an induction cooktop that instantly alters the heat output. Although I use a heavy base pan, I don't think it would retain the heat as much as a heavy cast iron wok, so I am not sure if this method would work as well with your wok.


Edited by Ozcook (log)

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If you are going for the screaming hot rocket fueled wok hei, the key is the mise en place...all the ingredients should be precoooked so that when you put all the ingredients in the pan at the same time and just let it go for a few minutes, everything should be cooked perfectly. Velvet the meat, boil/steam/deep-fry the veggies, soak the noodles, and add everything in at the same time. I actually add the meat just a smidge earlier to get an extra sear on it


Edited by takadi (log)

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