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Use the Wok – The Awl


Thekingofspringvegetables,toweringoverthemostlyyoungfreshgrassesandfernsandalliumsandgreens,istheasparagus。

Iwillhappilyeatanentirebunchasameal,raw,dippingstalkafterstalkintoherbedyogurtorhummusuntilmyurineispungentenoughtocreatevisiblecartoonstinklines。

Butaverystrangethingaboutasparagusisthatthebestwaystocookthisdelicate,sweetvegetablearealsothemostintense。

Andthatbringsustooneofmyveryfavoritecookingtools,thewok,andmyextremelyaggressiveopinionsabouthowyouareprobablyusingitincorrectly。

Thewokisn’tanunfamiliarpieceofequipmenttomostpeople;anymoderatelywell-appointedkitchenwillprobablyhaveone。

ButIdothinkthereareseriousproblemswiththewayit’sgenerallyused。

Thewokisatoolthat’sdesignedtodoaveryspecificjob?

—?

cookquicklyoverextremelyhighheat。

Thehigharcingwallsofthewok,alongwiththethinnessofthematerial,areallinserviceofthisonegoal。

Agoodwokheatsupquicklyandevenlyandretainsitsheat。

Thehighwallsallowyoutotossfoodconfidently;giventheextremetemperatures,foodwillburnifit’snotconstantlystirred,andyoudon’twantyourfoodtogoflyingalloverthe?

place。

Awokisnotagiantsautepan,norisitaDutchoven。

Thereasonpeoplethinkitcanbeusedto,say,sautevegetablesinoliveoilfortwentyminutesisbecauseahugeproportionofthewokssoldtodayarenonstick。

Thesewoksaregarbageandifyoucareaboutthemyoushouldputtheminthegarbagecanwheretheycanbereunitedwiththeirfamilies(theirfamiliesaregarbage,theycomefromtheGarbageClan,theircoatofarmsisarottenbananapeelgentlynestledinsideastyrofoamtakeoutcontainer)。

Earlierthismonth,acollectionofhundredsofscientistsandsafetyexpertsreleasedaseriesofcondemnationsandrecommendationsknownastheMadridStatement,whichisprimarilyconcernedwithcertainchemicalcompoundsknownaspoly-andperfluoroalkylsubstances(PFASs)。

Thesearethechemicalswhichcausenon-stickpanstobenon-stick(inadditiontomakingfastfoodwrappersgreaseproof,andmanyotherveryusefulroles),andtheauthorsofthepapermakeaveryconvincingcasethatthesechemicalsareunder-regulatedandalmostdefinitelygoingtokillus?

all。

That’sinadditiontothemanyreasonswhyanon-stickwokisawful。

Forone:highheatwillcauseittowarpandmelt。

Another:atypicaltooltouseinawokisametalladle,whichwillscratchthecoatingandcauseittoleachintoyourfood。

Foranother:aproperwok,bywhichImeancarbonsteel?

—?

orpossiblycastiron,butIprefercarbonsteelbecauseit’smuchmuchlighter?

—?

willeventuallyachievewhat’sbasicallyanonstickcoatingthankstorepeateduses,liketheseasoningofacastironpan。

(Thisiscalled“wokhei”inChina,whichmeanssomethinglike“thesoulofthewok,”andisconsideredalmostaflavorinfood。

Chinaseems?

cool。

)

Anoddthingaboutthewokisthatit’saprettycommontoolintheU。

S。

butlookingthroughrecipes,thevast,vastmajorityofthemareChinese-stylestir-frydishes。

There’snothingwrongwiththat,ofcourse;awokisanidealtoolforstir-frying,butIthinkstir-frying,toAmericans,impliesnotaheatingtechniquebutaflavorprofile。

Whenwethinkstir-fry,wethinkofafewdifferentkeyflavors:soy,chiles,sugar,cornstarch,garlic,ginger,sugar。

Wethink,basically,ofChinesefood,whetherthatmeansAmericanChinesefoodorwhateverwethink“authentic”regionalChinesefood?

is。

Thekeythingaboutstir-fryingisn’ttheflavors,butthetechnique:highheat,shortcookingtime,frequenttossing。

Andthere’snoreasonwhythattechniqueshouldbelimitedtoChinesefood。

Forme,Ithinkspringistheidealtimetobreakoutthewok,becausetheextremelyshortcookingtimeendsupmaintainingthedelicateflavorsandtexturesofspringvegetableslikeasparagus。

Astir-frybringsthebestpartsofspringvegetablesout:theiroutsidesarecharredorfriedlightly,buttheinsidesbarelycooked,likeaperfectlydoneburger。

Asparagusfromawokdoesn’ttastelikeoil,orasauce。

Ittasteslikeasparagus,butmoreso;thecolorandtextureoftherawplantispreserved,butyougetsomenicecharandcaramelizationtorampuptheflavors。

Thebestwaytocooktheseason’sproduceistoheattheshitoutofit,butjustforafewseconds。

SoIputtogetherafewwok-asparagusrecipeswithnon-Chineseflavors,justtoshowthatthewokisgoodformorethanjustbeefandbroccoli。

Wok-FriedAsparagusWithLemonsAnd?

Walnuts

Shoppinglist:Asparagus,garlic,shallots,lemons,walnuts,oliveoil,chileflakes,parsley,sugar,parmesanor?

pecorino

ThisisbasicallyariffonaMelissaClarkpastarecipe,justwithasparagusinsteadofpasta。

Ifyouwanttoservethisoverpastathat’dbefinetoo,though。

Anyway:getasmallpotofwateronthestoveonitswaytoboiling。

Slicealemoninhalflengthwise,thenslicethosehalvesinhalfagain。

Thinlyslicethequarteredlemonsintoroundedtriangles,discardinganyseeds。

Tossthelemonslicesintothepotofboilingwaterandboilforacoupleminutes,justtogetsomeofthebitternessoutofthepith。

Drainanddrythelemonsverythoroughly。

Also,spreadyourwalnutsonatinybakingtrayandputinthetoasterovenforacoupleminutesto?

toast。

Heatyourwoktolowandpourinatablespoonorsoofoliveoil。

Chopashallotandafewclovesofgarlic。

Tossinapinchofchileflakes,thenthegarlicandshallot。

Cookoverlowheatuntiltheshallotisalittletranslucent,thenthrowinthelemonslicesandapinchofsugar。

Notabigpinch。

Averysmallpinch。

Stiruntilsugarisdissolved。

Prepareyourasparagus:trimoffthewoodyend,thenchopintoequal-sizedpieces,maybeacoupleincheslong。

Cranktheheatonthewoktoashighasit’llgo,thenthrowintheasparagus。

Stirconstantly;ifyouleavethisforjustonesecondeverythingwillburn。

Tossandfryformaybetwominutes,addingsaltandblackpeppertotaste,thenscrapeeverythingoutontoaplate。

Topwithwalnuts,choppedparsley,andshavedparmesanorpecorino?

cheese。

AsparagusHashWithEggsAndMustardVinaigrette

Shoppinglist:Asparagus,potatoes,redonion,paprika,lemons,redwinevinegar,canolaorvegetableoil,mustard,oliveoil,eggs?

honey

Setapotofsaltedwateronthestovetoboil。

Choppotatoesintohash-sizedpieces,maybeacentimetercubed。

(Optforsmallpotatoesratherthanthebigrussetshere。

FingerlingsorYukonGoldsaregoodifyouwanttobefancy。

)Tossthepotatoesinandboiluntilverynearly,butnotquite,done。

Strainthemout,dumpoutthecloudystarchypotatowater,fillupthepotwithcleanwaterandheatitupyetagain(thistimeit’llbefortheeggs)。

Letthepotatoesdryasmuchaspossible。

Putyourwokonthestoveoverlowheatandpourinsomecanolaorvegetableoil,maybetwoorthreetablespoonsworth。

(Thiswillseemlikealot。

That’sbecauseit’salot。

)。

Tossinabouthalfanonion’sworthofchoppedredonion,fryuntiltranslucent,thenthrowinacouplepinchesofpaprika。

(EitherHungariansweetpaprikaorSpanishsmokedpaprikawillworkhere。

)Whenfragrant,cranktheheattohighandthrowinthepotatoes。

Whatwe’redoinghereisshallow-frying;thewokisagreattoolforshallow-anddeep-frying。

Tossthepotatoeseveryonceinawhileuntilbrownedandhash-looking,thenscrapethecontentsofthewokoutontoaplateorsomething。

Tasteoneandseasonwithsalt。

Itprobablydoesn’tneed?

pepper。

Trimwoodyendsofasparagusandchopintosmallerpiecesthanbefore,maybeaninchlong。

Alsocheckyourpotofwater。

Ifit’sboiling,lowertheheattosimmerandcrackafeweggsintoittopoach。

Feelfreetousewhateversuperstitiousmethodyouhaveforpoachingeggs(Vinegar?

Salt?

Swirlingwater?

Sure。

)。

Returnthewoktotheflameandtossintheasparagusoversuperhighheat,tossingtofrythewaywedidbefore。

Seasontotaste。

Theasparagusandeggsshouldbedoneataboutthesametime;removebothfromtheircooking?

vessels。

Makeyourvinaigrette。

Addaspoonfulofmustard(dijonisclassic,butreallyanywillwork;Ipreferbrownspicydelimustardbecauseitsustainedmypeoplethroughthousandsofyearsofexilefromourhomeland)toajarorbowl,thenwhiskinsomeredwinevinegar。

Squeezeinalittlelemonjuiceandalittlebitofhoneyandwhisktocombine,thendrizzleinoliveoilslowlywhilestillwhisking。

Toserve:placepotatoesonaplate,topwithasparagus,thenstickthepoachedegginthemiddleanddrizzlevinaigretteall?

around。

RasElHanout-SpicedAsparagusWithOrangeYogurtAnd?

Couscous

Shoppinglist:Asparagus,Greekyogurt,orange,raselhanoutspiceblend,vegetableoil,raisins,pinenuts,parsley,scallions,couscous,olive?

oil

RaselhanoutisaspiceblendfromNorthAfrica?

—?

itdoesn’thaveaspecificblendofspices,butgenerallyissweeterthan,say,garammasala。

Tomakethisdish,firstcooksomecouscous:putameasuredamountofcouscousinabowl(alongwithafewpinchesofsalt),thenbringtoaboilanequalamountofwater。

Pourthewaterintothecouscous,stirandquicklycoverandletsitforaboutfiveminutes,thenuncoverandfluffwithafork。

Also:Putsomeraisinsinaglasstupperwareandcoverwithboilingwater。

Letsituntilyou’rereadytousethem。

ALSO!

Toastsomepinenutseitherinatoasterovenorinadrycast-ironpanandreserve。

And:PlopaboutacupofGreekyogurtinabowl,zestinmaybeaquarterofanorange’sworthofzest,andsqueezemaybeaquarterofanorange’sworthofjuiceinthereaswell。

Addalittlesaltandstirto?

combine。

Slicesomescallionsintosmallrings。

Getawokonthestoveoverlowheat,andpourinacoupletablespoonsofoil。

Tossinthescallionsandstirforaboutaminute,thenthrowinafewpinchesofraselhanout。

Stirformaybethirtysecondstotoastthe?

spices。

Chopasparagusintosomeeasytoeatsizedpieces,discardingthewoodyends,thencranktheheatuptohigh。

Throwtheminandstirconstantlyforabouttwominutes。

Theremaybesomesmoke。

Scrapeouttheasparagusandscallionsontoa?

plate。

Combinethecouscous,raisins(whichyouhavedrained),andpinenuts。

Topwiththeasparagusandthenfinishwithabloboftheorange-dyogurt。

Sprinklesomechoppedparsleyoverthetopand?

serve。

There’smuch,muchmoretobesaidonthesubjectofwoks;Ihaven’tevenmentionedthefactthatyoucandry-fryinthem,whichleadstowonderfullyblisteredvegetables。

Butthat’sokayaslongasitemphasizesjusthowversatileandunderusedthewokreallyis–especiallyinspringtime。

Photoby?