Friday, September 30, 2005

Wok Star

A long time ago I bought a wok that was on special offer, one of my rare impulse buys. The instructions said it had to be seasoned before use so I reached for the salt and pepper and a few herbs. But closer study of the small print revealed that seasoning involved scouring the wok to within an inch of its life and then swirling hot oil around the surface. This seemed like a lot of hard work so I postponed that until another day and took an oven-ready pizza out the freezer.

I should have realised that if just seasoning the wok seemed too onerous, the chances of me ever cooking something in it were slim. Indeed, because I couldn't find room for it in any kitchen cupboards I put it in the bedroom where it remained for several months.
One night I stirred from my slumbers and was shaken to see its huge steel eye staring and glinting at me in the moonlight. For a few moments I feared that I was about to join the 87% of Americans who claim to have been abducted by aliens (or whatever the figure is) and would spend the rest of the night lying supine in a flying saucer while a dozen giant wok eyes scrutinised me and my immobilised limbs were poked by bakelite arms.

But even this trauma didn't prod me into returning the wok to the kitchen and extending my culinary repertoire. I simply hid it under the bed.
Then The Guardian gave us a selection of Jamie Oliver's new Italian recipes and I spotted one for a basic risotto. According to Jamie, risotto is a simple food because while it's simmering you only need to give it a quick stir. Nothing gets me salivating faster than the words 'basic', simple' and 'quick' in a recipe. The virgin wok was dusted down and baptised in oil before you could say 'pass the soy sauce'.

It was soon after this, however, that Jamie and I fell out big time. Stage 3 of his quick and basic risotto involves slowly ladling spoonfuls of stock into the rice for a full 15 minutes.
Like Eliot's Prufrock, I may have measured out my life in coffee spoons but as I seguy into middle age I'm not prepared to measure out my evenings in ladles of hot stock. Fifteen minutes of greasy Willie keeling the wok would mean missing Channel Four News and possibly the start of Coronation Street.

Jamie Oliver told The Guardian that one of the characteristics of Italian life is that "they're all shagging each other."
Frankly Jamie, I don't know how they find the time if their most basic risotto involves four stages, including 15 minutes of slow motion ladling. If that's a quick supper, then a Turkey Twizzler is the apotheosis of healthy eating.

Anyway, it would be an offence against nature to put a slick and shiny, well-lubricated wok back on the shelf without it ever experiencing the slap and sizzle of meat and two veg. Browsing through Jamie's recipes had got my own juices flowing and I wasn't going to be a wok teaser.
My only misgiving was that wok cookery is done at a very high heat. But the kitchen needed re-decorating anyway so, having put the local Fire Brigade on standby, I put the halogen ring on full power and hurled chopped bacon, Savoy cabbage, mushrooms, red onion and soy sauce into the smoking oil. And within a few minutes I was eating my first delicious and healthy stir fry meal.

Within an hour my stomach was doing an imitation of one of those lorries with a rotating drum that deliver ready-mixed cement. And, true to the cliché about Chinese food, I was ravenously hungry, despite having ingested about a pound of semi-raw vegetables and a packet of streaky bacon.
I was soon munching my way through a bar of chocolate. At least it was Fair Trade chocolate (only because Dark Rough Trade is hard to come by in the village).
But my contribution to Ghanaian Cocoa growers should ensure I don't get a visit from the Guardian's Ethical Eating Division. And today my stomach has settled sufficiently for me to contemplate a lightly boiled egg.


To a run-down café in Odstock
The customers just wouldn't flock
But a new chef from China
Made the food so much finer
That now they can Wok Around The Clock.


At 12:45 PM, Blogger cello said...

..."the slap and sizzle of meat and two veg"...

Is it me, or was that post barely disguised pornography? And it's so like a man to want instant gratification and not have the patience for a long and loving build-up to the final reward.

At 3:19 PM, Blogger Willie Lupin said...

cello: it wasn't intended to be Food Porn, honest.
It's just that a few doubles entendres slipped in when I started anthropomorphising a lump of metal.

At 5:36 PM, Blogger portuguesa nova said...

1. "Meat and two veg" that an actual dish, or it just means any meat with two vegetables, or does it refer to a specific kind of vegetable? I'm always hearing Brits discussing meat and two veg. Okay, not always. Just sometimes.

2. As a former resident of the Asian world and fellow wok-er, I can attest that making a paste of oil, corn starch, soy sauce, giner (and chiles if you are so inclined) makes either the perfect simmer sauce and/or meat marinade and will impress all of your friends and enemies.

At 5:20 AM, Blogger Willie Lupin said...

pn: thanks for the tip.
'Meat and two veg' can mean either literally meat and two veg which historically was the British main meal.
But it is also a euphemism for the male genitalia.
In the literal meaning it doesn't refer to any specific vegetables, just two different ones.
In the sexual meaning, it's two portions of the same.
You'll have to pay close attention to the context next time you hear Brits use the phrase.


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