Smoky Stir-Fried Greens
Wok hei, or the “breath of a wok,” is the elusive smokiness found in restaurant-style dishes that rely on high-powered burners and a skilled hand to achieve it. To create a similar flavor at home, I rely on a hand-held blowtorch, which I use here for simple stir-fried greens. I recommend using either a butane canister with a high-output torch head or a propane canister with a trigger-start head. If you do not have a wok, a heavy cast-iron or stainless-steel skillet can be used instead.
- Serves: 2 persons
- Kosher salt
- 12ounces baby bok choy, choy sum or gai lan (Chinese broccoli), cut into 2-inch segments
- Ice (optional)
- ½teaspoon granulated sugar
- ½teaspoon cornstarch
- ¼teaspoon ground white pepper
- Rice bran, peanut, canola or other neutral, high-temperature frying oil
- 3garlic cloves, minced
Step 1Combine about 2 quarts water and 1 tablespoon kosher salt in a saucepan or wok and bring to a boil over high heat. Add vegetables and cook, stirring, until bright green and crisp-tender, about 20 seconds. Immediately drain vegetables and transfer them to an ice bath, or run under cool water until chilled. Spin vegetables dry in a salad spinner, or pat dry on a paper towel-lined sheet tray.
Step 2Combine sugar, cornstarch, white pepper, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 2 tablespoons water in a small bowl. Stir with a spoon until homogenous, then set aside, leaving the spoon in the bowl.
Step 3Using a paper towel, rub a very thin film of oil into a wok or large skillet, then set over high heat until lightly smoking. Add 1 tablespoon oil and swirl to coat. Add garlic and stir-fry until fragrant but not browned, about 10 seconds.
Step 4Immediately add vegetables and stir-fry for 30 seconds. Working quickly, ignite your blowtorch and, holding the flame 2 to 3 inches above the vegetables, sweep across the surface while shaking the pan, until a smoky aroma reaches your nose, about 15 seconds. (You should hear a distinct crackle and see small bursts of orange flame as the oil on the vegetables jumps and combusts.)
Step 5Still working quickly, stir-fry for another 30 seconds, and torch for another 15 seconds. Stir the sauce to loosen and to distribute the cornstarch that has settled at the bottom of the bowl, then pour it into the wok and stir-fry until the vegetables are coated in a glossy glaze, about 15 seconds. Transfer to a bowl and serve immediately.