Friday, May 30, 2008

Weekend Wokking with Asparagus

If there’s one possession I’d want to take with me to the Afterlife, it would be my wok. It’s my pride and joy and has immense sentimental value. Weighing in at a whopping 10½ pounds, it’s a real cast iron monster. Countless stir-fries and deep-fries have left it beautifully seasoned. I could probably go on and on about how wonderful it is, but I'm afraid you'll think I'm a weirdo.

That wooden spoon is my second most prized possession. It's 19.5" long and perfect for stir-frying. I scored it on our trip to Italy.

I really don’t need a reason to bust out the wok. As it is, I use it easily 3 times a week. But when it’s for a special event, like dinner guests, a potluck or Weekend Wokking, I get particularly excited. What’s Weekend Wokking, you ask? It’s a blogging event created by Wandering Chopsticks. The idea is to come up with a dish around a (seasonal) theme ingredient. This month’s ingredient is asparagus, so if you’ve got an asparagus recipe you know we’ll love, then do share! Wandering Chopsticks is the host this month, so shoot her an email with your entry and she’ll include you in the round-up. But you better hurry, deadline’s this Sunday! If you can't make the deadline but want to participate in the future, check out the host list. And don’t let the fact that you don’t have a wok stop you. It’s not a requirement. You just have to feature the theme ingredient in your dish.

Asparagus...such a versatile vegetable. When it’s in season, like now, I actually like to eat it raw, but it’s also great used in stir-frys. I love the way it stays crisp-tender. It’s also on the approved vegetables list, which is another way of saying Sonny will eat it.

This stir-fry uses one of my favorite flavor bases, a seasoning paste called naam prik phao. It’s a chilli paste made using chillies, shallots, tamarind juice, dried shrimp, fermented shrimp paste and sugar. As you can judge from the ingredients, it a little sweet, a little spicy and has a nice dose of umami. I use it in hot and sour soup, atop sunny side up eggs, in stir-fries and as a general dipping sauce. Naam prik phao can be found at any Thai-Viet grocer and maybe other Asian grocers with SE Asian sections. Alternatively, you can make it yourself. There are numerous recipes on the web, however I can not endorse these, as I've not tried them. I have recently made some based on a recipe from The Food of Thailand (see right side bar), and it was good. Next time I do it, I'll post about it with pictures.

Thai-style Beef and Asparagus Stir-fry
Feeds 4
  • 1 pound beef chuck steak, sliced for stir-frying
  • 1 tbs Chinese cooking wine or dry sherry
  • 1 tsp cornstarch
  • 3 or 4 cloves garlic, roughly minced
  • 1 bunch asparagus, cut into 2-inch segments
  • 2 tbs naam prik phao
  • 2 tbs thin soy sauce (regular soy sauce is fine)
  • 2 tbs oyster sauce, preferably Thai
In a small bowl, combine the beef, cornstarch and Chinese cooking wine. Combine well and set aside until needed.

In another small bowl, make the sauce by combining the naam prik pao, soy sauce and oyster sauce. Stir well to combine the ingredients. Set aside until needed.

Make sure you have all your ingredients very close by because this stir-fry goes lightning fast. Have a small cup of water handy as well just in case you need to thin the sauce a little. I bet it won’t take you more than 4 minutes to cook this dish!

Heat your wok over high heat until very hot. Add about 2 or 3 tbs oil (no olive! not appropriate for stir-fry; grape seed is best!) then add the beef followed by the garlic. If your wok is hot enough, your beef will cook very quickly. When the beef is seared, but not cooked through (about 30 sec to 1 minute, max) add the asparagus. Cook for another minute. Add about 2/3 of the sauce mix. It should caramelize pretty quickly because of the high sugar content. If it gets too thick add a little water to thin it out. Quickly taste it and add the rest of the sauce if you think it’s required. Give everything a quick stir, then you're done. Serve with steamed jasmine rice.

Added: Check out the round-up here!


Wandering Chopsticks said...

Yay! First entry and it's a marvelous one too! I like how nicely browned your beef looks. And of course, the asparagus looks good too. ;)

I have two woks but not a cast iron one. I like using mine for frying.

Dee said...

WC, thanks! I've made this twice in 3 days because we all enjoyed it so much.

Manggy said...

Darlene, that looks beyond seductive. Mmmmm (-- Homer Simpson). We don't have a genuine wok-- all that wok "seasoning" and stuff is just way over a regular Filipino family's head. We have heavy aluminum wok-shaped things that are just scrubbed thoroughly after each use :) (nice first pic, too!)

Rachel said...

Wow that looks wonderful!

Ive recently gotten into cast iron cooking. Where do you get a cast iron wok?

Anonymous said...

You're not a weirdo for loving your wok. I have a cast iron one too. The stir-fry looks fantastic!

dp said...

manggy, thank you! I think a lot of people think seasoning cast iron is hard, and I suppose it could be if you're into low-fat cooking. In the beginning I used more oil in my cooking, but now that it's beautifully seasoned, it works like non-stick and I use less oil. And I never really clean my wok (or other cast iron) with soap. Just super-hot water.

Rachel, isn't cast iron the best. I have a couple of stainless steel frying pans that were expensive and I rarely use them now. Only to cook fish because I hate trying to get the fish smell off cast iron. Everything else is cast iron.

As for where I got the wok, my friend got it for me. I guess she felt sorry for me because I was using stainless steel and it just didn't cut it. But I know you can order it through eBay or amazon. The wok itself doesn't cost much (less than $20), but the shipping may be the same price. I thought I saw them at target as well, but I haven't looked recently. Maybe your local hardware store?

Chuck, thanks! I'm glad I've fooled everyone into thinking I'm normal! LOL

Anonymous said...

I'm drooling over this recipe. The flavors include some that I'm not familiar with so I'll have fun on a trip to the Asian market (oh. no.) Cast iron is wonderful. I have two pans (not woks) that are about 50 years old and they work so well for dishes like this. Thanks for the terrific recipe!

dp said...

kellypea, I'm glad you're inspired to try it! Please let me know how it turns out.

QGIRL said...

What a cool event. I will definite check it out again next month.
The recipe looks delicious. I don't cook beef barely at all, I am not a huge meat eater but my husband loves meat (he is a true Midwesterner!) and I know that he'd like this recipe. We both love asparagus.
Love your wok. I use a non-stick Calphalon wok that was given to us as a wedding gift along with a huge set. My mother, who is Vietnamese, always snickers at my pots and pans. It drives her crazy that I don't use cast iron or aluminum. People say that cast iron is more maintenance, but those people probably don't have non-stick cookware.
p.s. I also like your blog because it always points me to new blogs and people I wouldn't normally find out about. thanks for the great tips.

Dee said...

QGIRL, at first cast iron is a pain because you have to season it. But that's just rubbing it with oil and putting it in your oven at the lowest temp for an hour. You'll find that after each use, it gets better seasoned and more non-stick.

Other alternatives are the aluminum or carbon steel (a lot of people like this kind). I find all can get super hot, but I feel like cast iron is the only one that is able to hold the heat after the food has been thrown in. Anyways, use whatever you feel comfortable with!

What??!! Not a beef eater?? :-) This recipe is also perfect with tofu or even just the asparagus!

test it comm said...

That looks tasty!

Anonymous said...

Wow, cast iron! Not ideal for wrist flipping but I bet it beats the pants heat-wise over any other wok!

Jason said...

Oh...yum! I love asparagus and this recipe looks divine! I will have to bookmark this to try out. Thanks for sharing, and I will be checking out cast iron woks immediately, my over-priced all clad wok just isn't cutting it. I think I could go on and on about my cast iron skillet and dutch oven, so don't feel guilty.

Dee said...

Thanks everyone for your comments. I always look forward to reading them.

Jason, I had a hard time getting a proper sear with my stainless steel wok and that's not a problem anymore with my cast iron. Once you switch, you'll never go back!

Marvin, I'd love to wrist flip, but alas, even if I my wok had a handle, I don't have the strength nor the height/leverage to do it. I'm only 5'1"!

Jason said...

Ok...I found a cast iron wok at Fred Meyer! It was only $20, can you believe that? I thought I would look, knowing that they wouldn't have one, and what a surprise, they did. I made this recipe as to break in the new wok and it was AMAZING!!! Thanks so much for sharing. I will be making this again and again. I hope you don't mind if I post it on my blog as well?

Dee said...

Jason, I'm glad you found the cast iron. Who knew it was available at Fred Meyer?!

It's awesome you made the stir-fry! Of course you can post it. Show off what you made! I just ask you somehow link to the me.

Keep wokking, dude!

Lars said...

Hey Darlene. Lene and I just tried out your beef'n'asparagus dish this weekend, and we both loved it. THANK YOU!

And now you've gone and inspired me to start up my own foodblog togehter with Frantz, the other guy behind SMAGSTID. Check it out at

- Lars (aka BIL)

Anonymous said...

I am trying to figure out how to cook with my cast iron wok. What happens after the recipe is done (besides the rather obvious eating part)?
Does one scoop everything out of the wok or lift this ten pound thing to tilt out the food, and then do you rinse it out and put it back on the fire to dry?
Really, I'm a very bad cook but fascinated with this for some reason and would appreciate any advice.

Dee said...

anonymous, people aren't born good cooks. Everyone has to learn, so there's nothing for you to worry about :-)

I'm 5'1" and relatively puny. There's no way I can lift my wok filled with stuff! I'm all about scooping. Besides, mine has 2 short handles (that get very hot!) rather than a long protruding one. Very awkward to lift with only one hand.

After removing the food, I like to put water in it to loosen all the caramelized sauce. Then after dinner, once the wok is cool enough to handle, I rinse it out with hot water. I generally don't use soap. Dry it immediately after washing. In the beginning you may find food sticks a bit and you may have to season it every so often, but after multiple uses, you'll have no problems.

I hope that helps! Please feel free to email me if you have other questions.

Todd Vodka said...

Thanks Darlene for your advice. It sounds like the trick is to get the wok really hot, put some oil in there and very quickly fry things up. Does that sound about right?
You would be amazed at the alchemy that takes place when you put even the finest ingredients in the vicinity of myself and heat. I can turn almost anything into an unpalatable blob in the blink of an eye.
This wok just struck me as being something beautiful so I took it home and seasoned it. Imagine how nice it would be to put it to use.
I can't quite figure out how to email you but I'll give you mine. In the meantime I'll be here incinerating legumes and setting off the smoke alarm.

Dee said...

toddvodka, yes, very hot and fast...that about sums it up! Good luck with experimenting and don't give up if you don't succeed the first time. Lord knows how many frying pans I've scorched in my day:-)

KarenGlad said...

Thank U for a very nice and tastefull recipe - just made it and ate it.....goooooood :-)

Greetings from Denmark


Dee said...

Hello Karen,
Thank you for stopping by. Just wondering how you heard about my blog, or if you just happened upon it?

I'm so glad you enjoyed it. It's a fairly easy recipe that packs a lot of flavor.

I hope you'll stop by again.

Karen said...

Hi again :-)

Found U on "Tastespotting". Very nice blog U have by the way :-).

Gastro-hugs from the North :-)