Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Woking Out

I'm so far behind on blogging it's not even funny, but I have a few posts in queue that I will finish as I have time. These photos were taken a few weeks ago, and document my experimentation with Thai cooking over a charcoal fire. I use hardwood lump charcoal that basically resembles partially burnt blocks of wood. They have several advantages which include being easy to light, burning hotter, lacking chemical additives, and they make a cool clinking sound when you pour them out of the bag. The downside is that they are more expensive than briquettes and burn up much more quickly.

Whenever I need to ignite a small to medium size batch of coals, I turn to my chimney starter. It's a very simple device that suspends coals in a tube over a single sheet of burning newspaper. In about fifteen minutes, you have a container full of red hot coals to dump into your grill, sans the lighter fluid taste. In this case, I decided to put a small grate directly atop the chimney starter (to allow some airflow) and heat my wok directly on the grate. The heat was high enough to achieve "wok hei" or the "flavor of the wok." This can only be achieved over very intense heat, and is not always possible on a consumer gas range; not to mention it can cause more than a little smoke.

I decided to make Pad Se Ew again, and declare this experiment to be a success, although I can't take credit for it. I'm sure this has been done thousands of times before, and I've even seen Alton Brown cook with a wok over a turkey fryer. It was a bit of a pain to cart everything outside, but it was worth it not to have the house smell like a Thai kitchen for two days (not that it would necessarily be a bad thing). Now I just need to spring for a better wok!

Lump Charcoal in a Chimney Starter

A REALLY hot wok

Seared Tofu - This kind of sear can only be done in a wok.

The Finished Pad Se EW


MH Media Online said...

What a fascinating post! I live in an apartment and have an electric hob, so a wok never stands even the remotest chance of getting as hot as this :-( The seared tofu looks great: the nearest I got was doing a "dry fry" last weekend and then soaking in a very thin marinade. I can recommend sweet sherry as a "thinner".. Thanks for sharing though - it's given me some ideas and I'll be coming back to see what else you've done.

Chef Kevin said...

Keith, my friend, have I got a surprise for you. In my possession, I have a huge wok (I'm guessing 28" across) that on rare occasion I place on top of my trusty Webber. I've done various mass quantities of "stir-fries", jambalaya. beef stew and seafood boils in it. We are simply going to have to get together and use this beast!

jmeesh said...

That is a hell of an idea, don't know why I have never tried it! Thanks Keith!


jfarm said...

You must like Pad Se Ew! It looks tasty.

Ken said...

I didn't realize that one of the keys to using a wok properly was to get it extremely hot. I like to stir-fry, but sometimes I wonder if I'm doing it right. Maybe you could do a blog on wok and stir-fry tips and good techniques.