How To: Shanghainese Stir Fry
Experimenting in the kitchen with local cuisine can have mixed results to say the least. That’s because the flavour and ingredient combinations familiar to western chefs don’t quite fuse with the simple tastes of local dishes. But as ever, practice makes perfect – especially when there’s a few key pointers to help you along the way.
The secret is, Shanghai cuisine is not as complicated as you thought – it’s all in the sauce, the proper proportions of ingredients and a few skills with the wok.
The Secret Is In The Sweet Sauce
Across the sub-regions of China, tastes tend to vary wildly. Compared to the spicy food from Sichuan, sweet Shanghainese specialities are more akin to Chinese food found in the west. (And plenty of Chinese people turn their nose up at this city’s food!) That’s because the heart of any good Shanghai stirfry is one thing – the sugary base.
This crucial foundation sees sugar dissolved into soy sauce and rice wine, with added garlic and ginger for spice. And this sauce is only added to the wok at the end, bringing all flavours together after the other ingredients have been cooked separately.
A Key To Proportions
True Shanghai stir-fries are more than just a sweet concoction of veg and meat haphazardly tossed together. There’s an art to ingredient combinations. For every dish, specific attention is given to the textures and tastes of individual ingredients.
There should always be a starting ratio of at least twice as much veg as protein. Firm veggies such as carrots or celery should always be diced thin to cook fast, the meat too. Keep aromatics like onion and scallions to a minimum, otherwise you run the risk of overpowering the dish with the flavour of one ingredient.
Way Of The Wok
Lastly, cooking with the wok may seem like fun. But play with fire and you’re going to get burned – and your food will become a mushy mess.
Wok cooking is all about timing. Get the cooking oil to a high temperature first, heat for a minute until it’s smoking, then toss in the meat. With minimal stirring, you want to sear the outsides fully. Once cooked, remove to a separate bowl – remember, you’ll be combining everything at the end.
Now it’s time for the veg, but make sure the oil reheats first to avoid oil-logged greens. Smoking again? Now’s the time to toss in your cut and prepared vegetables.
Over a high heat, stir continually to avoid overcooking, frying only briefly to slightly soften but not lose the colour or crispiness of the fresh produce. Once the vegetables have softened, throw in the meat and sauce then quickly plate.
A Sage’s Recipe
Once you’ve tested the waters, mastery of Shanghainese style stir-fry is all about honing your intuition for the tastes of different ingredient combinations. But to get you going, using everything above, try this stir-fry pork dinner tonight! Recipe serves one.
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¼ cup of dark soy sauce
2 tbsp. of sugar
1 tbsp. of fresh ginger, minced
4 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
3 tbsp. of rice wine
Pinch or two of salt
Ground white pepper to taste
3 tbsp. of high heat cooking oil (we
used sunflower seed oil)
200 to 250g of thinly sliced pork
6 green onions, cut into 5cm pieces
1 medium carrot, julienned lengthwise
2 celery stalks, julienned lengthwise
1. Prepare Shanghai’s characteristic sweet sauce! Dissolve the sugar in the soy sauce and rice wine. Cut and add ginger and garlic, along with salt and pepper. Set aside. Slice the pork and veggies.
2. Add 2 tbsp. of oil to the wok and fire it up. Once hot, and the oil is smoking, add the meat and allow it to sear fully on all sides until cooked. Remove meat and allow the oil to reheat, adding another tbsp. of oil before tossing in the veggies. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes, stirring vigorously, until they just begin to soften.
3. Throw the meat back in the wok, along with the sauce, and simmer for 1 to 2 minutes, stirring continually, so as to not overcook.