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Wok Hi: The Science Behind “The Breath of Wok”



(CNN)— Chef Guo Qiangdong threw the iron pot with one hand, and stirred it with a metal spatula with the other hand.

With both hands raised, he used his knees to move the control lever of the gas stove up and down to control the fire fan, and occasionally swallowed a third of the wok.

In just three minutes, the white rice ball became a bowl of golden fried rice he put on the service counter.

“This is what you are looking for-wok (wok),” Danny Yip, chairman and co-founder of Hong Kong Restaurant, told CNN Travel.

“The wok is the essence of Chinese cooking in South China. Guangdong chefs are the masters of woks and woks.”

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Fried rice and pot hi chairman

Wok hei: An invisible but essential ingredient in Cantonese cuisine.

Huang Huiyi/CNN

If anyone has authority over the wok, it is Yip’s.

For those who grew up in a Cantonese family, it’s almost impossible to go to a Chinese restaurant (usually older people) to comment on “Gao Guo Xi” (enough Guo Xi) or “Gao Guo Xi” without hearing others. “Guo Xi” (not enough pot) hei) when determining the authenticity benchmark of Chinese restaurants.

Hei (also known as “hay”) is “chi” in Cantonese, meaning energy flow. It used to be an inexplicable and largely ethereal concept that was very popular in South China. In China or other parts of Asia, even if they use woks, they don’t focus on woks.

It wasn’t until the legendary American Chinese food writer Grace Young called it “the breath of iron pot” in the form of poetry in the book “The Wisdom of Chinese Kitchen: Classic Family Recipe for Celebration and Healing” in the 1990s. . Guo Xi officially introduced to the international audience.

Young wrote: “Wok pan is not just a simple hot dish; it is the elusive burnt smell that only lasts for a minute or two.”

In other words, it is a combination of the aroma of steam you inhale and the almost burning sensation of your tongue, which in some way enhances the flavor of the dish.

How does the wok work

In recent years, more and more food writers and scientists have studied the origin of Chinese cooking, including wok-xi, while modernizing Chinese cooking.

Realizing that there is little scientific research on Chinese cuisine, Hongtang Hongtang, a doctoral student at the Georgia Institute of Technology, and scientist David Hu published a research paper entitled “The Physics of Tossing Fried Rice.” It is famous for its research on fire ants and for the investigation of why wombats have cube-shaped poop, which is famous for winning the Ig Nobel Prize.

“The wok and Maillard reaction require high heat. Commercial stoves in China emit incredible heat,” Ko explained. He spent several months researching how and why chefs throw fried rice in a wok, and he also simulated the trajectory of rice.

Maillard reaction is a chemical interaction between amino acids and reducing sugars in food at high temperatures. It browns food and releases aroma and flavor.

But why must it be cooked in such a hurry?

“This is the way to extract the most wok in the shortest time. Therefore, the aroma you free from Maillard reaction will not escape,” Chairman Yip explained.

Therefore, in addition to the fire and the actual wok, an important part of the wok is the chef’s throwing skills.

The right way to wok

Wok is a skill that takes time to develop.

The chairman’s young chef spent more than a year practicing cooking the employees’ meals in a pot before allowing him or her to cook for customers.

He said: “Why don’t other chefs use a wok? It is heavy, the fire is daunting and difficult to control. Now you know why no Chinese chef has extra hair.” Mr. Ye said jokingly.

Why not enough? As far as fried rice is concerned, every time it leaves the surface of the hot wok, it cools down and avoids burning, as shown in the video above.

Ko said: “The wok can mix better, which is essential when you overheat. Stirring at high temperatures may cause burning.”

During Ko’s research, he discovered that chefs often use the edge of the stove to rotate the pot-instead of lifting the entire pot from the stove-to save energy and increase speed.

Two actions occur at the same time for each toss: the “push and pull back and forth” in the “seesaw action” and the “tilt and rotate the wok back and forth”.

So, what makes a highly conductive wok with a round bottom such a unique cooking device?

“It’s possible that other utensils can be used. But you only need to mix at an amazing speed to ensure that the heat is evenly distributed into your ingredients,” Ko explained.

On average, the chefs in the study shook the wok at a rate of 2.7 times per second.

This is why many Chinese chefs suffer muscle injuries.

One of Ko’s research goals is to see if it is possible to create a robot that can help chefs throw pots to reduce physical fatigue on their limbs. Ko thinks his published research may be applied to other parts of life.

Ko said: “Can you imagine a washing machine that uses a wok to toss clothes to dry clothes? My intuition is that it will be more efficient and fun.”

How to make perfect fried rice

Fried rice and pot hi chairman

Since opening in 2009, Guo Qiangdong has served as the chairman’s chef.

Huang Huiyi/CNN

The YouTube viral video was titled “Uncle Roger was refuted by this egg fried rice video”, so fried rice attracted attention in July.

In the editing, the character “Uncle Roger” created by British talk show comedian Nigel Ng reacts to the BBC video on how to cook fried rice with eggs.

He pointed out all the wrong things in the original egg fried rice video, which has received more than 17 million views so far. What are the major crimes in the original video? Glutinous rice.

This question is close to the hearts of Hong Kong chefs.

Ye said: “Fried rice and fried beef noodles are two dishes that are often used to judge a restaurant’s wok.” “It is difficult to roast each slice of rice or noodles and mix them evenly with other ingredients without burning.

Ko agrees.

He said: “Fried rice is a very symbolic delicacy.” “Although it looks simple, it is difficult to make perfect fried rice. The general principle is to keep its heat-avoid putting in watery ingredients that will cool the material-and large amounts. Mix to prevent sticking and burning.”

Ko recommends using rice cooked the night before.

The scientist explained: “This can be attributed to the high temperature. When the (dry rice) is placed in the pot, the moisture will be minimal… This prevents the pot from cooling down or the rice sticking together.”

However, the Chairman’s approach is different.

Yip said: “We know that most people use leftover rice as a desiccant. We don’t want to do this because we want to keep the inside of the rice moist and retain the maximum aroma. The trick is to use eggs.”

Chef Guo Guo demonstrates.

He first quickly fry the chopped ingredients into the pan, dry them and put them aside. Then he poured oil, egg mixture and rice separately.

Ye said, “Eggs dries faster than rice. The chef must move quickly and mix all the ingredients. Look, you won’t even see the eggs anymore.” Ms. Ye said, he eagerly took a bite, and then the aroma came out.

This is real. The slightly roasted steamed rice has a dry surface, and each grain of rice is perfectly coated with golden yellow-you will never see eggs anymore. Every bite of fried rice is still steaming and full of flavor.

“Try it?” asked Ye. “This is Guoxi.”


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