Ali’s Annual Wok Throwdown

Several years ago I had the kids over for a theme dinner…the wok was hot and I had prepped a variety of meats, vegetables, spices and sauces with the idea that everyone could step up to the stove and create something.  It was a huge success, and daughter-in-law Ali decided that it would be a perfect annual birthday dinner for her.  Her dad has an amazing kitchen and offered to start hosting….Ali’s Annual Wok Throwdown!!

My version of General Tso's Chicken

My version of General Tso’s Chicken

We’ve had at least three of these events now, the most recent being a couple weeks ago, and the whole family was free to attend.  We’ve gotten braver over the years…now we’re trying dishes like tempura squid, General Tso’s Chicken, outrageous tofu and veggies etc.  I decided to try a sesame glazed red snapper.

I found some fresh snapper at Central Market, and even though it was fairly clean it took awhile to get the remaining pin bones out and make sure the skin side was free of scales.  My hope was to get the skin crispy enough to eat.  I cut the fish into three inch squares and dropped them into  a big zip lock bag into which I added a little sesame oil and some fresh minced ginger and garlic.  The smell is sublime.

Dwyne is the host with the most.

Dwayne is the host with the most.

Ali’s dad Dwayne and his wife Dalen are perfect party hosts.  The event always kicks off with a shot of something…(Hot Damn!!) and this year’s choice was Fireball whiskey.  Wow.  Keep that tray away from me after the first couple.  Dangerous!

After the welcome shot the call goes out “Two hot woks, no waiting!”.  At some point everyone takes a turn at the stove and a variety of concoctions start filling up pie plates that are strategically placed around the kitchen.  There’s rice, noodles, chopsticks, condiments, lemons, lime, garlic, ginger, soy sauce, sesame seed oil, chile sauce, fermented black beans, chicken, beef, shrimp, squid, tofu, lemon grass, mushrooms, scallions, bean sprouts,

A variety of ingredients waiting to wok!

A variety of ingredients waiting to wok!

cilantro, pickled Serrano peppers, fresh jalapenos, snap peas, green beans, chile pods and more all being transformed into fragrant, steaming delicious mounds of Asian goodness.  Nothing tastes bad, but some things stand out as spectacular.  Sam’s flank steak was a winner, my Tso’s chicken, while time consuming, was a winner.  (The chicken gets dredged in a thick mix of cornstarch, egg and soy sauce before hitting the deep fryer one piece at a time.)  So yummy, though, when it gets hit with a sesame sauce flavored with orange zest.

Fresh snapper.

Fresh snapper.

Then, it was time for my red snapper.  I heated a clean wok and got some oil almost to the point of smoking, then placed the fish around the wok.  I let it sit, not stirring, because I wanted the skin to crisp, and it worked, although a few of the skin pieces stuck to the wok.  I didn’t flip the fish, but rather spooned the hot oil over the flesh of the fish until it was cooked from the top down.  There was a sesame chicken sauce lying around, so I thickened it slightly and just poured it over the fish and garnished with scallions.  It was very delicious, I must say, and even though we were all stuffed everyone had a taste.

The fryer gets as much action as the wok.

The fryer gets as much action as the wok.

We all end up with chopsticks in our pockets, and simply cruise around tasting different things.  In fact, I was so busy tasting that there’s not a photo of my finished red snapper dish.  Imagine, if you will, a steaming plate of fluffy, perfectly cooked fish glazed with a light sesame soy drizzle.  Mmmmmm.

Hey, try a wok throwdown of your own.  The whole family gets involved, everyone gets to cook, and you really can’t screw it up!  Ciao for now.  CG

Seafood Sunday!

Finished seafood feast, lobster, mussels, chorizo, and fresh corn.

Finished seafood feast, lobster, mussels, chorizo, and fresh corn.

Christine was out of town, it was time to cook instead of playing music, and I sent out a Seafood Sunday suggestion to all the kids, receiving a couple “too busy” and “already have plans” texts. Sam, however was free and excited.

While he ran for wine, I went to Central Market (an incredible Austin institution, we’re so lucky) for 2 live lobsters, a pile of mussels, 8 jumbo shrimp and some local sweet corn. I knew I had white wine, chorizo, shallots, chicken broth and fresh herbs at the house. I started a little olive oil and shallots in a pan, browned some chorizo and added white wine and chicken broth. I’d never heard of chorizo till I moved to Texas in 1991. A couple hispanic musician friends were reminiscing about the smell of chorizo wafting into their bedrooms as small children. It’s a spicy sausage that crumbles into the pan. The smell is amazing. If I do it again, though, I think I’ll cook the chorizo in its own pan and add later like a garnish. Ah (he argues with himself) but the spices from the sausage REALLY flavored the broth nicely.

So, now we have a couple Tito’s under our belt and it’s time to quickly toss some peeled and deveined shrimp into the wine and chorizo broth. It only take about 2 minutes, really, it’s fast….when they turn white and pillowy, take ’em out fast and slip them into an ice water bath. Of course, while this is happening we’ve been squirting our favorite condiments into a small bowl; ketchup, dijon, horseradish, siracha, Marie Sharp’s that we discovered in Belize, tabasco, worcestershire….you get where I’m going. Seafood Sunday is on, and we’ve got chorizo infused shrimp cocktail to dip in our spicy sauce. ‘Scuse me while I remember…….

Regular and sweet potato waffle fries.

Regular and sweet potato waffle fries.

We weren’t frying any seafood (this time), but Sam and I love a little bite of crispy, so we supplemented our cooking time with some waffle fries (sweet potato and regular). We weren’t ambitious enough to try this from scratch, but the frozen variety, when cooked correctly, are quite tasty. I’ve learned to cook sweet corn by starting with a cold pot of water. I find that by the time I remember to check on it it’s been cooking quite nicely and I can just turn the burner off and let them wait. Sam wisely rolled them in butter, salt and pepper. I’m not sure if we remembered that night, but cajun pepper powder is always a nice touch.

A dozen or more black mussels were inserted into the spicy broth and covered. A big pot of salted water was boiling and it was time to wake up the lobsters for their final jacuzzi. I’ve been at picnics in Bar Harbor where lobsters were plunged and served like hot dogs, but I’ve only been hands on a couple of times. The lovely creatures had been on ice for a couple hours, so they simply endured their fate. I was proud. We steamed them, although the claws were at the bottom of the pot and probably boiling more than steaming.

Lobster-ice-BathOkay. When something goes under the fire here at the MoonHouse we holler “shit in the broiler” and this was just a little steamier. The mussels popped open and we turned off the heat. We let the lobsters go 10 minutes and then started peeking. A dependable magazine suggests that the lobster tail should reach a temperature of 175 degrees, and ours was approaching 180. Move, Gage men, get those bugs into an ice water bath. After some pounding and cutting of lobster shell it was time to eat.

With a garnish of fresh chives we had beautiful plates in front of us, a nice glass of red wine, and enjoyed it all with a rental of the latest Die Hard movie. Vive la seafood! Ciao for now. CG