Story of woks, stir fry is told
For me, visiting JJ’s Wok-N-Grill is not just a routine, not even a ritual, it is a fortnightly rite. I visit JJ’s on my way back from the Copper Country after two days of seeing patients. I arrive tired and hungry, with very high expectations. The restaurant is located in the unassuming Pearl Street Mall in Houghton. It is a one man, one wok show. The atmosphere is unpretentious, but JJ’s food does not just taste authentic – fresh, sweet and salty, and pleasantly savory – it feels authentic.
JJ is a confident man who cooks with exuberance. His place is the kind of restaurant where you are, at times, told what you would eat today, because JJ knows what is good, and more specifically, what is good for you. And so, after becoming a regular and establishing a rapport with JJ, I was promoted to the desirable and enviable status of no-longer-allowed-to-chose-his-own-dish. Instead, JJ would say, for example: “today, chicken and mushroom, very good.” And I would oblige, showing no hesitation, feeling no reservation.
As expected by the name of the establishment, JJ has a wok (I am not aware of a grill though). Each meal is prepared from scratch, in front of you, over intense inferno-like flames. “Heavy wok; short, very hot cooking gives taste,” JJ says. My attempts to retrieve any more information from the man have not been very successful. When I asked him to share even one recipe, he asked if I would, in return, take him to the operating room to see how I do surgery on my patients. “I will write a story about you in The Mining Journal, good for business” I said, trying to perhaps bribe the man. But JJ remained steadfast. “You can write,” he said, “today, chicken and peppers, good combination. Yes?” Yes.
The following is a recipe I have been working on. It is inspired by one of JJ’s dishes. As promised in my last article, on the health benefits of nuts, the recipe includes a serving of peanuts (you may use other nuts). Although not as authentic as JJ’s recipes, the result, I believe, is both healthy and delicious.
Stir-fried chicken with mini-peppers, mushrooms and peanuts (will feed 3-4 people)
10 yellow, red and orange mini-peppers
6 medium-size mushrooms
1 clove garlic, peeled
” fresh ginger root. peeled
3-4 skinless boneless chicken thighs
4 tbs canola or vegetable oil
3 tbs Hoisin sauce
6 tbs soy sauce
1 cup roasted unsalted peanuts or cashews
3 cups cooked rice or one package Chinese-style noodles (such as Chow Mein Stir-fry Noodles)
For the marinade (optional):
1 tsp cornstarch
1 tsp beaten egg
1 tbs soy sauce
1 tbs of rice wine (Mirin) or dry sherry
Cut each chicken thigh into 9 small cubes (about of an inch). If you choose to marinade the chicken (for softer, smoother consistency), mix all of the ingredients of the marinade until it becomes smooth, pour the marinade on the chicken, mix, and let sit in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.
Cook the rice or the noodles according to the package instructions.
Heat the wok to medium heat, add tablespoon of oil and toast the peanuts until they brown (watch closely and remove the peanuts before they burn).
Heat a wok to as high a temperature as allowed by the manufacturer. (I prefer a cast-iron wok that allows for extremely high temperatures rather than non-stick woks).
Cut the mini-pepper lengthwise and then cut each half into two-three pieces. Slice the mushrooms, jalapeno pepper and garlic. Cut the ginger into slivers.
Once the wok is extremely hot, add 1 1/2 tablespoons of cooking oil to the wok. Add the garlic and ginger and immediately add the mini-peppers, jalapeno peppers and mushrooms. Cook briefly while stirring the ingredients gently trying to use as much of the cooking surface as you can (2-3 minutes will suffice for the end result should be slightly cooked, somewhat crunchy vegetables). Then, remove the stir-fried ingredients to a separate plate.
Add 2 tablespoons of oil to the wok. Add the chicken cubes and spread them so each cube touches the surface of the wok. After about a minute, add the hoisin sauce and stir, then add the soy sauce and stir for 2-3 minutes until the chicken is done (it will become dark brown). Add the peanuts and then the stir-fried vegetables that you kept on a separate plate and stir together.
Serve the final stir-fried combination over the freshly cooked rice or noodles. And enjoy.
Editor’s note: Dr. Shahar Madjar is a urologist at Bell Hospital in Ishpeming. Read and comment on prior columns by Dr. Madjar at DrMadjar.com