The secret ingredient to all stir-fries, let alone Cantonese cuisine, wok hei, is elusive, but not totally impossible to pull off at home. This tastes exactly like it purports to: charred, the “breath of the wok.”
Set yourself up for success by selecting the right ingredients and processing them specifically for the very hot, fast stir-frying method. (There’s a reason why potatoes aren’t common to stir-fries and elements are usually bite-sized—so everything can cook within minutes.) When all your items are prepped and organized, take a moment to rehearse the order of operations before lighting the stove. And lastly, once you do light the stove—let that dry wok or cast-iron skillet get really, really hot before adding anything (flick a few droplets of water onto the pan; it should evaporate instantly). To gild the proverbial wok hei lily, you can also blast your stir-fry with a butane torch, while tossing the pan’s contents, for the last 30 seconds of cooking.
Gai lan (Chinese broccoli) has thinner stalks, more leafy greens than fuzzy florets, and is much juicier and quicker-cooking than its burlier counterpart. Thin—but not paper-thin—slices of a well-marbled beef steak will develop a nice char without drying out. (Prep your steak while it’s well-chilled, slightly frozen even, for clean slices). Flash-fried ginger, garlic, and toasted white pepper classically ground the dish. Soy sauce (salt, umami), Shaoxing wine (fragrance, slight sweetness), a pinch of sugar (glaziness), and rice vinegar (acid) unite our singing stars under one chorus. Serve with steamed rice. —Coral Lee
- Prep time 5 minutes
- Cook time 8 minutes
- Serves 2
neutral oil, such as grapeseed
6 to 8 ounces
marbled beef steak, such as ribeye or strip, thinly (1/4-inch) sliced
coarsely ground white peppercorns
gai lan (Chinese broccoli) or broccoli rabe, cut to 1 1/2-inch pieces
cloves garlic, grated
1-inch piece ginger, unpeeled and grated
Steamed rice, for serving
- Heat a large 10-inch wok or cast-iron skillet on medium-high heat until pretty darn hot (droplets of water should sizzle and evaporate instantly), 2 to 3 minutes. Add the oil. When it starts to shimmer, add the steak. Sear, undisturbed, on one side for 2 minutes, then flip, season with salt, and cook another 30 seconds. Transfer the steak with a (high-heat-proof!) slotted spoon or tongs to a plate.
- Lower the heat to medium and add the peppercorns. Toast, stirring to prevent burning, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the broccoli, increase the heat to medium-high and sauté, stirring frequently with the spoon or tongs, until bright-green and glossy, about 2 minutes. Add the garlic and ginger, and sauté 1 minute longer, stirring to prevent sticking and burning. (For extra wok hei, blast the greens with a torch for the last 30 seconds of sautéing.)
- Add the soy sauce, Shaoxing wine, and sugar to the pan—it will bubble ferociously, reducing to a glaze almost immediately. Add the reserved beef and toss until everything is just coated in a glossy sheen, another 30 seconds or so, then sprinkle with the vinegar. Turn out onto a serving plate, and serve alongside bowls of steamed rice.