Mixing it up in the wok: Italian flavors in a Chinese cooking vessel

In the days when I dabbled in creative management consulting, over ten years ago, one case study that came up was how Canon had redefined its business, at one point. I’m telling this from memory, so details may be off somewhat, but bear with me. Instead of considering itself as a manufacturer of particular goods (cameras, faxes, photocopiers), Canon defined itself as being in the imaging business. This helped them adapt to technological changes in many fields, like cameras, where they grew their share by quickly going on the digital path, while competitors who defined themselves around film (Kodak, Polaroid) lost large amounts of market share.

What does this have to do with my title? Here’s what.

You can consider the wok as it’s presented: something to cook Chinese food with. Or you can see it as a cooking vessel invented by the Chinese, that provides certain qualities of high-heat cooking – and then use it for any kind of cuisine.

The other night, we wanted to stir-fry some leftover chicken from a gorgeous, Julia-Child-buttered-up kind of roast chicken, but didn’t feel like heading in a soy sauce/hoisin/black bean kind of direction. I was looking for the kind of texture and cooking provided by the wok, but was looking more for a basil and olive oil flavor. The result was an interesting mix of Italian and Chinese cuisines.

Chinese noodles, Portuguese olive oil and balsamic vinegar: ingredients for an international kind of meal

Chinese noodles, Portuguese olive oil and balsamic vinegar (with Niagara and Beaujolais bottles on the right): ingredients for an international kind of meal

After putting a large pot of water to boil on the stove, we prepared snow peas, sliced yellow and green peppers (red might be better for color) and mushrooms, chopped green onions, cut the chicken into small pieces, and off we went.

Just as the water got to boiling and we put the wide rice vermicelli in the pot, I put olive oil in the pre-heated wok (adding the oil in an already hot wok helps avoid food from sticking to the bottom), and added in a bit of peanut oil. Olive oil has a relatively low fusion point, so adding the peanut oil helps avoiding the oil going up in smoke, with the high heat cooking.

I started with the mushrooms, tossed them for a minute, then added the snow peas, tossed 30 seconds, and then the sliced peppers. Tossing everything together, I added freshly ground pepper, a couple of pinches of sea salt, and then a cube of fresh basil frozen in oil (the best way I know to have that fresh basil flavor all winter long). As the basil cube melted, the aromas just jumped up from the wok.

When the basil was well mixed in, I added the chicken and tossed again (that’s the idea of a “stir-fry”, after all). After another minute or so, when the vegetables were just al dente, I poured in a tablespoon or two of balsamic vinegar, a couple of spoonfuls of red wine, and about a 1/4 cup of broth, to make a little bit of sauce. Since we were serving the Chinese-Italian stir-fry over noodles, sauce was essential to make the whole meal come together.

The result was very convincing. Expansive flavors from the cooking process, in a meal that worked quite naturally. In the kitchen, it’s often good to think outside of the wok.

The Italian-Chinese stir-fry in all its aromatic and steamy splendor

The Italian-Chinese stir-fry in all its aromatic and steamy splendor

In keeping with my Wine Case blogging vocation, a note on the wine pairing with the meal. We drank a cherry-filled, smooth, well-structured 2008 Ercolino Dolcetto d’Alba from Rivetto. Not a match with Chinese food, but very good with the chicken, basil and pasta.

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  1. Elizabeth Buie
    Posted December 18, 2009 at 7:07 pm | Permalink

    Sounds yummy! And this method works very well. My late husband, who was born and raised in Italy and who was a very good cook, used to cook in a wok all the time. See http://www.aesthetic-images.com/pelago/ricette.htm

  2. Posted December 19, 2009 at 9:19 am | Permalink

    Hi, Remy,

    I love your new blog–a perfect complement to The Wine Case. I hope you chronicle your “cooking live” pieces here, too.



  3. Posted December 19, 2009 at 9:55 am | Permalink

    I am glad to find someone else who had put the wok to Italian use. Very interesting recipes on his page. Thanks very much for your comment.

  4. Posted December 19, 2009 at 9:56 am | Permalink

    Finding a more accessible and permanent location for Cooking Live was part of the motivation behind starting this blog. Stir-fry is a little intensive to do as a Cooking Live, though…

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