using the wok: stir-fried beef lo mein at home

One of the my favorite orders at our local Chinese restaurant is lo mein. The chewy, oily noodles - paired with stir-fried meat and vegetables - are so satisfying. I decided to try to recreate this dish at home, using our wok.

The wok, which translates to "cooking pot" in Cantonese, is a versatile round-bottomed pan that originated in China. In many east Asian countries, the wok is considered to be one of the most common cooking utensils; it can be used for stir frying, deep frying, poaching, boiling, braising, and making soup. These signature pots tend to have deep, sloping sides and are made of either steel or iron.

Many years ago, my mother bought a wok on a whim from a kitchen goods store. Today you can find woks at a variety of kitchen stores, department stores, or on Amazon. Woks do not need to be expensive; you can get a very functional steel one for under $40. As the wok is used over and over, a dark brown film starts to develop on the inner surface, which is completely normal and safe; this represents seasoning that will help to infuse your dishes with color and flavor.

Before starting the frying process in the wok, it is very important to have all your ingredients prepared and laid out in an organized fashion. The wok heats quickly and the oil gets very hot. The metal surface creates the perfect platform for cooking many small ingredients quickly. You want to have your ingredients set out in the order in which you want to cook them: first the aromatics (think garlic, ginger, onion), followed by the meat, then the sliced vegetables. The noodles are added last with the sauce, so that they pick up all the remaining bits of flavor on the bottom of the wok.

This lo mein recipe combines beef, a variety of fresh vegetables, and a sauce flavored with fresh ginger, soy sauce, honey, and Sriracha. You can add additional hot sauce if you like your Chinese food extra spicy! Enjoy the noodles with your favorite Asian beer (Tsingtao, Asahi) or a pale ale. The recipe also yields plenty of leftovers for weekday lunches.