Asian technique meets Hispanic ingredients

Wok Picadillo is a creative fusion of Hispanic cuisine and the Asian technique of cooking with a wok. Enlarge photo

Matthew Mead/Associated Press

Wok Picadillo is a creative fusion of Hispanic cuisine and the Asian technique of cooking with a wok.

Stir-fry and salsa arenít traditional companions on the plate, but that doesnít mean there canít be a little common ground.

As a wok-cooking teacher, Iím constantly looking for new ways to use my wok, including with cuisines other than Asian. And it turns out the Hispanic world has a wealth of ingredients and classic recipes perfectly suited to this cooking style.

Though I grew up in Hong Kong Ė where I watched local cooks use huge cast-iron woks to prepare classic street foods such as choutofu (stinky tofu), stuffed peppers, curried octopus and roasted chestnuts Ė I now live in Miami, a city rich with Cuban culture. Iíve noticed many similarities in cooking techniques, ingredients and seasonings between the cultures.

Cuban-style paella, for example, is similar to Asian fried rice. Even the paella pan resembles a wok.

Look more broadly across Hispanic cuisines and examples are plentiful. Churros and Chinese crullers are both crispy deep-fried dough sticks. Fillings for quesadillas, fajitas and tacos are basically stir-fried beef, chicken or pork.

In Peru, which has a sizeable population of Chinese immigrants, there is even an Asian-Peruvian fusion dish known as chifa, a mash-up of the term ďchow fan,Ē which refers to Chinese fried rice. Chifa Ė basically fried rice with native Peruvian ingredients, often leftovers, and soy sauce Ė has become an integral part of Peruvian cuisine.

One of the most common ways to cook in a wok is to do so briefly at very high heat. This is why ingredients often are cooked in batches according to how long they should take. For example, vegetables go in until just tender, but still lightly crisp, then are removed from the pan. Next, the meat is cooked until nicely seared, then everything is combined.

This same approach works with Hispanic ingredients. It can be as simple as stir-frying some onion, peppers and other vegetables, then setting those aside. Add some thinly sliced beef, pork or chicken with Hispanic seasonings and cook that. When the meat is ready, combine everything and use as a filling for tacos.

But woks can do more than stir-fry, and that versatility is what makes them so useful for other cuisines. Because of their shape and wide opening, woks are great for deep frying, steaming, stewing, toasting spices and nuts, even baking.

For example, a wok can fry up churros as easily as wonton-wrapped dumplings or spring rolls. It also can be used to fry plantains.

And in both cases, the attachable wire rack that clips to the side of the wok is excellent for draining excess oil from the fried foods.

Donít have a paella pan? Use a large wok. It also does a fine job with arroz con pollo Ė brown the chicken, cook the sofrito and tomato sauce, then add the rice and other ingredients. Iíve even made tortilla omelets in my wok. Start by stir-frying the vegetables in the wok, then add the mixture of egg and cheese. Set the entire thing in the oven (set on a wok ring) and bake.