A stir fry in the life

Wok on cooking fire

As many of you know, I am Chinese and white. My Dad passed in 2017, but before he did, he taught me a significant portion of his cooking skills (passed down through family) and I am now possessed of a combination of ancestral good sense as well as my own book learning about how to cook Chinese home cooking.

I have a cast iron wok from The Wok Shop (that I purchased a couple decades ago) and some wok spatulas and strainers and a pantry full of adequate cooking ingredients for such endeavors.

Last night I cooked a nice spicy black bean stir fry with white onion, sugar snap peas and shrimp, and I thought I’d write down a rough recipe and method, annotated with details I hope will be useful to you if you’re interested in trying to do the same or similar.

I’ll give rough portions and timing, but there will be some ambiguity that you’ll have to fill in with experimentation and/or experience.

Make rice to go with this strongly flavored stir fry.

  • 10 thawed shrimp, shells/tails removed
  • 1 1/2 pounds sugar snap peas, with tips and strings removed/trimmed
  • 1 large white onion, diced to 1 inch pieces (the aim is for the size to approximate an average snap pea from your batch)
  • 1 Tablespoon Sichuan spicy broad bean paste
  • 1 – 2 Tablespoons dried fermented black beans
  • 2 Tablespoons toasted sesame oil
  • 2 Tablespoons Black Soy (the thicker, molasses-y kind)
  • 2 Tablespoons sherry/rice wine/cooking wine
  • 1 – 2 cloves of garlic, to your taste (we had garlic scapes which are the stem of the garlic flower, so we used 2 or 3 Tablespoons of chopped garlic scapes – you could also use garlic chives or even green onions/scallions)
  • Enough neutral oil to do all the stir frying (about 1/4 to 1/2 cup depending on your stove, cookware, stir frying style, ingredients, etc.)


  1. Mise en place your ingredients.
    1. Thaw the shrimp, remove shells, set aside.
    2. Trim and string snap peas, rinse (it’s fine if they’re damp from rinsing).
    3. Mince garlic.
    4. Measure out broad bean paste.
    5. Rinse black beans and smash them in a mortar and pestle. It’s rare these days but sometimes little bean size gravel rocks can come through the fermentation process, so soak/rinse and smash those beans so you can feel if there’s any gravel in there. Add sesame oil, sherry, and soy to the black bean paste. Let sit for a few minutes so the flavors can mingle.
  2. Pre-cook or par cook ingredients in batches:
    1. snap peas in a small quantity of oil and light salting, at the highest heat you can manage. Go for wok hei here. Watch for the peas to uniform’s get greener, and develop a light scorching/blistering. Set aside. No need to clean out the wok.
    2. sauce, and onion: put a small amount of oil in the scorching hot wok. Put the black bean sauce in and stir fry it for a few seconds. As the watery ingredients boil off, add the broad bean paste and the garlic/garlic scapes. Stir fry until it stops violently boiling. Add a little more neutral oil and the onions, and stir fry until soft. Set aside. Don’t clean the wok – it’s good if the shrimp pick up a little of the remaining sauce still stuck to the pan.
    3. the shrimp: stir fry the shrimp carefully until it’s partially cooked. A little pink, but not a lot. Approx 2 minutes, but do your best to estimate, or get a feel for it. Don’t fully cook the shrimp. Estimate when to take it out based on how much cooking you still need to do to bring everything together.
  3. Cook everything together for a minute or two to marry all the flavors and bring the whole dish together. Here, you want to just undercook the shrimp, so that the carryover heat finishes the job and nothing gets overcooked. Carefully toss everything into the wok and, on high heat, make sure everything’s mixed together. Cook for 1 – 2 minutes, and serve, on steamed rice or with some other starch.

It will be a little spicy. If you don’t want spicy, you can replace the Sichuan spicy broad bean paste with some Cantonese brown bean sauce.

Photo by Eky Rima Nurya Ganda: https://www.pexels.com/photo/large-wok-over-fireplace-15050710/