“Chasing the Dragon”: Wok Hei at Winsor Dim Sum Cafe in Boston
I’m five bites into the chow foon noodles at Winsor Dim Sum Café when it dawns on me where I’ve tasted this sweet, smoky, all-but-burnt flavor before. Roasted marshmallows—specifically, the campfire “recipe” of igniting, then snuffing out, the flaming blob. “The magic of Maillard,” Nab says, referring to a key flavor-producing chemical reaction that occurs when food meets high heat. “The Chinese call that fragrant smokiness wok hei, which means ‘breath of the wok.’ But,” he adds, raising his eyebrows, “I like to call it ‘breath of the dragon.’” Whatever it is, it’s downright tasty. To achieve wok hei, “you need a fairly dry wok, potent heat, and maximum noodle surface area,” Nab says, untangling a strand for inspection. “See how well the thicker ones pick up the char?” Well, if it’s surface area we’re after, I’ve got just what the doctor ordered. An old favorite: “pan-fried rice noodle with XO sauce,” the starring carb of which resembles a marshmallow, sliced into rectangular slabs, with a spaetzle-like textural bite. Smoky and savory, it’s the wok hei holy grail. “Now that’s some dragon’s breath,” Nab says. True enough. You might even call it the sweet spot between a wok and a charred place.
Winsor Dim Sum Café, 10 Tyler St., Boston, 617-338-1688, winsordimsumcafe.com.