From the moment years ago when I first peeked inside a Chinese restaurant kitchen, I've been fascinated by chefs who can handle a wok expertly. I love watching as they cut up ingredients into small pieces that will cook quickly and uniformly; heat the big, curved metal pan; and then add the food and quickly stir, tossing it all around the interior of the pan.

Even the most complicated recipes seem to be done in an instant with a flurry of activity. It's like witnessing the cooking equivalent of a food processor at work.

So I was really excited when we first opened my Asian-fusion restaurant Chinois on Main in Santa Monica, Calif., back in 1983. I hired experienced Asia-trained chefs, and I was ready to learn.

"Teach me how you stir-fry," I asked them. I couldn't wait to learn classic Chinese techniques.

"We're not 'wok-boys,'" they replied, a term they used for lower-tier kitchen workers. "We want to learn French-style cooking, like sauteing!"

So we decided to see if it all really mattered. Side by side, we cooked the same dish, one very similar to the stir-fried shrimp in the recipe I share with you here, me using a saute pan and one of my Chinese chefs using a wok. And guess what? The results came out very similar.

The lesson I learned is that, if you use high heat and a good metal saute pan with curved sides, one big enough to allow you to move the food around freely and rapidly, you don't necessarily need a wok to stir-fry. It's just like a rapid-fire version of sauteing, with all the food cut up into bite-sized pieces.

From that point on, a real East-West exchange happened in the kitchen at Chinois. I did become good at stir-frying in a wok, and I also learned important lessons about the artful yin-yang balancing of sweet and sour flavors, soft and crispy textures.

And I taught my chefs a few things, too. For example, I remember the look of surprise on their faces when I stopped them from cooking spinach in the wok as a base for stir-fried seafood. Instead, I suggested that we use baby spinach leaves raw, lightly dressed with vinaigrette, to turn the stir-fry into a refreshing hot-and-cold salad -- adding yet another yin-yang dimension to our food.

It's something you can do easily to with this recipe, which works well as an appetizer or a light main dish and is equally delicious with plump sea scallops. However you use it, feel free to cook the stir-fry in a wok or saute pan, just as long as it's large enough to let you cook the seafood quickly.

You'll become an accomplished Asian-fusion cook in no time!

Stir-Fried Shrimp Salad Recipe

Serves 4 to 6


3 tablespoons rice wine vinegar

2 tablespoons soy sauce

2 tablespoons peanut oil

1 tablespoon Asian-style toasted sesame oil

1 teaspoon honey

Juice of 1/2 lemon


Freshly ground black pepper


8 cups loosely packed organic baby spinach leaves

1 bunch enoki mushrooms, 3 to 4 ounces

2 dozen raw extra-large shrimp, preferably wild-caught domestic, about 1-1/2 pounds total weight, shelled and deveined


Freshly ground white pepper

2 tablespoons peanut oil

First, prepare the vinaigrette. In a small bowl, whisk together the vinegar, soy sauce, peanut oil, sesame oil, honey, lemon juice, and salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.

For the salad, pick through the spinach leaves to remove any wilted ones. Put the leaves in a colander and rinse under cold running water. Then, dry them thoroughly with a clean kitchen towel, paper towels, or a salad spinner. Transfer to a large mixing bowl. Add the enoki mushrooms and toss with just enough of the vinaigrette to coat the ingredients lightly, reserving at least 2 tablespoons of the dressing.

Mound the spinach mixture on individual serving plates.

Season the shrimp lightly but evenly with salt and white pepper. Heat a wok or a large saute pan over high heat until it's very hot. Add the peanut oil and, as soon as it's hot enough to swirl easily, add the shrimp and stir-fry them, stirring continuously with a long-handled spoon, just until they've turned uniformly white and pink and have just a hint of golden color, about 3 minutes. Add the reserved dressing and very briefly stir and scrape to deglaze the pan and coat the shrimp.

Arrange the shrimp evenly on top of the salad. Serve immediately.


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