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What's Cooking?: Wok With Me

The wok is the most versatile kitchen cookware in the world.  It can be used for braising, deep-frying, pan-frying, stir-frying, sautéing, searing, smoking, steaming, stewing, boiling and poaching. Imagine all these methods using this one vessel.  In my opinion, every home should have one but then I’m quite biased. This conical shaped cooking vessel has been used for thousands of years originating in China at a time when fuel was scarce.  It was first invented to solve this problem as a way of making the most of the valuable fuel by its fast and efficient way of cooking.  In contemporary cooking, it suits the desire for fast and easy cooking, and much more.

The traditional wok is domed shaped with a round bottom made of carbon steel with two metal handles.  It comes in various diameters.  I have a sizable one with a 16½ inch diameter which is quite large for home use.  The design of the wok allows the heat to radiate up the sides and its depth provides plenty of room for tossing without the contents falling out.  This unique concave design also cooks the food in various degrees.  If you want to use less heat for cooking certain ingredients in the dish, they could be placed along the side of the wok (ex. vegetables) to prevent it from overcooking while the center with the highest heat may be used for foods that take a little more time.  Many have given up using their woks after complaining about the forming of rust.  Woks made of carbon-steel must be seasoned much like the cast iron cookware is treated with layers of grease (I use vegetable shortening or canola oil) and heat to create a permanent seal from rusting.  The original gray surface darkens to black as it improves with age.  Initially, wash the seasoned wok after cooking in very hot water with no detergent to avoid removing the seal until it becomes well-seasoned.  Also, be sure to dry the wok thoroughly with a cloth or heat to evaporate any residual water after each use.  With time, a seasoned wok requires less oil and has the feature of a nonstick surface.

One more important comment needs to be made about wok cooking.  What the chefs strive for in their dishes is “wok hei” translated as “breath of the wok”.  It is the flavor, taste, fragrance or essence that is imparted from stir-frying in a seasoned wok over an open high flame.  It is hard to describe but you can taste it in the food.  It makes all the difference.  This is why wok cooking is most effective on a gas stove at high BTUs than an electric range.  The rapidity with which it heats up has no equal.  The well-seasoned wok is to be valued so don’t give up.  It’s worth the care.

Thanks to all who brought this topic to my attention.  Your suggestions are always welcome.

Ken Hom's Quick Wok by Ken Hom

Ken Hom's Top 100 Stir Fry Recipes by Ken Hom

Simple Chinese Cooking by Kylie Kwong

The Chinese Chicken Cookbook by Eileen Lin-Fei Lo

Simply Ming One-Pot Meals by Ming Tsai

The Breath of a Wok by Grace Young

Stir Fry to the Sky's Edge by Grace Young


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