There’s a reason why wok cooking is so popular. This extremely versatile vessel cooks delicious meals quickly. The wok originated in China and has become one of the most common cooking utensils in Southeast Asia, and is gaining esteem in Western kitchens. The wok is curved with a concave shape, which produces small, hot space that allows for intense heat, perfect for quickly searing food. Woks are used for stir-frying, but also steaming, deep frying, poaching, boiling, braising, searing, making soup and toasting nuts. Its large sloped sides permit for the “ tossing while cooking” technique. Creating yummy, creative and healthy meals is fast and simple with a wok.
Seasoning Your Wok
Just like a cast-iron pan, your iron, steel or carbon steel wok made of porous metals, and needs to be seasoned before cooking. The wok can absorb liquids and can rust over time. Luckily, your wok can also absorb oil, which will repel water and create a protective, non-stick layer, which protects your pan from water or acid exposure. Seasoning your wok will also add more flavor to your food over time.
Step 1: Wash your new wok. You’ll want to remove any residue before your season. Scrub the wok with hot water, steel wool and if absolutely needed, a small amount of dish soap.
Step 2: Boil water in the wok. This will ensure that no oil from the manufacturer is left. Heat and boil water for a few minutes in the wok to ensure that no oil remains.
Step 3: Coat the inner surface of the pan with oil using paper towels or a brush. Use oil with a high smoking point like peanut oil, grapeseed oil or canola oil.
Step 4: Bake your wok in the oven at 350° – 450° F for about thirty minutes.
Step 5: After the pan has cooled, remove any excess oil with a paper towel or dishrag.
Step 6: Repeat Steps 1-5 until your wok has shiny dark finish.
Now that you’ve seasoned your wok, you can begin developing and making dishes. One of the simplest techniques to master is stir-frying. Stir-frying is simply quickly sautéing food over high heat with a small amount of oil.
Before you begin, make sure you turn on your stove top fan and open your windows — because you’ll be cooking at a high heat, your wok will produce some smoke. Cook with an oil that has a high smoke point. You’ll also want to arrange your ingredients before you start cooking, since the wok works so quickly. Have everything chopped and prepared within easy reach.
Start with your protein. Unless you’re creating a vegetarian stir-fry, you’ll want your protein to be the star. If you have time, consider marinating or brining your protein in advance to add flavor and moisture. You can make a tasty three-ingredient marinade for chicken or shrimp with soy sauce, garlic and ginger. You’ll only need to marinade your meat for about a half hour.
Cut your protein evenly for even cooking. Try to make your cuts fairly small so they can cook quickly and develop a nice sear. When you put your food into the pan, you should hear a sizzling sound. If not, turn up the heat – your wok should be singing from beginning to end. A silent wok may also be an overcrowded wok, so you may need to cook in smaller batches.
Use fresh, seasonal produce. Fresh vegetables enhance your stir-fry and will add lovely, crunchy texture. Keep it simple by adding only two or three different vegetables unless your recipe indicates otherwise. Some good options are broccoli, snap peas, bok choy, bell peppers and mushrooms. Be creative with what produce is in season. Asparagus is great in the spring. Dry vegetables will crisp up in your pan, so pat down your veggies with a paper towel or give them a whirl in your salad spinner.
Aromatics add flavor. These finely chopped ingredients distribute flavor throughout your dish. Common Chinese aromatics include garlic, ginger or scallion. Peel ginger with a spoon, as knives and peelers often take away too much flesh. Try adding an exotic twist with chilies, herbs or lemongrass.
Sauces are your friends. Your last step is adding a sauce to your stir-fry. Pour the sauce down the side of the wok; this prevents the sauce from lowering the wok’s temperature. Taste your stir-fry and see what you flavor you need. Add salt with soy sauce, heat with chili paste or acid with rice wine. Other common stir-fry sauces are hoisin, sugar, oyster sauce and broth.
And lastly, when cooking with your wok, stay alert and pay attention. Stick by the stove until your stir-fry is done. Since everything cooks so fast, it’s easy for your food to burn. Now you have everything you need to start experimenting. The tastes of Asia are just a seasoned wok away.