A Wok in the Kitchen
Every kitchen should have a least one wok in its repertoire of pots and pans.
If you don’t have a wok now, when you do get one it won’t take long to discover the versatility and ease in using one of the oldest cooking implements known to man.
What is a Wok?
The Chinese discovered early on that a wok with its small cooking surface and steep sides transferred heat very quickly and required very little fat for cooking. It quickly became the one utilitarian cooking item in the Chinese kitchen. The all-in-one pan was useful for stir-frying, deep-frying, and steaming over an open flame as well as on top of a stove.
Not only did the Chinese find this method of cooking very efficient, they also found that it complemented a style of cooking that required a well-balanced combination of fragrances, textures, colors, and flavors.
Wok Preferences, Preparation, and Cleaning
I personally prefer a wok made of iron rather than aluminum or stainless steel. An iron wok distributes the heat more evenly than the others. In days of old the Chinese used their woks on old-fashioned coal, wood, or charcoal burning stoves. Most of the stoves then had a whole in the grill so that the wok sat directly over the flame and concentrated the heat.
A wok (cast iron wok only) requires very little care once it has been seasoned and prepared for cooking. The main purpose is to seal the pores in the metal that helps keep rust from forming and keeps food from sticking. This is usually done by applying a light coat of oil like olive oil or an oil with a high flash point to the inside of the wok and placing it over a very high heat until smoking. This process helps seal the inside of the wok and prepares it for high heat stir-frying. The more the wok is used the better it gets.
Do not scrub a wok too intensely when cleaning. The main purpose is to loosen and remove bits of residue and oil from the pan after cooking. Don’t scour with cleansers or anything that may scar or scrape the original seasoning. Use a sponge and soapy water or buy a bamboo brush usually sold at an Asian store for cleaning. Once washed and dried place the wok over a very high heat to remove any additional moisture and to prevent rusting.
How to Cook With a Wok
Today you can buy a collar so you can place a rounded bottom wok over an electric burner or gas stove top. This compensates for a flat surface and helps concentrate the heat to the bottom of the wok. You can even use a wok with or without a collar over an outside fire or over hot coals and stones if you’re camping.
The beauty is that a wok is not only a great pan for Chinese cooking but also works for all types of cooking methods such as Japanese, Thai, Indonesian, and even American cuisine. You can fry, braise, sauté, stew, scramble, simmer, blanch, deep-fry, and steam with it. Although you can get some of the same results with an iron skillet, there is nothing like using an authentic wok for a wonderful cooking-experience.
To complete the basic Chinese kitchen you only need a cleaver for cutting, slicing and dicing, a pair of wooden chopsticks, a tight fitting lid (usually sold with the wok), and a bamboo-handled copper mesh scoop. Today most other items are already in the average kitchen.
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