A wok can be intimidating for many home cooks–it’s big, it’s all-encompassing and it’s yet another tool that needs to be learned and maneuvered. For a home cook who needs time, efficiency and large portions, there may be no other option. Let’s dive into the ins and outs of what makes a wok worth it or not.
Shaped like a big disc, a wok rocks back and forth, allowing for more movement besides just stirring. A wok is an excellent heat conductor, which means you’ll be cooking with high heat every time you use it. Pre-heat your wok at medium-high heat, which will allow you to cook your ingredients while quickly searing them, allowing for a fast and even stir-fry. How to know when your pan is heated? Flick some water onto the surface–if it immediately evaporates, you know it’s ready.
Oil choice is also essential when wok cooking. Since you’ll be working at high heat, you’ll want an oil that can withstand that–meaning high smoke points are necessary, as is low polyunsaturated fat content. Olive oil, sesame oil, and butter are out. Peanut oil, which is heavily used in China, is a good choice, as is corn, grapeseed, canola, coconut, soybean and safflower oil.
The Technique & Uses
You’ll have to learn to tumble and turn to use the wok effectively, essentially, to create a rolling motion that moves the food along with cooking. Think of it as like using a skillet, but instead of manually pushing the food around, you’re doing it by moving the wok without the worry of things flying over the side of the pan.
Dry ingredients are essential–wet can lower the temperature of the wok, steaming the food rather than searing. Marinating is the only exception to that rule. To toss, a wooden (like bamboo) or metal spatula and ladle are all you’ll need for stir-frying and moving around.
Related: How to make a stir-fry
A wok is an incredibly versatile kitchen tool to have. Of course, stir-frys top the list. Fajitas, which are made in a similar fashion, are a good second option. Using the lid, steaming is possible too, so fish and vegetables are easy to cook in this manner. Scrambled eggs, arroz con pollo or paella, tossing a salad, mixing batters and kneading dough are all good uses for your wok.
Care & Maintenance
Like a cast iron pan, seasoning your wok is essential and allows for flavors and fat to seep in over time. A little crust is a good thing here–just be sure it isn’t rusting and you’re good to go. If you must clean, soak it in hot water, gently scrub with a non-metallic sponge, rinse, dry with paper towels, place the wok over medium-high heat and coat with a layer of vegetable oil.
Popular “Northern-Style” Woks on Amazon
Popular “Cantonese-Style” Woks on Amazon
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