How to Buy and Maintain a Wok

A wok is a fun and useful addition to your kitchen arsenal, but it also needs maintenance. You don’t just slap it on the stove, reheat food, and then shove it into the dishwasher. It takes grace. Wok cooking can also be tricky if you’ve never done it before. If you want to use it, the first step is to choose the right wok.

Choose a carbon steel wok

The material of your wok matters, and most experts agree that carbon steel is the best choice. Woks are designed to be cooked over high heat and deep-fat cooking requires rapid temperature changes . For food to reach its ideal consistency, it must be quickly fried over high heat. Carbon steel allows this. It heats up and cools down quickly.

You don’t need stainless steel or anything with an artificial non-stick surface. First, stainless steel takes too long to heat up and cool down. Plus, as our own Claire Lower told me, most non-stick surfaces break down at ultra-high temperatures and can also prevent food from browning.

Serious Eats claims that cast iron is better than stainless steel, but cast iron woks can take a long time to heat up and cool down. They are also fragile. Carbon steel is best, and they recommend a wok with a thickness of at least 2mm for durability.

Choose the right surface and shape

Beyond the material, you want to see how the wok is made. Most standard carbon steel woks you see in department stores rotate, which means they will have thin, thin concentric circles around the wok. This makes it easier to push food out to the sides of the wok. For the same reason, other forging is hand- made. Both options are reliable, you just need to stay away from any woks with a completely smooth, slippery, clearly crafted or polished surface.

Finally, woks come in all shapes and sizes. Some woks have a rounded bottom, and are great for ensuring that the flames and heat envelop all sides of the wok. Of course, if you cook on your regular, old household stove, this is still not possible. Also, you will have to use a wok ring. The wok ring helps stabilize the round wok, but it concentrates heat at the bottom of the wok and is not always suitable for gas stoves. Award-winning author and wok expert Grace Young recommends the “14” Carbon Steel Flat Bottom Wok .

However, as Lower mentioned, a wok with a too flat bottom seems pointless. Like the wok in the photo above, you don’t want to be completely flat, but flat enough to stay on the stove. For example, Serious Eats recommends this Joyce Chen wok in 14 “carbon steel .

Wok handles come in two different styles. The Cantonese style wok has one small handle on each side. Again, this is traditional, but not suitable for roasts on the stove at home. The northern-style wok has a long wooden handle with a small one on the opposite side. This is what Young recommends as it makes it easier to manipulate the wok and turn the ingredients.

Peel and season your new wok

Once you’ve found the perfect wok, it’s time to clean it up. Most woks are made with a protective coating to keep them looking fresh in the store. You must remove this layer before using the wok for the first time. Wipe the wok with soapy water, dry and heat on the stove over medium heat to completely evaporate the remaining water and not rust.

Over time, the wok develops a patina , a layer of seasoning that gives the food a flavor. When you have a new wok, you can season it yourself . Young shows how this is done in the video above. Basically, though, you heat the wok on a high heat and pour some corn, vegetable, or peanut butter into the bottom of the wok. However, you do not want to use olive oil because its smoke temperature is too low. After that, some cooks will simply oil the sides of the pan with a paper towel and tongs. As Young points out, you can also add some ginger or green onions (more on why later). This process should take 15 to 20 minutes. After cooking, rinse the wok with water and a sponge.

After using the wok for a while, it may tarnish slightly due to seasonings. As Young explains , this is ok:

As with a cast iron skillet, the more you use the wok, the more flavor it will develop and the better your food will taste. When you cook in a wok, the metal pores open and the fat you are cooking with seeps in. Discoloration of a seasoned wok is normal – don’t rub it! “You think you ruined a new frying pan,” says Grace, “but after a few months I call it a teen wok.”

According to most experts, soap should only be used during the first cleaning and if rust appears. Otherwise, just wash off with water and a sponge. Young also says that you should avoid using vinegar, tomatoes, or any other acidic food with a fresh wok because it can remove that flavorful plaque.

Cooking with wok

Making a wok can be a completely separate article, but if you’re new to it, here are some basics to get you started.

First, when it comes to frying, you want to master the art of wok flipping. Epicurious explains in a nutshell how it works :

Rocking the wok and turning the ingredients are the key to even cooking your roast. “Every time I cook in a pan, I just chase the food out, lay it out,” Young says. “But if I put it in the wok, I can really pick up all the food and turn it over.”

Before tossing the ingredients, however, make sure your wok is at the correct temperature – it’s very hot. Add a little water to the wok and if it sizzles and evaporates quickly, it is hot enough to fry the ingredients.

Again, the wok is engineered to withstand the incredible heat required for frying. The problem is, if you don’t have a professional stove like Wolf or Viking, your regular home stove just doesn’t heat up enough for the right wok hei – the essence of perfectly aromatic, smoky wok cooking. There are some creative ways to get around this , but if you’re going to use a regular stove, most experts recommend batch cooking . Here’s what Serious Eats has to offer:

You should use small enough batches so that the meat or vegetables can actually be browned and their juices evaporate quickly instead of boiling and boiling. For an electric burner, that could mean as little as, say, a quarter pound of meat at a time. This is not a problem, it just means the roast will take a little longer. Let the wok heat up, cook a batch of meat, transfer it to a bowl, dry the wok, and repeat until all the meat is browned and in the bowl. Then do the same for all the vegetables. Finally, reheat the wok, sauté the flavors, add the meat and vegetables back to the pan along with the sauce, stir to coat and reduce slightly and you’re done.

Of course, there is a lot more to making a wok, but these basics can get you started. But most importantly, you must first make sure you are working with the right wok.

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