“Wok” means pan in the far East. Woks are something most people reach for when they stir fry or cook Chinese food. But once you get accustomed to it, you’ll find you use it all the time. They’re great for poaching, boiling, braising, deep frying or steaming too (for all purpose use, get one with a lid). You really don’t even need a wok for Chinese food, but the bowl uses less oil for frying, and does a very efficient job when stir frying. Much more oil is needed to coat a skillet than a wok, so its a lot healthier to fry in a wok.
All Asian cooks swear by carbon steel woks, and I have to agree with them. They heat quickly and evenly and will remain virtually stick free with proper care once seasoned.
Seasoning a Wok
Most factories coat woks in an oil to prevent rusting prior to purchase, so make sure you give your wok a good scrub with soapy water, then rinse well before seasoning. To season, place the wok over high heat for a minute or two until no water is left (always drying your wok over low heat will ensure it will never rust), then add a couple of tablespoons of oil in the bottom and swish it around, coating the sides too. The first time you fry vegetables, you will notice the bottom and sides of your pan will darken. After cooking, wash only with water. Avoid using your wok for anything other than frying until it is well seasoned over time. It takes about a year of use to get a thoroughly seasoned all-black inside carbon steel wok. The oil is breaking down into polymers and gradually, over time, filling the tiny holes in the wok. While this patina develops, don’t worry about splotchy looking sides in your wok. In the meantime, you can always give a hot wok a scrub with coarse salt and oil on a few paper towels to give it a little face lift.
- new woks use more oil than well seasoned woks
- avoid using your wok for acidic things like vinegar or tomatoes the first year as they will destroy the building patina
- after washing you can always heat your wok, then rub another tablespoon of oil over it with a paper towel for the first several times of use before storing
- always dry your wok over a warm burner on the stove
- if your walk gets sticky during storage, store it in a brown paper bag
Woks sear meat perfectly, and the high sides are perfectly designed for stirring vegetables and meat without spilling them over the edge or crowding the pan. Although round bottomed woks are traditional in Chinese cooking, today’s gas and electric stoves make flat bottoms a better choice. Most professional stoves like Wolf or Bertazzoni work well with a round bottomed wok as they have the heat to get the flame up to the bottom of the wok, and often have a wok ring as an option. A non heating long handle on one side with a small loop handle on the other side is preferred.
In terms of size, anything larger than 14″ – 16″ can become unwieldy for the average cook. We need to be able to manage holding the pan with one hand and moving food with the other, and when food starts getting tumbled around, things can get out of control pretty fast. Anything much smaller might not hold all the food you need. Besides, the standard home stove isn’t hot enough to power a wok much larger than 15″. A flattened area of 4″ to 5″ still provides plenty of room for flipping.
- carbon steel
- round bottom with a wok ring if your stove will power it; otherwise, flat bottom
- 14″ diameter
- a lid for steaming
Wok Cooking Tips and Tricks
- cut ingredients into uniform bite sized pieces
- cut meat a bit angled on the bias
- invest in a good Chuan (Spatula) and Hoak (Ladle)
- you may want a perforated wok ladle for deep frying too
- buy high quality oil like peanut oil, grape, canola, sesame or safflower, with a high smoking temperature and low polyunsaturated fat
- have all ingredients prepared prior to cooking
- heat the wok until its very hot before adding the oil
- don’t overcrowd the pan – leave a few inches at the top to allow room for tossing food
- season the oil before adding other ingredients
- stir fry dry meat or poultry to seal in juices, adding sauces later
- when stir frying meat, let it sit for a moment before tossing to sear, whereas vegetables can be tossed right at the beginning
- stir fry vegetables dry too, otherwise they braise or steam
- add vegetables such as hard root vegetables with the longest cooking time first, or fry in batches
- once you start stir frying, stay there, it requires constant attention
- if you don’t hear the pan sizzling when you’re cooking, its not hot enough
- slide a spatula quickly between the food and the wok, tumbling the food over on itself, in a constant series of motions until cooked
- when adding sauces, turn the pan up a bit to maintain heat, and make a well in the middle for the sauce, and be ready to add your thickening liquid before tossing with the wok contents
3 tablespoons cornstarch, divided
1/2 cup water, plus
2 tablespoons water, divided
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1 lb boneless round steak or charcoal chuck steak, cut into thin 3-inch strips
2 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
4 cups broccoli florets
1 small onion, cut into thin wedges
1/3 cup reduced sodium soy sauce
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground ginger
hot cooked rice
In a bowl, combine 2 tablespoons cornstarch, 2 tablespoons water and garlic powder until smooth. Add beef and toss.
Combine soy sauce, brown sugar, ginger and remaining cornstarch and water until smooth in a bowl and set aside.
In a preheated wok over medium high heat, stir-fry beef in 1 tablespoon oil until beef reaches desired doneness; remove and keep warm.
Stir-fry broccoli and onion in remaining oil for 4-5 minutes.
Return beef to pan and add liquid mixture. Cook and stir for 2 minutes.
Serve over rice. Serves 4.
Time: 20 minutes
Makes: 3 to 4 servings
4 cups cooked long or medium grain rice, leftover from the day before or refrigerated least 2 hours (break up large clumps)
1 tablespoon canola or other oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 medium red or yellow onion, coarsely chopped (about 1/2 cup)
1 stalk finely chopped celery
1 cup chopped leftover chicken
1/2 cup frozen peas, defrosted
2 tablespoons oyster sauce (or sweet soy sauce)
2 tablespoons soy sauce (or fish sauce)
Salt and Pepper
1/4 teaspoon Chinese five spice
Preheat a 14-inch wok or 12-inch skillet over high heat for about 1 minute. Swirl in the oil and heat until it becomes runny and starts to shimmer.
Reduce heat to medium and add garlic, celery and onion and stir until fragrant, about 15 to 30 seconds.
Move all the ingredients to one side of the wok. Break the eggs into the wok, and stir to scramble until they are almost cooked through but still a little soggy, about 1 1/2 to 2 minutes.
Add the chicken and peas, followed by the rice, stirring and tossing between each addition. Use your spatula to break up any clumps.
Add the sauces, salt, pepper and Chinese five spice to taste. Stir, tumbling constantly until rice is well-coated and lightly colored and heated through, about 3 to 4 minutes. Add more oil if the rice begins to stick to the wok; reduce the heat if it starts to scorch. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary. Serve immediately.
1 tbsp (15 mL) vegetable oil
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 hot pepper, finely chopped
1 tbsp (15 mL) minced gingerroot
8 oz (227 g) lean ground pork
1/3 cup (75 mL) finely chopped water chestnuts
1/4 cup (60 mL) minced green onions
2 tbsp (30 mL) soy sauce
1 tbsp (15 mL) cornstarch
2 tsp (10 mL) sesame oil
24 wonton wrappers
Soy Vinegar: 1/4 cup (60 mL) soy sauce, 2 tbsp (30 mL) rice vinegar
Combine soy sauce, cornstarch and sesame oil; set aside.In large skillet, heat oil over medium heat; cook garlic, pepper and ginger until soft, about 3 minutes.
Add pork; cook over medium-high heat, breaking up with spoon, until no longer pink, about 3 minutes.
Add water chestnuts and green onions.
Stir soy sauce, cornstarch and sesame oil mixture into pork. Let cool slightly.
Lay 4 wonton wrappers at a time on work surface, covering the remainder with a damp towel to prevent drying out; brush edges with water.
Place 2 tsp (10 mL) pork mixture in centre of each. Bring up corners to meet in centre; pinch edges to seal.
Place on cornstarch-covered baking sheet, leaving space between dumplings; cover with damp towel. (Make-ahead tip: cover towel and baking sheet with plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to 24 hours.)
Arrange dumplings, in batches and not touching, in greased steamer set over boiling water; cover and steam until firm to the touch, about 7 minutes.
Meanwhile, in small bowl, stir soy sauce with rice vinegar to make soy vinegar; serve with dumplings.
2 chicken breasts, thinly sliced (or substitute meat of your choice)
4 tablespoons dark soy sauce
4 tablespoons light soy sauce
4 tablespoons oyster sauce
1 tablespoon cornflour
1/2 packet dried chow mein noodles
3 tablespoons sesame oil
2 cloves garlic, grated
1 onion, sliced
1 bag beansprouts
3 spring onions, chopped into small pieces
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon ground white pepper
Marinate meat for no less than 4 hours in 1 tablespoon dark soy sauce, 1 tablespoon light soy sauce, 1 tablespoon oyster sauce and cornflour; refrigerate.
Bring a pot of water to the boil and cook noodles according to packet instructions. Run under cold water and toss with a bit of oil to prevent sticking.
Heat oil in wok until very hot and fry meat until cooked. Remove meat from wok. Add garlic, celery and onion to hot wok and cook until softened slightly, then add beansprouts, spring onions, cooked noodles and the meat and stir.
Add the remaining dark soy sauce, light soy sauce, oyster sauce, sugar and pepper. Stir thoroughly and serve. Serves 2.
4 chicken breasts, boneless, skinless, about 7 ounces each
2 egg whites
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons rice wine, dry sherry or cooking wine
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoons Tabasco sauce
2 tablespoons sesame oil
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 tablespoon brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon crushed dried red chilies, or to taste
1 tablespoon minced ginger
4 carrots, cut into thin strips
1/2 red bell pepper, sliced
1/2 green bell pepper, sliced
3 green onions, chopped
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon vegetable oil