I will forever be referencing Grace Young whenever I bring up the significance of owning a wok. And this post is no exception. Her book, The Breath of a Wok goes into so much more detail than I will share here, and I encourage you to buy it, read it and cook from it if you are serious about learning how to wok properly. Rather than paraphrase her knowledgeable and well researched work, I’m going to describe my experience.
I got my first wok as a Christmas gift maybe 5 or 6 years ago. It was a Crate & Barrel box set that came with a carbon steel wok (flat bottomed), a round lid for steaming, long wooden chopsticks, a metal spatula and a metal ladle. I had been reading The Breath of a Wok, so I new what to look for in a wok, and being a home cook, this one would work well. There is something about the look of a new carbon steel wok that seems off putting. It smells like metal, and looks like something you’d find in a hardware store. Unlike skillets and fancy European cookware, the wok looks like real equipment, and only really becomes a sense of pride as it’s worn in.
There are many things to be said about a wok. 1. it’s economical. Basically, $30 is a great price for something you can and possibly should use every day. 2.) the practice of woking is even more economical. You can invest in 10 condiments that will last you up to a year and most recipes will ask for the same ingredients over and over again. 3.) it’s efficient. Cooking a wok recipe is as fast and easy as any 30 minute meal, and the results are often much more satisfying. Usually, the prep is what takes the longest. If you have a partner at home who loves to eat as much as you do, put them to work chopping. And because of the wok’s design (compared to a skillet), it’s concentrated area makes cooking much faster.
So back to getting a wok and starting to use it. Once you find a wok you like, you have to open it. In other words you have to prepare it for cooking. Below is a recipe I used from Young’s The Breath of a Wok.
Hung Chong Chinese Chive and Oil Stir-Fry, for a Carbon-Steel Wok.
You’ll need: 1/2 bunch Chinese chives (about 7 ounces). 2 tablespoons vegetable or peanut oil
1.) Wash the inside and outside of the wok with hot water, using a stainless-steel scrubber and liquid dishwashing soap. Rinse with hot water. Dry the wok with paper towels, then place over low heat 1 to 2 minutes until the pan is totally dry. Cut the chives into 2-inch pieces.
2.) Open the window and turn the exhaust fan on high. Heat the wok over high heat until a bead of water vaporizes within 1 to 2 seconds of contact. Swirl in the oil and add the chives. Reduce the heat to medium and stir-fry 15 minutes, using a metal spatula to push the mixture up the sides of the wok to the edge. If the mixture becomes dry, add an additional, tablespoon of oil. Remove from the heat. Cool. Discard the chives.
3.) Wash the wok with hot water and a soft sponge. Dry over low heat 1 to 2 minutes. The wok is seasoned and ready for cooking.
Caring for a wok post using it is just as important. After using, it’s best to wash it immediately. It is recommended not to use soap, just hot water and a clean sponge will remove all of the residue. After washing, I normally put the wok back on the stove under low heat. Once all of the water is evaporated, I pour a teaspoon of peanut oil into the wok. With a folded paper towel and chopsticks I push the oil around with the paper towel, on the center and sides to coat the wok. I find this is the best way to preserve the wok, and trap in all of the flavor. The patina of a wok is no joke, and if the wok is well-preserved the flavor of your dishes keeps on getting better and better.