The Wonderous Wok

This round pan is more versatile than you might think for delicious, easy cooking!.

By FamilyTime


Traditionally, woks are made of plain steel, which retains heat well. This is important for the very high heat cooking Chinese chefs prefer.

Since few home stoves reach the intense temperatures used by Chinese restaurant chefs, woks for the home kitchen made with non-stick coatings or stainless steel work well.

Cooking in a Wok
Most home cooks think of stir-frying when they think of woks. Without doubt, woks are the best pan for this method of fast cooking.

The wok’s rounded bottom and sloped sides allow you to stir and toss small pieces of food in the pan – and keep it in the pan!

Woks also can be used for deep frying and steaming. Their shape is conducive to a few inches of hot oil. Carefully drop pieces of breaded shrimp, chicken, vegetables, or small fritters into the pan. Skilled Asian cooks remove fried foods with long chopsticks, but you may prefer long-handled tongs or a slotted spoon.

For steaming in a wok, set a round steamer in the pan over a few inches of water. An Asian-style bamboo steamer is ideal; these stackable steamers were originally designed for use in a round pan such as a wok.

Caring for a Wok
Since most home cooks use woks primarily for stir frying, they quickly build up a film of oil. This is not a bad thing. Steel woks work best after they are well-seasoned.

To season a steel wok, rub it with cooking oil (peanut or canola) and heat it over high heat until it blackens. You might have to do this several times. After it’s seasoned, wipe it out after each use or wash it with mild soap and water. Don’t scrub it with abrasives if you can help it.

Woks with non-stick coatings should be cared for like any other non-stick pan.

Some woks come with a round base to facilitate setting them over the burner so they won’t tip. They should also have lids.

Successful Stir-Frying
A wok exposes food to the maximum cooking surface, which promotes quick, even cooking. The sloped sides mean you can push partially cooked food up the sides while cooking other ingredients in the bottom.

Begin with food cut into even sizes and thicknesses. Make sure the oil is as hot as it can get without smoking. (This is why you do not want to stir-fry in olive oil, which begins to smoke at lower temperatures than other oils.)

Cook the ingredients that take the longest first, push them up the sides of the pan or remove them, and add the quicker-cooking foods next.

For most recipes, a little broth or water, soy sauce, or vinegar is added to the pan to make a sauce. The final step in the process is to combine all the ingredients, sauce, and last-minute flavorings and cook them together for a few minutes. Serve the steaming hot food over hot rice or even pasta. For more on stir frying, see The Joy of Stir-Fry.