Chefs execute various cooking techniques to achieve the desired outcome for a dish, and many cannot deny that the right cooking tools play a huge factor in success. For Asian cuisine, it is pretty impossible not to miss this most ubiquitous tool – the wok.

 

The wok is a staple of Asian cooking. It is a cooking vessel that comes in different shapes and sizes and is made from various materials with a distinct round bottom. The walls of the wok slope deep with either two handles on the side or one more oversized handle on one side. The wok is designed for use on top of the stove.

 

Origin of the Wok

 

The wok is thought to have originated over 2000 years ago in China during the Han dynasty. Its name is taken from the Cantonese word meaning “cooking pot”. While it’s very easy to focus on its Chinese origin, there are similar sorts of pan existing long ago all over India and Southeast Asia. It is also considered that this vessel shape could have been invented at multiple point sources.

There are many theories of historians and food experts regarding the invention of the wok but the three that often come up:

  1. Back in the Han Dynasty, there was a food shortage, and people needed to use limited ingredients. 
  2. In the olden times, people travelled across the country carrying all their belongings, and they needed portable utensils that they could use to cook and hold food for everyone.
  3. Back in the Han Dynasty, the oil and fuel shortage forced people to cook meals using less oil, and the wok fits the bill.

Construction

 

Most modern works are made from carbon steel. This material conducts heat well, is durable, easy to clean, and won’t crack or bend. 

Commercial stoves can benefit from the bigger woks, and home kitchens can do with a wok around 35cms in diameter. Bigger isn’t always better and larger woks may not correctly distribute heat. 

Woks come with either one or two handles, and choosing one with comfortable handles, preferably wooden, is a wise thing. 

The wok’s shape puts a higher concentration of heat in the middle. Unfortunately, carbon steel reacts with acidic foods, such as tomatoes and can alter their taste.

Accessories that go with it

 

Sometimes accessories are needed to be used with the wok: 

  • Wok Lid – A wok lid allows the chef to steam and poach. When a wok is covered, it prevents the heat from escaping and allows any moisture to cook the food.

  • Wok Ring – A wok ring ensures the wok stays in place when cooking. The ring can also double as a steamer trivet to place a plate upon.

  • Wok Skimmer/Strainer – A simple tool that features a long handle to keep hands away from heat while doing quick straining, skimming and lifting in hot water or oil.

The versatility of a wok

 

The wok is a versatile cooking tool and can be used for cooking techniques such as:

 

Stir-frying

 

Stir-frying originated in China and is one of the best techniques for cooking foods quickly. It almost always requires the use of a wok since its shape perfectly fulfils this task. Food is cooked and pushed up to the wok’s high sides while the rest is cooked on the bottom. The wok’s deep sloped walls trap in more heat, cooking food much quicker than if you were to use a frying pan. 

 

Steaming

 

The shape of a wok allows liquids to sit in one spot in the middle without allowing them to touch the bottom of a steamer basket. A plate can also be used, positioned on top of a trivet. With a wok lid, a wok perfectly traps moisture to steam food. 

 

Deep-frying 

 

The wok has a wide opening that provides enough space for the oil to dissipate before boiling over, which prevents potentially dangerous or messy situations. With the use of a long-handled skimmer or strainer, removing any burnt bits left at the bottom of the wok is easy. Removing burnt bits as cooking prevents a burnt taste from overpowering the dish, as well as keeping the oil clean so that it can be reused later if desired. 

 

Smoking 

 

The wok can also be used to smoke meats. This can be done by putting ingredients desired for smoking, such as tea leaves, wood chips, rice or fruits, at the bottom lined with foil. Once the heat is turned on and smoke appears, a rack with the desired food ingredient ( usually meat) can be placed over the smoking material. Foil is then used to cover the wok as the food is smoked. 

 

Flash Frying

 

Flash frying is a high-heat deep-frying technique done to small brown pieces of quick-cooking food rapidly. The goal is to brown the ingredient slightly and then set it aside. The food is then mixed back at the later cooking process till the dish is cooked.  

 

Braising

 

Braising typically involves hours of low, slow heat, but when done in a wok, braising can be done faster. 

In addition to the above, the wok can be used for 

  • pan-frying
  • boiling
  • searing
  • stewing

 

RELATED READ: Sautéing Tips Pro Chefs Swear By

 

A wok is non-stick

 

Like a cast iron pan, the wok should be seasoned well. A seasoned work has a patina that is caramel coloured and non-stick. 

The process of seasoning a wok is almost similar to that of a cast iron:

  1. The wok should be scrubbed clean in hot soapy water.
  2. It is then dried over low heat on a stove.
  3. When dry, the heat is cranked up high, and two to three tbsps of oil is swirled inside the wok. Any oil can be used, but the preferred ones are peanut oil or canola oil. 
  4. The work surface is coated with oil by tilting and turning it or by using a spatula with a paper towel in the end to spread the oil.
  5. The oil is heated until it disappears. The oil turns into a thin layer of film and starts to glaze the wok.
  6. When the wok cools, the layer of oil hardens on the surface, creating a non-stick surface. 
  7. Do this process after a few uses of the wok. But over time, you will no longer need to wash it with soap. Just hot water and light brushing will do. Avoid scouring pads. Thoroughly dry over the stove to “cure” the seasoning layer. Then add another layer of oil using a paper towel before putting it away.

 

Because it is non-stick, a wok will use less oil than a typical skillet, 

 

In Summary:

 

The wok is a wonderful cooking vessel that has long been a part of many cuisine stories, not just exclusively Asian. The construction and design of a wok make it a very versatile cooking tool that is a must in professional kitchens. However, if it is unavailable, skilled chefs can almost certainly make do with a 12-inch non-stick skillet as a good substitute. 

And if you are based in Perth and Western Australia and looking for skilled Chefs to fill in or for a permanent hire, look no further. Give us a call at Anytime Chefs!

 

That’s it for this week.
As always, Professional Chefs on Call at Anytime!

Ciao for now,
Thomas

 


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