20 Mar / What’s in Your Wok?
All these years, the wok has been the first pan I pull out no matter what I’m cooking. My reaction is so instinctual I’ve never given it a second thought. And now that I am thinking about it, Grace is right!
There are many reasons why the wok is so indispensible in Asian cookery. The wok was invented centuries ago in China due to demand for a cooking vessel with a large cooking surface (to feed many mouths) and a small base that required little oil (rationing made cooking oil scarce). The wok is also very practical: High sides assure that food doesn’t fall out and its great conductibility means food cooks fast and evenly. Its bowl shape also makes it suitable for a variety of cooking methods.
Cheap and durable, the wok is now popular all over Asia under monikers ranging from kuali to karahi and chūkanabe. While the original wok has a round bottom, today’s flat-bottom woks are perfect for modern-day ceramic and electric coil cook tops.
I’ve often told people who ask that they don’t need a wok to cook Chinese/Asian food and I still think it’s true. It is a very versatile cooking pan though. Plus, its uses stretch way beyond cultural and global boundaries. So let me say this: If you’re just building your kitchen arsenal or looking to swap out your old pans, consider a wok. Unconvinced? Here’s a round-up of all the different ways you can use a wok.
Anyone’s first reaction would be: “Of course the wok’s used for stir-frying!” Yes, that’s true but you could cook a breakfast hash in your wok, not to mention sauté collard greens. Any dish that requires tossing and turning in a pan could do with a wok.
The wok is excellent for searing thin slices of meat before adding to a stir-fry. But you could totally sear a sirloin steak in it too. And don’t forget about those sunny-side-up eggs!
In addition to fish and chicken, many Asian desserts and sweets are steamed. Ovens were, and in many countries today are still, not common in households. Steaming’s the most common method. In fact, many British “puddings” (the overarching term for desserts) like custards and spotted dick were traditionally cooked via steaming. With a few items you already have lying around in your kitchen, you can easily turn your wok into a steamer. As for other desserts, there’s no reason why you can’t make French toast or a rustic crostata in a wok.
You can easily boil noodles, potatoes, pasta or even cook rice in a wok.
The wok’s bowl shape makes it ideal for poaching fish, eggs or chicken.
If you have a wok without wooden handles, you could roast a small chicken (Grace recommends a spatchcocked bird) in the oven on a bed of potatoes to catch all the yummy drippings.
Hot smoke your ham or salmon by putting wood chips or tea in the bottom of the wok with the food on a rack above.
- Tortilla toaster
This super cool tip comes from Thekitchn.com. Heat up your tortillas in a wok! Woks heat up all the way up the sides so you can toast 6 to 8 tortillas at one time. Genius!
For Grace Young’s tips on choosing and seasoning a wok, go here.
What do you cook in your wok?