Do you really need a wok to cook a great stir-fry?
A wok with its concave side and small base has distinct advantages over a regular frypan when it comes to cooking the perfect stir-fry:
- it distributes heat more evenly
- it has a small base so you use less oil
- the stir-fry ‘tossing’ action is easier in a wok, food is cooked more evenly and is less likely to burn
- the wok’s shape makes stir-frying easier - the sloping deep sides prevent food from spilling out as you toss, keeping more in the wok, and less on the cooktop.
Wok-style pans with their wide, flat base are a practical option for many home cooks. They are stable on most cook tops and are easy to use as they come in direct contact with the heat. Look for one with a long heat resistant handle on one side, and smaller looped handle on the other.
A large, wide, heavy based stainless steel frying pan will work if you are without a wok. A pan with a 30cm base is the best size.
Choosing a wok
Purists will say that there really is only one choice when buying a wok – carbon steel.
- The advantage of a carbon steel wok is that it spreads the heat quickly and evenly and it maintains the heat as you cook.
- They are inexpensive to buy.
- However, they take a little time to season and to care for.
- Carbon steel woks continue to ‘season’ and become naturally non-stick the longer you use them.
Seasoning a carbon steel wok
- Wash and scrub the wok in hot water with liquid detergent and a stainless steel scourer.
- Rinse and dry the wok.
- Place the wok over a high heat.
- Heat the wok, carefully turn and tilt the wok so the heat spreads, and the metal has a blueish-yellowish tinge.
- Remove the wok and stand it on a wooden board. Turn the heat down to medium-low.
- Make a wad with kitchen paper and rub about 1 tbsp oil all over the wok. Use tongs to hold the paper towel if the wok is too hot. Return the wok to the heat.
- Heat the wok on medium-low heat for about 8-10 minutes. Tilt it occasionally so the heat spreads evenly.
- Wipe the wok with another wad of paper towel. You will see a black residue on the towel.
- Repeat these last three steps until no black residue comes up on the paper. This may take up to three times.
- Your wok is now seasoned and ready to use.
Caring for a carbon steel wok
- To clean the wok, soak it in hot water for 5 minutes.
- Then simply wash it under hot running water, there is no need to use detergent or scourers.
- If you do need to scrub it, use salt or bi carbonate soda, rubbing it over any marks with a wad of damp paper towel.
- After washing, wipe the wok with kitchen paper to dry and then wipe with a little oil.
There are a host of choices when it comes to non-stick woks, how well they work depends on the individual coating and how it was applied. As stir-frying requires high heat, it’s only the high-quality non-stick woks that can successfully and safely be used on high heat. Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions for usage and care of the non-stick coating.