Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Talk the Talk, Wok the Wok (Part 4)

Accessories! That's the topic for today's final post in the "Talk the Talk, Wok the Wok" series. Obviously, the accessories I will be talking about today are not the Glitz! and Glam! seen on famous celebrities (who would want to wear a wok brush anyway?). No no no. The accessories I'm going to talk about are the equiptment that will make cooking with a wok a little easier.

1. Wok brush
This is a great tool for cleaning a wok. It is make up of a stiff bundle of thin bamboo splints.

2. Wok ring
Remember this? I mentioned this in part 2. This is necessary for round-bottomed woks to stand on an American stove. Simply put this underneath the wok when you are about to cook with it, and you won't have to worry about your wok tipping over!

3. Bamboo steamers
These are useful if you want to steam with your wok. Simply fill your wok with water, and place the steamer on a trivet (metar or bamboo) over the water. Arrange food, cover, and steam!

4. Metal steamers
Another useful tool for steaming. However, food tends to stick on them - so be sure to use a leaf of cabbage or moist paper towel to prevent sticking.

Ok, that's it! That's the final post in this series! Fast, wasn't it? Well, hopefully I have explained the basics of the wok reasonably well. After you know what's good and what's not, it makes the thought of owning a wok less daunting. Now, I am proud to say that you can officially - ok, maybe not so officially - TALK THE WALK AND WOK THE WOK! (Hey, it's the last post of the series. Corny, I know, but a guy's gotta try!)

To your wok happiness!

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Talk the Talk, Wok the Wok (Part 3)

Seasoning your wok is very important before you first cook with it. “What does it mean to season your wok? And why is it so important?” you may ask. Well, that’s exactly what I will be discussing in today’s post. I will explain how to season your new carbon steel wok, as well as how to clean and care for your wok afterwards.

Ok, first things first. What does it mean to season a wok? Well, let me first tell you that it does not mean that your adding a little s & p (salt and pepper) action to your wok. You’re not seasoning your wok like a steak (don’t worry, I use to think that that’s what it meant!), and you’re certainly not going to eat your wok. Seasoning a wok simply is sealing the surface of the wok with a thin layer of oil. By doing this, you not only prevent the wok from rusting (thus ensuring longevity), you also make the wok super non-stick for years to come.

How to Season Your Carbon Steel Wok

1. Scrub, rinse, and dry
New carbon steel woks often have a protective coating put on by the manufacturer. (This coating makes food taste like metal). You must remove this before actually seasoning your wok. So, scrub hard, rinse, and dry well.

2. Place wok over low heat, wipe with vegetable oil, and heat for 10 min.
You can soak a couple sheets of paper towel or cloth in the oil. When you’re ready, use tongs or long chopsticks to wipe the wok down. If the oil ever evaporates completely – don’t worry - simply wipe down more oil.

3. Remove wok from heat, let cool, and wipe excess oil with paper towel
Pretty much self explanatory.

4. Repeat Steps 2 & 3, two or three more times
This ensures the wok is properly seasoned. You should notice that the bottom of the wok is turning dark in color. This is natural and indicates that the wok is in fact seasoned well. Over time, the wok may turn completely black. Bravo! This gives food even more Asian tasting goodness!

How to Clean Your Seasoned Wok

After seasoning and using your work, cleaning it really is a snap. Simply wash it in plain water without soap. DO NOT SCRUB IT - EVER! (do you really want to waste time seasoning it again?) Let it dry by placing it over low heat. That was easy, wasn't it?

Ok, last notes. You only need to season a wok once (ever) if you do it really well. However, chances are some of you may cut some corners, and find that your wok becomes a "stick" pan and/or the metal begins to rust. No need to panic. Simply re-season it using the steps I gave above.

Hopefully, I have cleared things up about how to season and clean your wok. Stay tuned for part 4 - the final post in this series :( - which will be about wok accessories!

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Talk the Talk, Wok the Wok (Part 2)

Ok, so by now you’ve probably decided, “Yes, I want a wok,” and are asking, “What do I do now? How do I know which wok to buy?” Well, today I will be focusing on just that. In this post, I will explain what type of wok works the best and what types are not quite up to par.

Carbon steel woks ARE THE BEST out there. There, I said it. “But what about stainless steel or non-stick woks?” you may ask. Those are garbage. Don’t buy them – ever.

Stainless steel and Non-stick = Major No Nos
Why? Well, firstly, stainless steel woks do a horrible job in conducting heat. Don’t be fooled by its sleek exterior. They simply do not get hot enough – fast enough. And non-stick woks are garbage because they eventually do become STICK WOKS. No matter how careful you are, some curious rugrat or sleepwalking husband (seriously, it will happen!) will use metal whatever and ruin your non-stick wok (I can’t begin to tell you how many ruined non-stick pans I have at home). Plus, stainless and non-stick woks carry a heavy price tag. Who would ever want to buy an overpriced piece of garbage?

Carbon Steel = The Best
Carbon steel woks are the best because they are everything that non-stick and stainless are not. They conduct heat extremely well, are way cheaper (most are under $20!), and last a lifetime (if seasoned well – don’t worry, I will explain in part 3). They really are the Asian chef’s dream pan.

One Handle vs. Two Handles
When you go to buy your wok, you can either buy one with one long handle, or two side handles (that sort of makes them look like ears). Each type has its benefits. A one handled wok is fantastic for stir-frying because you can simply hold the wok while being at a safe, far distance from the hot oil. A two handled wok is great for carrying the wok when you’re deep-frying, boiling, or do anything with a large volume of liquid. What’s my preference? Buy a wok with one long handle and a small “helper” handle on the opposite side.

Flat vs Round Bottomed
Ok ok, one last thing (I promise!). There are two different types of bottoms for a wok. There are flat bottomed ones and round bottomed ones. The Chinese do not cook on a completely flat stove - us Americans, however, do. That's why the flat bottomed wok was invented. Though it is a great feature, it still doesn't measure up to the traditional rounded wok. Flat bottomed woks do not heat evenly enough, they make tossing and flipping food a struggle, and they get scratched more easily. "So if flat bottomed woks are that bad, then what the heck am I suppose to do?" you may ask (give or take a few words). Easy, buy a wok ring. They are these metal rings that you simply place on the stove, and they act as a stabilizer for you rounded wok.

Wow, that was a mindful of info wasn't it? Sorry about that! Just remember this: you want to buy a carbon steel, rounded (with a wok ring), one handled (with a helper hander), about 14 inch in diameter wok.

Hopefully I have answered most of your questions about which wok to buy. Stay tuned for part 3, which will be about seasoning and cleaning your wok (trust me, it is very very important!).

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Talk the Talk, Wok the Wok (Part 1)

I am often asked, “What’s a wok?” and “Do I need one anyways?” So, to answer those questions, I will be writing three or four short posts on the subject. My goal is that by the end of these posts, you will have acquired a greater understanding about the wok and be able to finally, TALK THE TALK, and WOK THE WOK!

Ok - after explaining my utterly corny title - let’s begin. In this post I will explain what a wok is and a short blurb about its history.

Hirstory Blurb
Invented roughly 2000 years ago, the wok has become known as the quintessential piece of equipment in Chinese cooking. It’s not hard to figure out why. The wok is a big, deep, round-bottomed, thin metal cooking pan (to me, it always looked like a metal salad bowl with a handle). Its unique design makes it very versatile. It’s perfect for stir-frying, steaming, boiling, deep-frying, and so much more!

Its Good Qualities
The wok is such an efficient cooking tool because it heats up quickly and does not require a lot of oil to cook with. Not only that, the curved shape of the wok helps cooks to stop playing the “chase-the-food-around-the-pan game” and having ingredients go “overboard” when stir-frying and tossing food.

Makes Cooking Healthy & Fast
The characteristic of having to use little oil makes the wok quite the healthy alternative in cooking. Using a wok makes eating healthy – easy! Food turns out less greasy and you feel better eating the things you are. And if you are one of those people who like to do things fast – then the wok is definitely for you! Using a wok saves cooking space (because you really just need to use one pan), cooking, and clean up time.

Hopefully I have answered your questions about what a wok is and if you should buy one (really the choice is yours!). Stayed tuned for my next post, which will be about shopping for the right wok!

Till then!