Become a Better Cook! This Just Maika Cooking: Cook’s Notebook section will focus on everything related to using a wok connected to all my recipe posts, updated frequently.
- 8 Things to Know about Wok Cooking
- 1. What is a Wok?
- 2. Versatile Cooking Needs
- 3. Healthy Quick Cooking
- 4. Stir-Frying Tip
- Recommended Literature on Wok Cooking
- 5. Oils Used in Stir-Frying
- 6. Like Cast-Iron Pans, Woks Add Flavor
- 7. Wok Varieties
- Recommended Woks
- 8. Wok Size Matters
- Accessories I’ve Bought for Wok Cooking
- 9. How to Well Ventilate Your Kitchen When Using a Wok
- Overview Video: Cooking a Recipe with a Wok
- Recipes for the Wok
- Cook's Notebook: Become a Better Cook!
8 Things to Know about Wok Cooking
1. What is a Wok?
Woks are versatile cookware that has been essential to Chinese open-flame cooking for centuries. For one thing, they have a dome shape with the bottom either curved or flat. The rounded bottom and curved sides also help retain flavor and enable even heat distribution around the entire pan.
2. Versatile Cooking Needs
Chefs to home cooks are still finding new ways to incorporate them into recipes. For example, they are a favorite for stir-frying vegetables and deep-frying battered meats and fish. In addition, woks offer the versatility needed in a busy lifestyle and are great for home cooks.
Woks are used to stir fry and steam, boil, deep fry, and pan fry foods. Furthermore, because a wok is multifunctional, it means less cleanup since there's no need for multiple containers and utensils.
3. Healthy Quick Cooking
Because woks use high heat and little oil for stir-frying, vegetables are cooked to their optimum level quickly, keeping them crisp with their bright colors. This cooking style also relies heavily on fresh ingredients and bold flavors, so having the right equipment is vital to achieving perfectly balanced dishes. Thus helping create healthy cooking habits involving cooking more vegetables with less oil.
4. Stir-Frying Tip
When stir-frying, it is essential to:
- Uniform cut your vegetables and meat to ensure even cooking.
- Some vegetables may require blanching before stir-frying. Blanching is when steamed or boiled vegetables are placed in an ice bath (bowl of ice with water) to stop cooking and preserve their bright colors.
- Meats should be sliced thin for quick cooking.
- Have all of your ingredients prepped and ready to go in addition to being close by; since it is a speedy process on high heat, you don't want your sauce to dry out or your ingredients to burn.
- Ingredients for the sauce should be made ahead of time by combing the ingredients in a bowl or measuring cup and whisking with/without the cornstarch. This way, the sauce doesn’t dry out at the end when added, and the vegetables don’t overcook. For example, some Chinese dishes have cornstarch in the sauce; this sauce is added at the end, which will bubble up and thicken quickly.
- However, some Asian dishes, such as some Thai meals, do not use cornstarch. Psst…and that’s why you need a spoon and fork and don’t use chopsticks to eat Thai dishes!
- Use an oil with a high smoke point; I use avocado oil since it has an excellent high smoke point.
Recommended Literature on Wok Cooking
5. Oils Used in Stir-Frying
I usually use avocado oil for stirfrying due to its high smoke point and neutral taste; it won’t change the dish's flavor. Or you can use canola oil or peanut oil. Why is sesame not a stir-frying oil? Because toasted sesame oil is added at the end of a cooked dish to add a finishing taste.
Additionally, don’t use olive oil, especially extra virgin olive oil, due to its low smoke point. For example, it cannot tolerate high-heat cooking, eventually causing smoking, and it has a distinct flavor that can overpower your dish.
6. Like Cast-Iron Pans, Woks Add Flavor
In Cantonese cooking, woks give a specific flavor to food, termed “Wok Hei,” translating to “air of the wok,” where the open flame interacts with the food, like grilled or broiled dishes. Even when I use it on my electric stove top, I still get the wok flavor compared to a non-stick frying pan because of the high heat, searing, and quick cooking process. When making stir-fries as well, I especially use my wok or cast-iron pan to give it that unique flavor.
7. Wok Varieties
I use a carbon steel wok, but I also own a cast iron wok. For instance, the cast iron wok is much heavier, providing better induction and an even distribution of heat, which is favorable. But the carbon steel wok is light in weight, great for stir-frying and deep pan frying, and doesn’t rust. You might see non-stick-coated woks, which are okay but can’t be used on high heat.
All woks can be non-stick; you have to season your wok for this to happen. Each type of wok also has instructions, usually with the pan you buy. The procedure usually involves heating your pan on high heat and adding oil in a repeated process called seasoning, similar to cast iron pans. Some change color when seasoned, which is expected.
8. Wok Size Matters
I have a large, heavy cast iron wok, which is excellent when making big serving-size recipes and a great show for guests on my grill stove. But I use a smaller, more personal 12-inch carbon steel wok on my stove top since it’s lightweight and small enough to store without worrying about rusting.
So it depends on what you plan to use your wok for. Some woks can also be used for braised meats, roasts, etc. Additionally, I suggest using a cast iron wok if you plan to make recipes involving these techniques.
Also, remember not to overcrowd your wok, whatever size you have when stir-frying; you will notice that I usually stir-fry one to two items at a time because you don’t want to end up steaming your ingredients.
How does Sweet and Spicy Gochujang Chicken and Broccoli Stir-Fry sound?
Accessories I’ve Bought for Wok Cooking
9. How to Well Ventilate Your Kitchen When Using a Wok
- High temperatures with oils may create some smoke:
- Open kitchen windows and turn on the stove or ceiling fan.
- Prepare the rest of the house by closing other rooms’ doors to prevent smoky or intense food smells from resinating.
- If the recipe calls for certain chili peppers, the pepper oils may be released into the air; an open window can help that air escape.
- Take it outside: Woks are perfect for open-flame cooking. If you have a grill with a burner, you can try making my recipes that use a wok outside using your wok or cast-iron pan.