I get lots of inquires about the wok for Chinese stir frying and this is just the right opportunity to introduce some basic theories and tips for a success Chinese stir frying dish. I will include basic introduction of Chinese stir fry theories, whether you need a wok, how to season wok and daily care in this post. Product and post is sponsored by MammaFong, a fantastic cook tool brand but I give my true opinions.
Understand Chinese stir frying: 炒
Understanding the theory of Chinese stir frying is one of the key steps that can make you use the wok well. If you ask a master chef from Chinese cuisine, what’s the most important skill, the answer might include two rules. The first one is mastering cutting and the second one is mastering fire. Comparing with other cooking method like stew, simmering, and roasting, stir-frying is a later invented one along with the development of the iron production. However, it got popularity very quickly and has become the most frequently used cooking method in daily Chinese kitchen. The Chinese character “炒” indicates a very lovely and interesting fact about the Chinese stir frying method. The left part is “火” means fire and the right part “少”means small amounts (may be the amount of oil or possibly also the amount of ingredients each time). So basically Chinese stir frying process is a process of frying meat or vegetables with a smaller amount of oil ((comparing with deep-frying“炸”)) and a smaller amount of ingredients each time with a properly controlled fire until the dish is finished. Oil is the key heating medium which can bring higher temperature (over 200 degree) and further shorten the cooking time. Shorter cooking time can maintain the crunchy and soft texture and lovely color especially from vegetables. In addition, high temperature promotes the chemical reaction of seasonings like soy sauce and thus bring more flavors. Since stir frying requires the ingredients be cooked very quickly, small and even cutting is the basic foundation. That’s why Chinese stir frying emphasis cutting and fire so much.
A qualified stir frying wok
In addition to the personal capacity of using knives and mastering fire, wok, the stir frying tool, plays an extremely important role. When a Chinese chef makes the stir frying dish, the stove always provides a very stronger and continuous fire. The chef places the wok on stove, and then the wok becomes very hot quickly. If he removes the wok away from fire when reaching the seasonings and ingredients, the heating always stops immediately. That’s the best demonstration of controlling fire. In home kitchen, we need to adjust the fire frequently in the stir frying process. Chinese stir frying requires an accurate and quick control of fire namely quick heat transfer to reach a high temperature environment and sensitive response to the powder of fire. Thus there are several rules of a real Chinese stir fry wok.
- Light and thin, can be hold and use by one hand. The thickness also influence the heat transfer capacity.
- Excellent heat conduction, reach high temperature in very short time.
- Low heat storage, sensitive to fire powder and stop heating immediately if the wok is removed from fire. Cast iron tool get very great heat storage capacity and thus better for beginners and stewed dishes.
With such a wok, the stir frying process can be finished within a very short time without over heating the ingredients because of the interval of adding seasonings. That's the "火候" (means appropriate heating) in Chinese cooking.
Need a wok or not
1. Although wok looks quite cool and fancy in the hand of a chef, it is not friendly to beginners. Woks which are lack of care rust very quickly and presents a threaten to health. So you need basic cooking experience about Chinese stir-frying and how to use wok.
2.Wok usually creates stronger greasy lampblack, so a strong kitchen ventilator must be needed. And a relatively closed stir frying environment can help to prevent the fume attach to the surface of other part of the kitchen.
3.Wok need high fire, which is the most important condition. So make sure your stove has an over 4.5kw fire. Otherwise, the temperature of the drops very quickly after adding the ingredients and thus turn stir-frying into something like stewing.
4.Wok is the right tool for Chinese stir-frying dishes with the most authentic flavor and it is not the best option for other cooking method so if you don’t pursue the authentic stir frying flavors, wok is not necessary. Once decided to work with a wok, here are some of the tips of choosing a wok
- Choose a light and thin one. Weight is extremely even you don’t using Chinese tossing technique. It influences the heat transfer too.
- Choose a nicely shaped one. Well shaped wok has a very lovely duck bottom which can provide strong support of the quick movement of the ingredients.
- Choose carbon steel wok (I get 3 woks, all made from carbon steel). It heats up most quickly comparing with cast iron wok and stainless steel. And most importantly , light.
There is a recommended product from Mammafong. A classic Chinese wok producer who are devoted to bringing us traditional Chinese stir fry wok, ensuring customers can create authentic and traditional Chinese flavor. Their high quality and durable carbon steel wok has excellent performance from the weight to shape.
How to season a wok
1.Use an abrasive paper to polish the edges and rough parts.
Wash the dirt layer with cleanser essence. And clean completely with water and drain completely. Remember drying it completely, otherwise it gets watermarks.
Place the wok over fire and start to heat. The wok turns red firstly and then presents a mysterious blue (a combined color of ferric oxide). It is not harmful to health but can protect the wok from rusting. Then wait until the wok cool down and then wash again with cleanser essence with soft cloth or sponge . Drain completely.
Prepare a pork skin with fat and 3 slices of larger ginger piece. Or you can use other animal fat. Heat over slowest fire and rub every part of the wok with the pork rind.
Then wash the wok with warm water. Drain completely with cloth and we are done with the wok seasoning.
This beautiful blue layer isolates the wok from air and further prevent rusting. In addition, it isolates the ingredients from the iron too, so consequently prevents flavor influence and ingredient color change.
How to use Daily Care
- Further care is needed for newly seasoned wok. At the very beginning of usage, I recommend using the wok for deep-frying process once. Making a spring roll or fried sesame balls sound quite acceptable. Or at least start with neutral dishes with less starch, avoid making strong acid or alkaline dishes. After 20 to 30 times of using, the wok will turn black completely, then you can use it just as a wok with good capacity.
- Heat wok firstly each time before using. According to "Leidenfrost effect" in which a liquid, close to a surface that is significantly hotter than the liquid's boiling point produces an insulating vapor layer that keeps the liquid from boiling rapidly. Because of this 'repulsive force', a droplet hovers over the surface rather than making physical contact with the hot surface. Heating wok is the main step of preventing the ingredients sticky to the bottom, with the assist of the naturally seasoned layer on the surface of the wok.
- The wok seasons naturally each time in later use. So don’t use steel wool to break the naturally formed layer. Each time after using, use hot water to remove the left on the wok and then dry with a soft cloth. If you feel the wok is too dirty or greasy, use soft cleaner agent to remove the oil and dry the wok completely.
- If the wok is rusted due to the insufficient care, use steel wool to remove all of the rusted layer on the top and repeat the season process once again.
If you use a real Chinese wok, you need to pay more attention to daily care, bear stronger lampblack, adjust the fire frequently in the process of cooking, but once partnership managed, it gives better flavors of Chinese stir frying dishes, a longer partner time since a well cared wok can be used for years and a much healthier and reassuring surface. Enjoy the wok time.