I get lots of inquiries 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 a basic introduction of Chinese stir fry theories, whether you need a wok, how to season wok and daily care in this post. The 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
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.
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.
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 the deep-frying process once. Making a spring roll or fried sesame balls sounds 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 first 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 from sticky to the bottom, with the assistance 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 insufficient care, use steel wool to remove all of the rusted layer on the top and repeat the seasoning process once again.
If you use a real Chinese wok, you need to pay more attention to daily care, bear stronger lampblack, and adjust the fire frequently in the process of cooking, but once the partnership is 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.
Hi, I bought some dried Schuan peppers a need to know, do I put them in the spice grinder or use the split pepper? I think the black seeds have been removed. Thanks, kind regards, Ms Helms
If the black seeds have been removed and there are any pink shells, you can blend it with spice grinders or simply use split pepper with stir frying dishes. The whole split pepper and ground peppercorn powder presents different flavors.
Many years ago I learned my lesson with carbon steel Chinese woks. I would buy a wok and it rusts and I end up buying another one. I went to Chinese supplier of woks and he recommended that I use a stainless steel Chinese wok. He showed me how to season it and maintain it. That happened back in 2010.
Today I have two stainless steel Chinese woks, one 14 inches and the other is 18 inches. I have not had any problem .with rust whatsoever. They costed more at that time, but I have not replaced them and in the long run I saved money.
I am glad I made that investment, so should you.
I saw the presentation of the mammafong wok,
I'm interested in buying it.
I saw that you use it on a gas stove, but I have a kitchen with a ceramic top, is it possible to use this wok?
I would appreciate your kind reply.
If you get a ceramic top, you can choose the flat bottom version. I have that version for my ceramic top too.
Just use a wok ring on the ceramic top?
Haha, I never though about adding a wok ring. Will the ring prevent heat transferring?
Don't do that. The heat distribution on ceramic tops works through direct contact with pot/pan/wok. The contact surface for a round bottom wok is way to low even if you add the wok ring. The stove will overheat and either cut the power (if you are lucky) or break which is dangerous.
Do you find the flat bottom version's bottom too small to get enough heat? From the picture, it looks very small. I have a flat bottom wok with a bigger bottom that works quite well but it warped and we have had to take a hammer to it to make it just about usable. We have an induction stove so the contact needs to be very good.
Kay, flat bottom wok is not the best option in terms of heat but it can be used on electric stove. So cooking method might be slightly different. For example, we need to let the oil warmer before stir frying. But it can work for most of recipes for sure.
I have a smooth ceramic stove too, and find the flat bottom woks still do not get hot enough to do actual stir frying. Our old electric coil stove that the ceramic stove replaced also did not get hot enough. I don't think household stoves get as hot as they used to and surely don't get as hot as commercial stoves used in restaurants. I miss the gas stove from my former apartment so much, but I found a compromise. I make a fire on my kettle grill with just wood instead of coals to keep a small flame going instead of smoldering coals like I would for barbecuing. I put the wok ring on the grill grate, and the wok gets hot enough over this fire. A gas grill would probably work too, but I don't have one, some even have a separate burner to use like an outdoor stove. They also sell these portable stoves at camping supply stores that make a flame, and use either cans of butane or propane, but I haven't tried those. I have also seen cast iron in the shape of a flat bottom wok, which if preheated long enough might be hot enough for stir frying, but it will require the same seasoning and care as carbon steel, seems like it would be very very heavy, and may scratch ceramic or induction cooktops. Cheers and good luck cooking!
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I found in the States a good place to find a great wok for a decent price are restaurant supply stores. They use carbon steel a lot in the restaurant industry, but not as much with home chefs. I have an electric stove, but it's pretty popular here to put your wok over your grill outside. I sure miss having a gas stove!