What are some tips when cooking with a wok?
I use a wok frequently because it is a great tool.
The first, and obvious, use for a wok is for stir frying. A wok has a lot of surface area for cooking, so foods cook evenly and quickly. Its shape is also useful for creating a sauce in the center of the pot without having to remove the food being cooked. Woks can also be easily scaled up or down to accommodate large or small batches of food.
Woks are also meant to be used in conjunction with a bamboo steamer.
A wok is a versatile piece of kitchen equipment. Its wide and shallow construction gives it flexibility to be used in various ways. Traditionally, a wok has been made of metal with a wood handle. There are non-stick woks as well. I own one of each kind and use them in the following ways:
Chinese stir-fry: A wok (the metal kind) was perhaps really invented for stir-frying. The metal quickly distributes the heat across the surface and transfers it to the ingredients evenly. Its curved sides enable one to put the cooked ingredients up and around while the next batch cooks in the center.
Curries: A wok can be used to make curries, Indian and Thai. Its wide open top makes for easier cooking. A wok is similar to its Indian cousin called "karahi".
Deep frying: Deep frying is easy with a wok, though one may want a smaller version for this purpose.
Really, a wok is only limited by a cook's ability to use it. It is that versatile.
Some pointers on using a Wok while cooking:
- Use a pre-seasoned Wok (Season a New Wok)
- Get the Wok really hot, but do not put oil in until you are ready to add ingredients
- Use a high smoke point fat/oil (butter and olive oil are terrible; you are better off using Canola Oil or Peanut Oil)
- Make sure your ingredients are dry (wet produce can create steam, which is not what you want)
- Cook quickly! Stir fry is about high heat cooking, do not turn down the heat under any circumstances.
- Do not overload your Wok! You should only cook about a pound of food (.6kg) at a time.
- Enjoy your food!
These are some pretty basic pointers on using a Wok from my experience cooking in them.
As others have said, woks are very versatile-you can steam, deep fry, stir fry, and boil all in one vessel.
The reason I'll choose my wok over a regular western pot or pan time after time is for stir-frying Chinese vegetable dishes, which tend to feature leafy greens that start off pretty large in volume but cook down to almost nothing. They need to be flash-cooked, too, in order to retain their crispness, and I haven't found a western pan that's big enough to deal with getting an entire bunch of on-choy or a-choy done in one fell swoop. Same goes for fried rice for a whole family.
So: good for lots of methods, but great for big amounts of food.
Have fun cooking!
The tips Danny posted are all good, and I can only add a few things.
Prepare ahead. Cut all the ingredients in bite sized pieces. Have your sauces and anything like corn starch, salt and sugar ready. In French it's known as mis-en-place, not sure of the chinese word for it.
Look for videos of Yan Can Cook TV shows. There are 2 Yans, not sure if they are related or not but both show both authentic chinese recipes and give you great tips and ideas on cooking with the wok and steamer and using chinese cleavers and other chinese utensils.
Start with stuff you like and make them before experimenting too much. Have fun and enjoy.
First, make sure it is clean and dry. Put it over medium-high to high heat, preferably an open flame, and let it get really hot. (Not like turning red hot, just hot.) Add a couple of teaspoons of a neutral oil with a high smoking point, like canola, peanut, or soybean. Swirl the oil so it evenly coats most of the wok. When the oil is shimmering but not quite smoking, toss in your ingredients and stir frequently, but not too frequently. Serve and enjoy!