Chasing the Wok
December 31st, 2011 - By Lari Robling
Last week, Grace Young, author of Stir-Frying to the Sky’s Edge took us to buy condiments and vegetables at a Philadelphia Asian market. Next up, we buy a wok and cook a delicious dish. But, you’ll be surprised where we found the perfect wok.
WATCH GRACE YOUNG STIR-FRY YAU CHOI:
[vimeo width="640" height="450"]http://vimeo.com/23643947[/vimeo]
Maiken Scott spoke with Grace Young In 2005 about her experience sharing family recipes in her book The Breath of a Wok.
Last week, when Grace Young, author of Stir-Frying to the Sky’s Edge, took me shopping in an Asian market we found great Chinese greens and condiments. But when it came to buying a wok, we found nothing in Chinatown and the big Asian box store only had the inferior non-stick variety. “For over 2,000 years the Chinese have used the traditional cast iron or carbon steel wok, this art of wok cooking is being lost.”
So off we went to Fantes, a cookware store in the ITALIAN market mind you, in search of the flat bottom, carbon steel wok Grace says is a must for stir-fry. “I just have to pull it down, let me reach for it, they have them with the wooden handle, the long wooden handle and the small helper handle which is what I prefer.” Grace also liked the gauge or thickness of the steel because it gets REALLY hot and holds the heat. How to test for the gauge? “You take your hands and you press on both sides of the wok to try and squeeze in, and nothing is budging here. So sometimes, when you’re in Chinatown, when you do find the carbon steel woks they are really, really cheap, and when you press in they completely flex like you’re Superwoman.”
You don’t need much else she says, a lid is handy for braising, steaming or boiling but all you really need is a good spatula. “The whole point of stirfrying is that the heat is very intense on the bottom of the pan and that with each scoop of the wok the food is going up and down this beautiful tumble which will cook everything to perfection. So, these spatulas are quite cook if you can find them, I actually recommend a flexible pancake spatula because that helps you get into the sides of the wok.”
Back in my kitchen we give the wok a good cleaning with soap and a steel pad to remove the manufacturers coating. That’s the last you’ll use anything other than sponge for cleaning, because the idea is to build up a patina in your pan over time, “it will look like you made a giant mistake. It will look like you ruined the pan, it will look very muddled and discolored for quite a while. Depending on how long and how often you cook, the wok will eventually turns sort of like a light tea color and then it deepens in time and eventually it will turn this beautiful black ebony color.”
Finally!! It’s time to cook. “I’m going to heat the wok and then I’m going to test the wok with water to see whether or not its hot enough. I flick a drop of water into the wok, and the moment it evaporates within a second it is ready to go. Then I swirl in oil, it has to be a high smoking point oil, such as peanut, grapeseed, canola. About 2 tablespoons of oil, then I’m going to add the aromatic, in this case it’s minced garlic. And I just stir-fry that 10 seconds or so, just until the fragrance of the garlic comes out, and then I add the yau choi. I stir-fry that 2 minutes or so, just until the leaves go limp, and then I swirl in the oyster sauce and the fish sauce and stir-fry another minute. Add a little pepper and that’s it.”
I wish you could smell this, it’s fabulous and healthy.
CHECK OUT OUR JOURNEY TO FIND THE PERFECT WOK: