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About the Author: Hugh Carpenter, one of America's most popular cooking instructors and writers, teaches at cooking schools throughout North America and at his own school in California's Napa Valley. Teri Sandison is one of the country's best known food photographers. This husband-and-wife team lives in the Napa Valley community of Oakville, California.
Woks are practical, simple, cooking vessels used in China for thousands of years to create a vast range of superb recipes. Compared to frying pans, the sloping, concave sides of a wok require less cooking oil. When given a swish, stir-fry food falls to the lower, hottest part of the wok for quick, even cooking that is difficult to duplicate in other pans. If you lack the type of wok recommended here, choose a heavy, fourteen-inch cast-iron skillet to re-create Wok Fast recipes rather than a poorly designed wok.
Buy the heaviest, fourteen- or sixteen-inch flat-bottom wok you can find, with one long handle and a short second handle on the opposite edge. The best are the heavy steel woks made by Calphalon (about 3 1/2 pounds) and those available at Asian markets and many cookware shops. Other woks that work well are stainless-steel, nonstick, and copper, which are available at gourmet cookware shops. Avoid electric woks, since these never generate the high heat necessary to properly sear ingredients. In addition, avoid woks that have just two short handles (the hand that stabilizes the wok during stir-frying will likely burn) or woks with just one handle (the weight and awkward shape of the pan makes it impossible to slide the food easily out of the wok). Lastly, never buy a miniature wok. These tiny woks, measuring eight to twelve inches in diameter, do not have enough surface area to maintain proper heat, even when cooking small quantities.
Whether stir-frying on a gas or electric stove, always use a flat-bottom wok. Because a larger amount of the pan comes intocontact with the gas or electric heat than in a round-bottom wok, the food cooks more quickly and tastes far superior.
SEASONING, CLEANING, AND STORING YOUR WOK
Calphalon and heavy steel (sometimes called spun steel) woks require a preliminary seasoning.
Seasoning the Wok:
1. Scrub the new wok thoroughly inside and out with hot soapy water. Dry the wok completely.
2. Place the wok over the highest heat. When the wok is hot to the touch, add 1/4 cup cooking oil (peanut, safflower, or soybean oil) to the center.
3. Keep the wok in contact with the high heat. Slowly roll the oil around the sides of the wok. Use a crumpled paper towel held with tongs to make sure every part of the inside surface is coated with oil. Continue rolling the oil around the inside of the wok until it begins to smoke. The inside bottom of a steel wok will pick up a slight blue tint.
4. Remove the wok from the heat. Let it cool completely, then wipe the oil from the wok. With repeated use, the seasoning gradually acquires a beautiful black nonstick luster. It is this black seasoning that contributes a special wok flavor to wok-made dishes.
Cleaning the Wok:
Provided no one scrubs the seasoning off, and the wok is only used for stir-frying, the wok never needs to be seasoned again. To clean the wok, place it in a sink and fill with hot water. After a few minutes, or after the meal, use hot water, a very small amount of dish soap, and a soft sponge to rub off all food particles sticking to the sides. Never scrub the wok with an abrasive pad, since this quickly strips off the seasoning.
Storing the Wok:
Dry the wok over medium heat, then store it in a dependably dry place. Do not oil the inside surface before storage, since this oil eventually turns into a rancid, sticky layer that must be scrubbed off before using the wok for the next stir-fry dish.
Vegetable Cutting Techniques
Don't get trapped by classic Chinese wok theory! According to ancient wok wizards, everything in a dish should be cut to the same shape and size. Food prepared this way does indeed look beautiful but the practice can cause amazingly compulsive cutting techniques. We often combine different-shaped ingredients in the same dish simply to speed preparation.
Here's the most important point: the smaller the food is cut, the quicker it cooks, and the better it's going to taste.
Coring Bell Peppers:
Cut the ends off the pepper. Slice the pepper open and run the knife along the inside, removing the seeds and ribs.
Matchstick Cutting Bell Peppers:
Cut a cored bell pepper into thin strips resembling matchsticks.
Triangle Cutting Bell Peppers:
Cut a cored bell pepper into strips. Cut one end of a strip into a triangle. Cut another end into a triangle. Repeat by cutting the pointed ends into triangles.
Cubing Bell Peppers:
Cut a cored bell pepper into strips. Cut across the strips to make cubes.
Roll Cutting Asparagus or Carrots:
Cut the asparagus or carrot on a sharp diagonal, then roll 1/4 turn toward you and make another sharp diagonal cut. Repeat.
Matchstick Cutting Carrots:
Cut a large carrot on a sharp diagonal into 1/4-inch-wide slices. Overlap the slices and cut into matchstick shaped pieces.
Stringing Snow Peas:
Place a thumb on the snow pea. Snap off the stem end and pull back toward your thumb, removing the fiber on both ridges.
Triangle Cutting Asparagus:
Cut the asparagus on a sharp diagonal, then roll 1/2 turn toward you and make another diagonal cut. Repeat.
Cutting Button Mushrooms:
Cut the mushrooms through stems into slices. To cube, cut the mushrooms in half, turn 90 degrees and cut through stems into 4 wedges.
Diagonal Cutting Green Onions:
Cut the green onions on a sharp diagonal.
Cutting Kernels off Corncobs:
Stand cobs on end and run a knife down the cobs to remove the kernels.
Mincing Ginger and Garlic:
Wash the ginger and trim away any wrinkled skin. Cut ginger crosswise into paper-thin slices. Mince in mini-chopper. Peel the garlic cloves. Mince in mini-chopper.
Cut a zucchini in half lengthwise, then cut each half in half again lengthwise. Place the strips together and cut into cubes.
Roll Cutting Celery and Mature Bok Choy:
Cut the celery or bok choy on a sharp diagonal. Turn the celery or bok choy over, then cut on a sharp diagonal. Return the celery or bok choy to original position and repeat cutting and rotating.
Diamond Cutting Zucchini:
Cut the zucchini into strips. Make a sharp diagonal cut across the strips. Rotate the strips about 60 degrees and cut on a diagonal. Rotate the strips back to their original position and repeat diamond cutting.
Cut the stem end off the cabbage. Shred the end and cut the rest of the cabbage into shred.
Cubing or Shredding Onion:
Cut the ends off the onion, then cut into wedges. Cut across the wedges to make cubes, or cut wedges into shreds.
Excerpted from Wok Fast by Hugh Carpenter and Teri Sandison. Copyright © 2002 by Hugh Carpenter and Teri Sandison. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Posted May 25, 2007
I own no skillets but my 14 inch wok but other than making some bland and uninspired stirfries, I really wasn't using it to its full potential. I got Wok Fast as I wanted a book with a bit of 'general wok theory' as well as simple and easy to follow recipes that tasted good. Wok Fast has more than 18 pages devoted to chosing and seasoning a wok, going over some asian condiments, cutting up vegetables (with lots of photos) and just generally cooking with a wok. They have three pages of marinade and sauce recipes. When the actual stirfry recipes begin, they suggest a sauce, but make it clear that you can use any sauce desired. I have only made one recipe as I just got the book, but I found that it was easy to follow and tasty. If you are looking at getting a start in stirfrying with a wok, I would get this book. There are other books out there but if you only get one book, this is the one to get.
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Posted September 8, 2010
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