Two years ago, my girlfriend’s mother bought me a wok and all the necessary utensils, such as the shovel-like Chinese metal spatula, from a website blamelessly named The Wok Shop. Because of the importance of a well-developed patina, it’s easy to become attached to a wok. No, not a wok—YOUR wok. Since that glorious day when I removed my brand-new wok—still coated in its factory oils—from its box, my passion and my patina have been excitedly evolving.
The wok is the most common cooking device in East and Southeast Asia. It’s easy to see why. It has seemingly endless capabilities; you can steam, stew, sear, boil, braise, poach, deep fry, pan fry, and stir-fry, all in a wok. But the wok’s true vocation is the alchemic, seemingly magical stir-fry.
Stir-frying enhances ingredients in a way that no other method can. Their textures are augmented. Their flavors are heightened through a distinct process of caramelization. Vegetables become glorious and more flavorful than ever before. Through browning, meats become succulent, plump and divine. (And then there’s velveting, an art, a science, a delicate technique I have yet to master, but it’s worth the efforts.)
Let the meats and vegetables be combined and “married,” instead of meeting each other for the first time when served on the table in their respective confirmed bachelorhood and unspoiled virginity, and you will find that each has a fuller personality than you have ever dreamed of.
I love that quotation. If that doesn’t get you in the mood to wok it out, I don’t know what will.
The Chinese word for “stir-fry” is chau in Cantonese. But to chau is not actually a stirring motion. It’s more of a flipping, or scooping motion that’s performed continuously, making sure that each bite-sized ingredient spends the same amount of time in the well of the wok, producing a uniform mixture.
The tools you’ll use while stir-frying will seem familiar: ladles, spatulas, knives, and a wok skimmer. The utensils are slightly different than their western counterparts in shape, size, and function. For example, the wok ladle, or hoak, is longer than most ladles we’re familiar with. They range from 14 to 18 inches long and have a wooden handle with a deep, round bowl. Home cooks sometimes use the ladle to serve soups and sauces from the wok, but master chefs use their ladles in a different way, one that requires a level of coordination and expertise that only comes with time and practice. As an expert wok chef stir-fries, she or he uses the hoak to push the food away from the chef while simultaneously using the other hand to shake the wok in a circular motion, continually tossing the mixture.
Next time, I’ll explain the process of cleaning, seasoning, and properly maintaining your precious wok. Then, one day, we’ll get to some recipes.
Go buy a wok! www.wokshop.com