Cooking in a wok, it’s not a scary as you think.
There is something mesmerizing about cooking in a wok, the jet engine roar of the burner, the food flying through the air, the smoke rising like a campfire, but is it hard to do at home? Not really. Here are 5 tips to get you on the path to making your next dinner in a wok.
The first thing you need to do is not use a wok in your house. Home stoves just don’t get hot enough. You can buy a propane turkey fryer burner for under $100 that will be more than enough heat to get great wok hei (breath of the wok), that unassuming flavor that sets wok cooking apart from sautéing.
Cooking in a wok is about having the metal wok hot enough so that everything dances. You know when you put water in a really hot pan and the water just seems to hover like a cloud? That’s how hot you want your wok.
Second, get a good wok. This doesn’t’ mean that $300 hand hammered wok from a local metal smith. I ran a busy Asian restaurant for 10 years and we used $30 woks. In the restaurant we used woks with a long wooden handle, also called a mandarin wok. For cooking meals for 2-4 people these are the best. If you are cooking for large groups of people, then get a two handled Cantonese wok.
The only other tools you will need are a wok spoon and a wok ladle, both of which you can find for around $10 each.
Third, stir frying is fast, so get everything you are going to need to make your dish ready. Cut your vegetables in different sizes so they cook quickly and evenly. You don’t want to cut carrots thick because they take a while to cook and you will have burnt raw carrots, both of which are not delicious.
Just like you don’t want to cut mushrooms to small because they will burn. It’s ok to have vegetables with different textures, some crispy and crunchy like bell peppers with some char on the skin, and onions that are caramelized and smoky.
Fourth, Keep your sauces to a minimum. Have you ever ordered Take out Chinese food and when you eat it the top half is great because it just has a thin layer of sauce, you can taste everything, and then you get to the bottom of the container and suddenly you are eating soggy broccoli soup, yeah, we don’t want that. So when you are cooking, just add more sauce or oil as needed. You want just enough oil in your wok to have a thin layer coated on the wok (it should be smoking when you add it to the wok). And the sauces should just coat the stir fry to add to the dish, not make wok soup.
Fifth, practice. It’s seems unnatural at first to cook over a jet engine in a piece of smoking metal. It went against everything that I was taught as a chef, but it works, and works well. Don’t be afraid to make a mess at first (another advantage to cooking outside is the clean up is way less). But when you do make that stir fry that is damn near perfect, it’s worth it.
So sit back, watch some videos, practice and have fun.
Here’s a link to a video I made on how to make fried rice: