Stir-frying is a Chinese cooking method, developed to prepare food in areas where fuel was scarce. The wok is a wide thin metal pot, which heats quickly and evenly, so that food can be cooked quickly over a high heat. It is quick, simple and retains the freshness, texture, flavour and goodness of the food being cooked.
Woks come in a variety of shapes, sizes and materials. If you have a gas stove, all you need is a traditional thin carbon steel wok available cheaply in Chinatown. These woks need to be ‘seasoned’ before use. Wash well in warm soapy water and dry thoroughly. Heat the wok, add 2 tablespoons of oil and wipe it all over the inside of the wok with paper towel. Continue to heat the wok for 10-15 minutes. Wipe out with paper towel, cool and repeat the process. The wok is now ready to use. After using the wok, wash, place over heat for a few minutes to dry thoroughly, then wipe the inside surface with a little oil to prevent rusting.
Other types of woks are:
- Cast iron: these should also be seasoned before use, dried over heat after washing and stored with a thin film of oil. They are slower to come up to temperature than a traditional wok and hold their temperature longer once removed from the heat source.
- Stainless steel: don’t need seasoning or coating in oil for storage.
- Non-stick: don’t need seasoning or coating in oil for storage.
- Flat bottom for electric stoves.
- Electric woks: don’t need seasoning or coating in oil for storage; most now have heating coils around the sides to create the same effect as a thin metal wok over a flame.
Charn is the metal, shovel-like utensil used for tossing ingredients in a wok. They should be used in traditional, cast iron and stainless steel woks, but a flat wooden spatula is best in woks with non-stick surfaces to protect the non-stick finish.
Spider is the flat mesh strainer on a wooden handle, used to scoop ingredients out of oil when frying in a wok.
Tips for Successful Stir-frying:
- The key is to be organised – have all the ingredients prepared and in small bowls beside the wok ready to be added; combine things that are to be added at the same time (such as sauce ingredients).
- Cut all seafood, meat and vegetables into bite-sized pieces.
- The wok must be hot, it should sizzle when the food is added. The Chinese talk about ‘wok hei’, the breath of the wok, which is the smoky flavour imparted to the food from a really hot wok. The food must fry, not stew, so if cooking a large quantity, cook in batches so that the wok stays hot.
- As the wok is hot, it is important to keep the food moving so it doesn’t burn – use the charn to lift the ingredients up allowing other ingredients to come into contact with the surface of the wok. Remember the food will cook by coming into contact with the sides as well as the base of the wok.
- Food continues to cook in its residual heat once removed from the wok, so don’t overcook the food and serve it immediately.