There’s nothing quite like the crackle of fresh ingredients on a sizzling hot wok. No matter what combination of ingredients you throw in the wok, you know you’re in for a flavorful dish. One of the great things about cooking with woks is that they bring out and conserve the flavor of just about anything you throw in. But besides making your perfect everyday stir-fry, your wok is capable of a lot more. Deep frying, poaching, steaming, smoking and searing are just among the many uses of a regular cast iron or carbon steel wok. And that’s probably why it’s been used in Asian cooking for thousands of years.
So if you’re just an everyday guy or gal trying to make the perfect dinner in a wok for the first time, how do you get started? We’re glad you asked:
- Break in Your Wok
If you just purchased your wok and are using it for the first time, the first thing you have to do is break it in or “season” it. There are many ways to do this and it really comes down to preference, but a basic way that will get the job done is to begin by scrubbing your wok with liquid soap, water and a stainless steel scrubber.
This process removes the coating of the wok, which will allow for better and more thorough cooking in the future. Rinse and dry thoroughly then place on high heat to finish the drying process. Once your wok starts to change color, add a drop of water, if it vaporizes quickly, it’s time to finish the seasoning process. Add a couple tablespoons of oil that can withstand high heats such as sesame oil or peanut oil. Chop up one bunch of scallions and a ½ cup of ginger and toss and press the vegetables around the wok making sure you’ve coated the entire wok. Do this for about 15 minutes and discard the vegetables. Once again heat the wok until it’s dry, after this it’s ready to use!
If you’ve cooked with a wok before you know you have to work very quickly. Because you’re working with such high heat, everything will cook fast and absorb the flavors around it without much time to spare. A key preparation technique when cooking with a wok is organization. Cut everything beforehand and have it near your wok ready to go because once you start, there’s no going back!
- Ready to Wok and Roll
The first ingredients you always want to begin with after your oil are the aromatics, or those that are going to give your dish its flavor by permeating the oil. These include items such as chilies, garlic, onions, etc. Your proteins and hardier ingredients will follow. Continue adding ingredients according to length of time it takes to cook each.
Remember, because everything cooks so quickly, you want to be sure to incorporate the items that cook the quickest (i.e. some vegetables including tomatoes, leafy greens, mushrooms, etc.) last.