A wok is a versatile round-bottomed cooking vessel, originating from China. The use of the wok is very prevalent in South China (particularly Guangdong Province). It is one of the most common cooking utensils in China and also found in parts of East, South and Southeast Asia, as well as becoming a popular niche cookware in all the world.
Take a Wok on the Wild Side
Woks are used in a range of different Chinese cooking techniques, including stir frying (ingredients are fried in a small amount of very hot oil while being stirred in a wok), steaming, pan frying, deep frying, poaching, boiling, braising, searing, stewing, making soup, smoking and roasting nuts. Wok cooking is done with a long handle called chahn (spatula) or hoak (ladle). The long handles of these utensils allow cooks to work with the food without burning their hands.
The wok’s most distinguishing feature is its shape. Classic woks have a rounded bottom. Hand-hammered woks are sometimes flipped inside out after being shaped, giving the wok a gentle flare to the edge that makes it easier to push food up onto the sides of the wok. Woks sold in western countries are sometimes found with flat bottoms—this makes them more similar to a deep frying pan. The flat bottom allows the wok to be used on an electric stove, where a rounded wok would not be able to fully contact the stove’s heating element. A round bottom wok enables the traditional round spatula or ladle to pick all the food up at the bottom of the wok and toss it around easily; this is difficult with a flat bottom. With a gas hob, or traditional pit stove, the bottom of a round wok can get hotter than a flat wok and so is better for stir frying.
Most woks range from 300 to 360 mm (12 to 14 inches) or more in diameter. Woks of 360 mm (14 in.) (suitable for a family of three or four) are the most common, but home woks can be found as small as 200 mm (8 in.) and as large as 910 mm (36 in.). Smaller woks are typically used for quick cooking techniques at high heat such as stir frying. Large woks over a meter wide are mainly used by restaurants or community kitchens for cooking rice or soup, or for boiling water.
Why a Wok?
You don’t absolutely need a wok to create satisfying Chinese meals. Nonetheless, the bowl-shaped utensil has several advantages – it spreads heat evenly, uses less oil for deep-frying than a traditional deep-fat fryer, and ensures that food tossed during stir-frying lands back in the pan and not on the stove.
So, why a wok? A good wok will make it easier to cook Chinese food!
Wok and Roll
Do you have any great recipes for us to try?
Humbly submitted for your consumption,
—Mee Magnum (“Chop! Chop!”)