Chinese wok cooking is one of the most time efficient and healthiest cooking methods in the world. The food is cooked at very high temperatures, meaning it is not only cooked quickly but in a way that does not cause the valuable nutrients to be lost as they are during other, longer cooking procedures. There are, however, a number of factors and procedures that you have to account for if Chinese wok cooking is to be achieved to best effect.
Choosing a wok
Woks are available in many different types and price ranges. Be sure that you buy a quality wok, as cheaper varieties can often be coated with substandard nonstick chemicals which will decay very quickly, causing the surface of the wok to corrode. This can not only damage the wok but contaminate the food.
Seasoning a wok
After you purchase a new wok, it is necessary to season it before you use it for the first time. Begin by washing the wok very well in hot soapy water, rinsing well and drying by putting it on a high heat on your stove. Turn off the heat and allow the wok to cool before adding a little peanut or sesame oil and using a piece of kitchen paper to evenly coat the internal surface. Put the wok on to the highest heat possible until the surface has significantly darkened. Be aware that a lot of smoke will be generated during this process so ensure your kitchen is well ventilated. Let the wok cool before storing.
Preparing food for cooking in a wok
Different types of food will require different cooking times in a wok but due to the nature of the cooking process, similar foodstuffs must be chopped to a uniform size to ensure they cook evenly. This applies to both vegetables and meat. There is also a technique the Chinese use — prior to cooking — when stir frying delicate pieces of meat like chicken. It is called velveting. An egg white is mixed to a paste with a teaspoon of corn starch and some salt before the diced chicken is dredged through the paste and refrigerated for 20 minutes. The chicken is then well drained before being stir fried and will remain moist and succulent when done.
Cooking food in a wok
The dry wok should first be brought up to a very high heat. Appropriate oil should then be added and brought up to heat. Sunflower, vegetable, or peanut oil all have high smoking points and work very well for wok cooking. Olive oil has a low smoking (burning) point and should never be used in a wok. The food should be added in reasonably small portions to cook quickly and evenly rather than steam and cook at too low a temperature. It should be kept moving around the wok at all times with a spatula or appropriate spoon. Shaking the wok above the heat source is fine on super hot commercial fire burners but can cause the temperature to drop and the food to cook unevenly on home stove tops.
Caring for a wok
Woks are not cooking implements which should be cleaned in dishwashers or by using hot, soapy liquid. They should be washed thoroughly after use in very hot water only, dried and rubbed lightly with oil to prevent corrosion.
A decent wok will last for many years and provide countless quality, healthy and tasty meals for all the family, provided it is cared for and used appropriately. Chinese cooking may be very different from the techniques you are used to, but a little bit of study and practice can pay great dividends in the long term.