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The Wonderful Chinese Wok
Valeria Beroiz and Rebecca Hunnisett, The Epoch Times
As the popularity of Chinese cooking continues to grow, cooks around the world are becoming more familiar with traditional Chinese cooking utensils. One of these is the wok, which is the perfect utensil to prepare all kinds of food – from meat and vegetables to seafood and pasta.
The wok has been around for more than 2000 years - it originated around the time of the Han Dynasty, the same time period as Jesus Christ. At that time, the Chinese already knew how to forge metal and make cooking utensils. Their cooking utensils included clay pots, metal pots with three legs and the wok. The wok evolved as an extremely efficient cooking pot that could cook food very quickly over high heat. This was necessary because firewood was in short supply and the intense heat created in the fire didnt last long.
The wok (kuo in Mandarin) is similar to a frying pan, but is much deeper and has a rounded base. Woks are made from steel or cast iron and sometimes aluminium, which is much lighter. Traditionally, woks were made with a small handle on either side made of metal, wood or even porcelain. Nowadays, some woks are made with a long handle like a frying pan and sometimes a smaller helper handle on the opposite side.
One of the characteristics that differentiates the wok from other cooking utensils is that its rounded bottom concentrates intense heat at the centre. This, coupled with the rapid stirring of the food, ensures that the meat or vegetables cook evenly. This method of cooking causes the pores of the food to close quickly, thus maintaining the texture, flavour and nutritional properties of the food.
Cooking in a wok gives Chinese food a distinct flavour and traditional Chinese cooking is considered an art that requires preparation, practice, ability, equilibrium, self-control and a knowledge of the characteristics of each ingredient. There is a certain skill required to extract the qi, or energy, from the wok.
Choosing a wok
If you dont yet own a wok, there are a few things to bear in mind when choosing one. The flat bottomed wok is designed for cooking on electric stoves, but the classic round-bottomed woks is still the best choice, since the design allows heat to be concentrated at the centre, which is necessary for rapid cooking.
If you use a round-bottomed wok, you will also need a wok stand to place under the wok so that it doesnt tip over. Non-stick woks generally arent recommended since the coating isnt suitable for the intense heat required during cooking.
Carbon steel woks are particularly good for cooking on a gas stove and are relatively cheap, although some people prefer the much heaver cast iron woks that retain the heat better.
Seasoning your work
Many manufacturers apply a thick layer of oil to the wok to prevent rust. Remove this by scrubbing with hot water and liquid detergent. If necessary, use a cream cleaner on the outside of the wok. Rinse the wok thoroughly and dry over low heat.
Remove from the heat and pour two tablespoons of cooking oil into the wok. Using a pad of paper towels, wipe the oil over the inside surface. Heat the wok over low heat for about 10 minutes. Repeat this procedure (wipe with oil then heat) several times until all the black residue is removed and the paper towels wipe clean.
Have all ingredients cut and ready to cook. The cooking process is so quick that you wont have time to prepare the food while cooking.
Heat the wok for a few minutes before you add the oil. Flick a few drops of water into the wok to check the temperature – if it sizzles, its hot enough to add oil. Peanut or canola oils are a good choice because of their flavour and high smoking point.
Allow the oil to heat to smoking. Carefully tilt the wok to distribute the oil over the centre and halfway up the sides of the wok.
Add the food in small batches and stir constantly. Hold the wok with one hand and the stirring utensil with the other – tilt and stir constantly for a few minutes until the food is cooked. If you are stir-frying, once the food it cooked, move it away from the centre of the wok to slow down the cooking, but still keep it warm. If you have a draining rack on your wok, place the cooked food on the rack to keep it warm while cooking the rest of the meal.
When you have finished cooking, wash the wok in hot water and dry with paper towels. Place it over low heat so that it dries completely and when cool, wipe the inside surface with a thin layer of cooking oil.
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