So chances are if you are reading this post, you are wanting to know and learn more about how to cook with a wok. You should! A wok is a fun way to cook and the pan itself can be used to cook many dishes, many different ways! After reading this post you will have a better all around knowledge on the wok before you dive into cooking. Today you will learn:
What is a wok?
Different types of woks
Different sizes of woks
Types of oil to use
As always if you have any questions or comments as we go along, feel free to leave them below or feel free to send me a message. I would love to help you! I hope that you can get some good knowledge out of this post today!
What is a wok?
A wok is a type of pan that is used in Asian cuisine. The origin of the wok comes from China, where wok translates roughly to bowl shaped pan. A wok can have many uses in cooking; everything from stir-frying a dish, to steaming, to stewing, searing, braising, or deep frying even. The unique shape of a wok allows for food to cook quickly at the base where the pan sits straight onto the heat, while the sides heat evenly, but allow for a slower cooking process. This can allow you to cook things that take a while at the bottom, while gently cooking things on the side. The shape of the pan also allows stir-frying, a cooking technique that involves quickly and continuously moving ingredients from side to side in order to fry the food quickly with a small amount of oil and high heat.
Different types of woks:
Like many other kinds of pans, there are many kinds of woks as well. Wok material can range from your standard uncoated carbon steel, to non stick, to a heavy cast iron, even to stainless steel! Each type of pan is going to require you to cook differently and take care of the pan itself differently, in terms of cleaning. Regardless of what kind of wok you buy, you will want to make sure that you do your research. A non stick can be cooked on high heat with your burner, while a stainless steel needs to be cooked at a lower temperature with your burner, because the metal heats up quicker. If you were to cook on high heat with a stainless steel, it would ruin the pan. So do that research!
If you are just starting off learning to cook with a wok, I personally suggest to sticking with your basic carbon steel or a non-stick pan. Both are beginner friendly and are reasonable priced. A $20.00 wok is perfectly ok to work with and you can find woks at any of your basic stores such as Walmart, Target, and even grocery stores. Stores like TJ Maxx, Marshalls, and Home Goods are good stores to find higher end woks at a cheaper price as well. My pan is from TJ Maxx, it is non stick, was reasonably priced [around $25.00] and I have been using it for over a decade! It still is good as new and I have yet to experience a single issue with it over time.
Different sizes of woks:
A smaller wok, a bigger wok… what is the best size wok to purchase? There are a few things you need to ask yourself when deciding what size wok you want to purchase. First thing that you want to figure out is how many people are you cooking for. Is it just yourself? Just you and your significant other? Are you a family of four, six, ten? Once you have figured out how many people you are cooking for, the next question to ask yourself is how many servings of food do you want to cook? It may just be you and your significant other, but do you want to cook enough food to take for lunch tomorrow? You may be a family of four, but do you need leftovers for yourself for work and for your kids when they come home from school? This is a very important thing to think about, because while you may be a family of four, you need a wok to be able to serve eight. While you may just be a couple, you need a wok that creates four servings.
Your standard size home wok has a 12 inch diameter. A 12 inch diameter wok, in my experience can create 4 servings. I would say depending on how many servings you need I would give or take 3 inches of pan size per serving. This means for 2 servings [feeding 2 people or just yourself and a days worth of leftovers] you will need at least a 6 inch pan. For a serving of six [remember 1 serving = 1 person*adult*] you will need to bump yourself up to a 18 inch pan. If you have smaller children under their teenage years I would count them as half serving size wise, but regardless it would be better to round up the pan diameter. You may be looking at these pans in the store going “Shauna, what the heck? These pans look huge for the amount of servings you said you can get from it.” When you cook asian food, especially when stir frying you need a lot of open pan space to fry the foods at a high heat. The more food you place in the wok, the more crowding you create, which results in a less flavorful and soggy dish and no one wants that! So while these pans are big, it is simply because you need that empty surface space.
Traditionally, cooking with a wok requires you to cook on very high heat. The average home kitchen however was not created to really cook with a wok on high heat. Out of personal experience over the years, for us there is no other way than to cook on high heat with our wok, if we want that authentic and traditional look, feel, and taste to our food.
So… If home kitchens aren’t really made for cooking with a wok, but you still want to… what does that mean? It means a mess. That is ok though! Messes can be cleaned up!
I want to be real with you. Cooking with a wok is going to splatter oil all over your stove top, it may get on surrounding cabinets and backsplashes even. While it may be messy and a pain, personally taking 10 minutes after to clean everything really isn’t a big deal. Cooking Asian food at home can be rewarding, but in all honesty it is healthier and can be cheaper as well. It makes for a fun date night, a fun night for your kids sleepovers, or even a great meal for a birthday.
I do want to also mention that usually when cooking with a wok in your home, if you happen to have a fire alarm near your kitchen… try to be prepared for it to go off. Cooking with that high of heat, there is bound to be some smoking or steaming [usually from the meat fat rendering.] I have set the fire alarm off many times in the past and I know I will in the near future cooking. It doesn’t mean that your home smokes up or anything like that but when cooking Asian food you will want to make sure you have proper ventilation. This means turning on fans, your stove/range fan, microwave fan, and opening windows.
As with any cooking, you will want to make sure any animals and children are away from the kitchen. Especially when cooking with a wok. The last thing you want is for your little one[s] to get burned from oil splattering. You will also want to make sure the little ones are out of the kitchen so that you can cook uninterrupted. Cooking with a wok requires you to continuously move food around the pan quickly and constantly. Letting food sit, especially when you introduce sauces… even for a minute can result in your dish being ruined because something burned.
Types of oil to use:
There are many oils in the world of cooking. Everything from coconut oil, avocado oil, sunflower oil, sesame oil, to the more traditional canola and vegetable oil. What oil do you want to use when it comes to stir-frying you food though? While everyone has a preference, you will want to stick to an oil that can handle a very high temperature. Some oils when tossed into a hot pan will smoke instantaneously, resulting in a possible fire hazard. Peanut oil is great to use, as is vegetable oil, and sesame oil. Peanut oil can withstand high temperature before it smokes, so it is great to use for frying up your meats. I like a light oil for vegetables, therefore I use vegetable oil often. Sesame oil brings great flavor to a dish, though it will lose its flavor the hotter the oil gets [as well as smoke], so it is more added into sauces or at the end of the cooking process.
If you want to try different oils while cooking you can. Each oil will give a different taste and overall doneness to a dish. Be sure however to do your research before hand to make sure you aren’t using an oil that will burn or smoke out your home.
You are ready!
There you have it my friends! Your 101 course in the basics of starting out using a wok! Now that you understand a little bit better about the wok and how to use it, it is time to practice, practice, practice! Your first dish may not be a winner and you may mess up a few things, make a huge mess, or spill half your food out because you wanted to toss it into the air (I’m guilty of all of these in the beginning too!) With constant practice, a heart to cook, and a love of Asian food I know that you will become great at cooking with a wok in no time! Stay tuned for future recipes on my blog involving cooking with a wok!
Until next time, take care.