Wok Hei or the “breath of the wok,” is the “essence” imparted by the wok when stir-frying over very high heat. The characteristic flavor is due to the Maillard reactions and the charring of the ingredients and the quick evaporation of water and oils. Learn more about the wok and how to cook on one.
History — Earliest Woks date back to Han Dynasty (206 BC — AD 220)
Styles of Woks
Cantonese Southern style — Round bottom with Ear like handles
Sichuan Northern style — Round bottom with long handle for flipping food
Carbon steel heats quickly, cools quickly. Heavy gauge 14 and light gauge 18 (3-4 lbs)
Chinese Cast iron woks, much thinner than American cast iron, brittle and heavy (9 lbs. )
Flat bottomed woks for indoor cooking on American Stoves. Round bottom woks for grills, gas burners. Use of round bottomed woks with a wok ring on electric stoves is not effective.
Never buy nonstick wok. Food won’t brown or crisp up. Toxic chemicals are released from nonstick coatings when used at high heats! YUCK!
Opening (Seasoning) a Carbon Steel WOK
The first washing is crucial to remove the machine oil coating used after manufacture to prevent rust. Use a stainless steel scrubbie and hot soapy water with a good degreasing soap. Heat the wok to evaporate water and open the pan’s metal pores for better oil absorption. This should produce smoke. Use paper towels and long tongs to disperse 2 tablespoons of canola oil evenly on the pan. Heat all sides of the pan directly over heat until they start to smoke. The best things to cook first in a new wok are stirfrys with generous amounts of oil or deep frying. Avoid boiling water or using acidic ingredients on an newly seasoned wok until a patina has been well established. The use of Chinese chives, sliced ginger and scallions are often used in seasoning a wok. The chives contain a sulfur derivative, which is believed to cleanse the metallic taste from the pan. Ginger and scallions flavor the oil that will be absorbed. The “face of a wok” will change after continued use. A wok used daily has a rich golden brown to black shiny patina. Carbon steel is easily re-seasoned if the patina is damaged by acidic foods or cooking mishaps such as burned sugar. Don’t worry if you mess it up!
Cleaning of a Seasoned Wok
Wok cooking is done in many small batches to keep the temperature of the wok from dropping drastically when adding a lot of cold or room temperature ingredients therefore it is often necessary to clean the wok in between batches. Use warm water and a brush to rinse out the wok, discard the water and dry the wok over fire until it just barely starts to smoke before adding oil to cook the next batch. After final batch follow the same procedure except this time put the oil on the inside and on the outside to prevent rusting prior to the next use. Be sure to feel the interior of the wok to ensure that it is smooth and all particles of food have been removed. Even the smallest bits of food left on the wok will cause food to stick during the next cook. The wok ring is used for storing and serving from a wok only.
Available cooking methods for a WOK on the Big Green Egg
Deep Frying Smoking
For Vegetables — must be dry or they will braise instead of stir fry. Frozen veggies will not do anywhere near as well as fresh.
Make sure that all ingredients are uniform in size for even cooking. Separate hard and leafy parts of vegetables such as bok choy so that stalks can be added first to cook longer, leafy parts can be added later.
When using the bamboo steamer, put a coin in the boiling water, when it stops making a rattling noise you are out of water.