Whether it’s to cook tasty Japanese food, Thai food, Vietnamese food, or some Chinese food, the wok should be an essential part of your kitchen setup. Do you want to impress your friends with a tasty stir-fry of rice noodles, coconut milk, lemongrass, and tofu? Get a wok to ensure that you get the most out of every ingredient, be it meat, fish, or veggies when cooking Asian recipes! After reading this article, you’ll want to use a wok every day for not just authentic Eastern cuisine, but also Western, which you'll understand is quite different. Why not get cooking tutorials?
The Advantages of Cooking with a Wok
A wok is a Chinese invention (although it’s used all over the world). The word “wok” just means “an instrument used for cooking”. In China, woks have been used for over 2,000 years by farmers who would usually only have one, as that was all they could afford. There are three main advantages to using a wok:
- Fast: food is cooked quickly thanks to the shape of the wok.
- Economic: the quicker the food cooks, the less energy you’ll use cooking them.
- Healthy: you don’t need a lot of oil when cooking with a wok. This means that your food will have fewer calories. Furthermore, food that’s cooked quickly retains more of its nutritional value, colour, and flavour.
A wok is also easy to maintain. You can just rinse it with warm water. Another advantage of using very little oil or grease.
Obviously, a wok is great for cooking Asian food, but it can also be used for plenty of other recipes, too. It’s a good investment and you can find them online, in homeware stores, and in Asian markets.
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5 Ways to Cook with a Wok
One of the wok’s biggest advantages is the different ways you can cook using it.
- Sautéing: This is when you cook cut food quickly for one or two minutes while constantly stirring and mixing the food with a wooden spatula. Make sure that the wok is hot before adding your food so that it cooks quickly. You can easily sauté vegetables, as well as beef and onions, before adding soy sauce or sweet and sour sauce once cooked.
- Frying: In this case, you’re going to have to add a lot of oil. You can use a wok to fry food, too. Of course, this means that it won’t be as healthy. You just have to boil the oil while making sure the wok is only half full so that you don’t burn it. You can then individually place your ingredients, spring rolls, or prawn crackers into the wok so that they don’t stick to each other and come out crunchy. You need to make sure that your food is dry so that the wok doesn’t spit. This is great for Chinese and Vietnamese dishes.
- Stewing: You can make dishes with sauces like Peking duck or caramelised pork which take longer to cook. You’ll need, you’ll need to cook at a low heat with the lid on while stirring occasionally so that it doesn’t stick to the bottom.
- Marinating: you can also leave raw meat in the wok for a few hours or overnight before cooking it. You pair it with a marinade of soy sauce, rice vinegar, sesame oil, or honey, for example. Don’t forget to store your raw meat in the fridge.
- Steaming: In order to steam, you’ll need two things: a bamboo steamer and a grill. Put the food you want to steam, like dumplings, seafood, meat, or fish, in the bamboo steamer. Put the bamboo steamer on the grill atop the wok and add water to the wok, ensuring that the water doesn’t reach the basket. Cover and cook. Be careful when removing the food as the steamer will be really hot.
Preheating Your Wok
Food is often served quickly in Asian restaurants due to how hot woks are. How long does it take to preheat a wok? Until it passes the water test. Not familiar with the water test? Splash a bit of water into your wok! If the water evaporates instantly, your wok is ready to go! Find out more about cooking tutorials around the UK.
Hot Wok, Cold Oil
Once your wok is hot, add your cold oil. What type of oil? That’s a good question. You’ll need to use oil with high smoke point. Your oil shouldn’t smoke at all when cooking. Peanut oil is recommended over vegetable oil since it has a higher smoke point. Olive oil and butter can’t be used as they’ll reach their smoke point under the high cooking temperature of the wok. Here's a useful article on the smoke points of different oils.
Three Recipes for the Wok
To get you started using your wok, what’s better than a few Chinese recipes? Keep in mind that this is just a taster of what you can do with your wok. You can make chicken curry, Cantonese rice, or even chicken noodle soup, and as you get better, move on to more elaborate and complicated Asian dishes. To start, here’s a pretty easy recipe for stir fried shrimp with cashew nuts. To serve two, you’ll need:
- 200g of raw prawns
- 40g of cashew nuts (these are famous in traditional Chinese medicine for healing your kidneys, since they are similar in shape)
- 1 slice of ginger
- 1 slim stem of spring onion
- 1 carrot
For the marinade:
- 1 teaspoon of Shaoxing rice wine
- 1 egg white
- 2 teaspoons of potato starch
For the sauce:
- 1 teaspoon of soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon of Shaoxing wine
- 1/2 teaspoons of potato starch
- A pinch of salt
- A bit of water
Preparation: For the marinade:
- lightly beat the eggs while making sure that they don’t form peaks.
- Wet the potato starch with the water.
- Add the egg white.
- Add the wine and season with salt before beating again.
- Put the prawns into the mix.
For the sauce:
- Mix all the ingredients together with a bit of water and stir.
- Cut the carrot and the spring onion into slices and dice the ginger. Pour a bit of oil into the wok and add the cashew nuts. Let them cook gently until golden.
- Add a bit of oil and then add the prawns. Sauté for 2 minutes. Don’t mix them but stir the wok lightly.
- Take the prawns out once cooked.
- Add the ginger, carrot, and spring onion for two minutes. Add the prawns again and cook for another 2 minutes.
- Add the sauce once thickened and then add the cashew nuts.
- Serve hot.
The second recipe we’ve got for you is a napa cabbage stew with tofu. To serve two, you’ll need the following:
- Half a napa cabbage
- 250g block of tofu
- 1 tablespoon of oil
- 1 tablespoon of soy sauce
- 3-4 slices of ginger
- 1 small onion
- Salt and pepper
- Cut the cabbage into big pieces and separate the green from the white. The white will be used for cooking.
- Cut the tofu into large cubes
- Cook the onion and the sliced ginger in a bit of oil for a minute. Add the cabbage white and cook for 3-4 minutes before adding the soy sauce.
- Add the green cabbage leaves and mix. Once the leaves are tender, add a glass of water a mix well.
- Place the pieces of tofu on the cabbage without mixing. After ten minutes, mix gently, season with salt and pepper, and let the whole thing stew for another 10 minutes.
- Ready to serve!
Since the last recipe is steamed pork dumplings with rice, it’s not suitable for vegetarians. Here are the ingredients you’ll need for 2 or 3 people:
- 300g of pork ribs
- A packet of rice cakes for making the dumplings
- For the marinade:
- 3-4 slices of ginger
- 2 garlic cloves
- 1 table spoon of black soy bean soup
- 1 tablespoon of Shaoxing wine
- 2 teaspoons of soy sauce
- A pinch of sugar
- For the sauce:
- 1 tablespoon of soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon of sugar
- 1 teaspoon of soy sauce
- Cut the pork ribs between the bones.
- Finely slice the ginger and crush the garlic with a garlic press.
- Mix all the ingredients for the marinade with the pork and let it stand for at least 20 minutes.
- Put the pork ribs on the rice cakes and place everything in a bamboo steamer on top of a grill. Half fill your wok with water and place the grill and steamer on top and put the lid on the steamer.
- Steam for an hour at a medium heat.
- Heat up the sauce and pour over the ribs and rice cakes once cooked.
You can find more recipes like this on a number of Chinese cooking blogs. You’ll find loads of different ways to use your wok and cook using a variety of different techniques. In short:
- “Don’t eat too much fat, sugar, or salt”. With a wok, you needn’t worry too much about this as you can make a variety of balanced meals.
- You lock in the flavour and nutritional value of your food: be it peppers, bamboo shoots, coriander, basil, soy sprouts, or spice.
- A wok can be used to cook in a variety of different ways: sautéing, stewing, marinating, frying, or steaming. You can cook almost anything you can imagine, from a beef stir-fry to banana fritters.
- Get your credit cards ready! A decent wok can be between £25 and £50.
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Which Wok Should I Buy?
A good wok is one of the most versatile pans you’ll find in the kitchen. In addition to being a good choice for sautéing, you can also use it for frying, steaming, and stewing. It’s the most common pan used for cooking Asian cuisine. However, not all woks are created equal. You’re spoilt for choice when it comes to sizes, shapes, materials, and handles. Here are a few things to look for when picking a wok.
The Different Materials
You’ll have to choose between:
- Steel woks
- Cast iron woks
- Stainless steel woks
- Non-stick woks
The Manufacturing Process
Some woks are made from a circular piece of carbon steel before being pressed over a mould. They are cheap, but they’re also completely smooth and therefore more fragile. Spun woks are made on a tower, giving them their distinct shape (concentric circles).
More Useful Information
Traditional woks have the shape of a deep bowl so that they can be placed into a circular hole over a flame. The best compromise is a wok with a flat base and gently sloping sides. This means you’ll have a lot of space for heating meats and vegetables at high temperatures while still having a lot of space to work with when it comes to mixing everything together. Here are some woks that come highly recommended:
|Wok||Available At:||Size:||Dishwasher Safe:||Material:||Price:||Good Housekeeping Institute Score:|
|Carbon Steel Wok||John Lewis||24cm||No||Carbon Steel||£18||98|
|Ken Hom Carbon Steel Performance Wok||John Lewis||31cm||No||Carbon Steel||£28.99||92|
|Carbon Steel Wok (Flat Base)||souschef.co.uk||33cm||No||Carbon Steel||£15||83|
|Loft Copper Effect Wok||Marks and Spencer||30cm||Yes||Non-stick||£29.50||75|