The wok has been the essential tool of the Chinese kitchen for more than 2000 years. It is extremely versatile with its broad surfaces enabling liquids to reduce quickly and its deep sides make stir frying a breeze.
Our wok of choice is a 13-inch carbon-steel flat-bottom wok with a wooden handle. A flat bottom is essential as it enables the wok to sit directly on the burner, maximizing the heat in the pan. The carbon steel heats and cools quickly and, like a cast-iron skillet, it forms a natural nonstick patina the more you cook in it.

To keep that patina in good shape, the wok will need a little TLC. New woks have a thin factory coating that must be removed before the first use. To do this, wash the wok inside and out with a stainless-steel scourer, washing up liquid and hot water. Rinse and dry it over low heat.

Next, season the wok to protect against rust and start a patina. This way of seasoning your wok is a classic Chinese method, the ginger and spring onions have properties that clean the wok and the oil coats the porous metal, creating the patina. Turn on the extractor and open the kitchen window! Heat the wok over high heat until a drop of water evaporates on contact. Swirl in 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil and add some sliced ginger and a bunch of spring onions cut into 2-inch pieces. Lower the heat to medium and stir-fry with a metal spatula, smearing the ginger and scallions over the entire surface, for 20 minutes-the long stir-fry creates a good patina. Discard the solids, wash the wok with a soft cloth and hot water, and dry over low heat. The seasoning process may change the wok's interior colour-it can have a yellow, black, or blue hue. Every wok reacts differently.

Once the wok is seasoned, don't use soap to clean it. Instead, soak the wok in hot water for 5 minutes to loosen stuck-on food. Then wash the interior with hot water and a soft cloth to protect the patina. Dry well before storing.

Should your wok's patina ever be removed you can always reseason it.

How to Steam in a Wok


The concave shape of a wok makes it the perfect receptacle for a bamboo steamer insert. The advantage of a bamboo steamer is that its lid absorbs excess moisture; a wok’s metal lid (and regular metal steamers) will drip condensed water back onto the food, diluting its flavour.

Tips for steaming in a wok:

• Always bring the water in the wok to a boil before putting food in the steamer
• Take care when adding and removing food—the steam will be very hot

• If your carbon-steel wok is newly seasoned, steaming (or boiling or poaching) may remove the wok’s thin patina. Simply reseason your wok if this happens

How to Smoke Food in a Wok


Smoking is probably the most exotic and ingenious technique for wok cooking. Unlike standard pans, a wok is deep and wide enough to accommodate an indoor smoking set-up, and its spacious interior provides ample room for the smoke to circulate around the food. The method is simple: Scatter tea leaves, sugar, and rice in the bottom of a foil-lined wok—the tea contributes aromatic smoke, the sugar caramelizes to lightly colour and sweetens the food, and the rice acts as the fuel source, keeping everything smoking. Heat the wok until the mixture begins to smoke, and then cover it to trap the smoke inside and infuse the food with a delicate smoky flavour.

Tips for smoking in a wok:
• Be sure to thoroughly clean the wok before setting it up for smoking so there are no stuck-on bits of food that could burn
• Remember: If you smoke your food for too long, it can develop a bitter flavour

How to Deep-Fry in a Wok


Deep-frying in a wok is ideal because its concave shape requires less oil than a regular pan, and the roominess of the wok lets you fry more food at one time without crowding, which means frying in fewer batches.

Tips for deep-frying in a wok:
• Never fill the wok more than halfway with oil
• Use a food thermometer to monitor the oil temperature
• Moisture causes oil to spatter, so thoroughly dry the food before frying
• Add pieces of food to the oil one at a time, or they’ll stick together in a cluster and fry unevenly

How to Stir-fry in a Wok


A wok’s flared shape develops intense heat in the bottom—or well—which quickly radiates to the sides, allowing both the well and the sides to be used to quickly and evenly cook ingredients in a small amount of oil.

Tips For Stir-Frying In A Wok
• Always heat your wok until a drop of water evaporates upon contact before adding the oil. A well-heated wok prevents ingredients from sticking and gives them a good sear
• You’ll know the wok is overheated if the oil smokes wildly when it hits the pan; faint smoke is fine, though
• Don’t crowd the wok with too many ingredients, which will reduce the temperature of the pan and cause the food to steam
• Use a metal wok spatula for stir-frying; a wooden utensil won’t be thin enough to get under the ingredients

Wok Cooking Suggestions

1. Preheat the wok before adding oil. You'll know it's hot enough when a drop of water evaporates within seconds of contact. Drizzle the oil down the side of the hot wok, swirling to coat the entire surface


2. Stir in garlic, onions, chillies and other aromatics. They're pungent and will permeate the oil, spreading flavour throughout the other ingredients


3. Push the aromatics aside and add protein -- such as meat, poultry and seafood -- in a single layer, then don't touch for a minute while it sears. Stir-fry until about three-quarters cooked, then transfer to a plate, along with the aromatics


4. Group and add vegetables in categories, from longest to shortest cook time, as follows: Hard veggies such as broccoli, carrots and potatoes; medium-hard such as courgette, mushrooms and peppers; and soft/leafy such as leafy greens and tomatoes


5. Use the stir-fry action: Quickly and constantly slide a spatula between the food and the wok, tumbling the food over on itself


6. Return the protein and aromatics to the wok and swirl liquid ingredients such as stock, wine, soy sauce or coconut milk to name a few, down the side of the wok to deglaze the pan and intensify the flavour

Other Tips

Use rapeseed, peanut or canola oil. Because of their high smoke points, they can take the heat without burning
Cut ingredients into uniform-size pieces for even cooking
Give hard veggies such as carrots, broccoli and potatoes a head start by blanching them before stir-frying
Slice meat and poultry thinly across the grain for tenderness
Dry vegetables, prawns and scallops well before adding to the wok or they'll steam instead of sear
Listen for the sizzling sound as you stir-fry -- this lets you know the wok is hot enough.
Use a wide metal pancake turner or a stir-fry spatula with sides to facilitate the stir-fry motion.

Try These Wok Recipes:

Stir Fried Pasta Primavera

Linguine With Fiery Prawns

Stir Fried Chicken Paprikash