A Guide to Buying and Using a Chinese Wok

A Chinese Wok is an invaluable tool for fast cooking Chinese stir-fry and a multi-tasking pan essential in the kitchen.

  • Chinese wok
    If you want to conserve on cooking space, fuel and time, you need a wok... the simple conical metal pan used by the Chinese for centuries.  

  • Chinese wok

If you want to conserve on cooking space, fuel and time, you need a wok . . . the simple conical metal pan used by the Chinese for centuries. Designed by a people perpetually faced with too little food and fuel, the Chinese wok has "doing more with less" written all over it. When using a wok only a little heat on its rounded bottom goes a long, long way up its sides and the Chinese practice of cutting food into bite-sized pieces insures that each bit of heat will cook those edibles quickly enough to preserve almost all their fresh taste and nutritional value.

The wok need not be reserved only for Chinese dishes, either. It can easily replace several pans and become the main cooking vessel in any small city apartment in the world . . . and one wok plus one tin can kettle is all you'll need for cooking up a backwoods camping trip's rice, noodles, vegetables, meats, eggs, pancakes and heaven knows what else.

A wok works best over the flame or glowing coals that it was designed for, which makes it a natural for outdoor or fireplace meals. When using a wok just nestle the pan in a ring of stones (spaced to allow for draft) placed around some glowing coals . . . wood, charcoal, corncob or whatever. The stones will elevate the wok and contain the heat at the same time. A flower pot hibachi of suitable size will also support a wok nicely for outdoor cooking.

Certain modifications must be made if a wok is to be used on a conventional stove. Unless the one you buy is large with a flattish bottom, an adapter ring must be used to support the pan and distribute heat over its bottom six or eight inches. The adapter is also necessary if your wok has only one handle . . . to keep the pan from tilting unbalanced on a flat stove burner. This metal ring has holes cut in its side to allow for draft and the assembly resembles a deep dish pie plate with the bottom cut out . . . in fact, you can probably make your ring out of just such a plate.

Woks have become quite popular the past few years and you probably won't have to go to Chinatown to get one. Most stores that specialize in cooking utensils and offer more than the usual run of Corning and Revere will carry a wok of some sort. I got my twelve-incher at a china-outlet-restaurant-supply store for about three dollars.

Twelve inches (diameter across the top) is a nice size for a wok. It's not too big to use for two, yet big enough to turn out plenty of food—accompanied by rice cooked in a sauce pan—to stuff six or eight people. Don't be dismayed, however, if you have more mouths than that to feed. Since the essence of many wok dishes is quick preparation, it's no problem to cook up two or three batches and serve them all before the first one starts to get cold.



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