We are Dating...

wok

...and will be married soon. My wok and I, that is. I have a new love in my life, and we're diligently working on our relationship. Grace Young introduced us. It wasn't love at first sight. A $28 pan at Uwajiymaya, looking pretty flimsy and not capable of much, actually. Could I count on him to bring home the bacon? Would he be reliable, kind, and patient? Would he disappoint me like other dysfunctional woks in the past?

I realize now that I wasn't willing to face my own issues with previous woks. I didn't really believe all the stuff about cheap carbon steel woks being brought to life with proper care and seasoning. I didn't really believe the recipes that instructed me to turn the heat up to hellish temperatures and high flames. I was too timid, too slow, too Western. And I wanted something for nothing--a perfect stir-fry without all the research and failures. I wanted the art without learning the art form.

It's overwhelming to really let anyone in on our intimacy at this point. I'm the wrong person to give thorough tutorials, and don't know enough yet to counsel anyone else. When I wash and dry my wok at night (no soap!), I inspect him anew each time, watching closely for signs of the patina that will keep our vows strong. The darker and more variegated he gets, the more content I am, imagining all the things we'll create together, how we'll be partners through thick and thin.

Like other infatuations, my wok and I have been spending time together every day. None of those stories have ended up here yet, but they'll come out over time. For now, here's what I can pass on:

  • What you need is a 14" carbon steel wok, available for around $30 at lots of places. Mine is Joyce Chen.
  • Meticulously follow the directions for seasoning that come with the pan. Seasoning beats and blackens the pan, creating a natural nonstick surface over time.
  • My wok Bible is Grace Young's Breath of a Wok. I've been studying it diligently for weeks. Gorgeous photos, detailed explanations for wok dummies like me.
  • High heat is paramount. Don't be afraid. High heat cooks all the ingredients quickly so they're seared on the outside but retain their moisture.
  • Don't overcrowd your wok or everything will steam.
  • Except for meat (which you should brown undisturbed for a minute before flipping it), keep everything else moving, letting the ingredients take their turn on the bottom, the hottest part of the wok.
  • Buy a metal shovel-shaped spatula at an Asian market for a few dollars.
  • Cut your ingredients to uniform size and have them all totally ready before you turn on the heat.
  • Heat up your wok before pouring the oil in. If your ingredients don't hiss the second they hit the pan, your wok's not hot enough.
  • Saveur just ran a great article on wok cooking. Read it here.
  • Wok cooking really is an art form, and I plan on perfecting it. I haven't been this obsessed with something for awhile. I hope you'll join me.

Everyday Noodles
I'm getting closer to the day when I'm not using recipes for stir fries. I'm not there yet, though--not because of the ingredients, but the precise ORDER in which things should be added. This recipe is adapted from Saveur. My kids wolfed it down with unbelievable gusto.

3 tbsp. canola oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
1  1" piece ginger, minced
2 medium carrots, julienned
1 onion, thinly sliced
2 c. small broccoli florets
6 scallions, finely chopped
2 Tb. soy sauce
2 Tb. oyster sauce
1 1/2 tsp. sugar
8oz. dried Chinese egg noodles, boiled according to package directions, rinsed under cold water, and vigorously shaken dry
1 tbsp. Asian sesame oil
Salt

Stir soy sauce, oyster sauce, and sugar together in a small bowl and set aside.

 

Heat a 14" wok over high heat until it begins to smoke. Add 1 tbsp. oil around edge of wok; swirl to coat bottom and sides. Add garlic and ginger and cook, stirring constantly, for 10 seconds. Add remaining oil, carrots, and onions and cook until softened, about 2 minutes . Add broccoli and stir fry for 2 more minutes. Add soy sauce mixture. Cook, stirring, until hot, about 30 seconds.

Add scallions, noodles, and sesame oil; cook, tossing, until hot, about 1 minute. Season with salt.