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We are Dating...


...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

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.

Reader Comments (12)

i totally support your new love and will look forward to the fruit of your relationship. i hope i get an invitation to the wedding. i'm sure the catering will be divine. :)

May 20, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterbethany

I LOVE this post!!! Your dedication to making stir fry, honoring the wok, and the instructions. I love it all:)

May 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKamille

I can tell: You're going to influence me to reacquaint myself with MY wok. And I can tell, that even though my wonderful Chinese friend May taught me to make ginger broccoli and beef 46 years ago, I have gone for 46 years not cooking it hot enough. I HAVE, however, learned to divide up everything into small portions that don't overwhelm the wok and cool it right down. ( I have steamed quite a few collections of "too many vegetables at once"!) I can't wait to tell May about this! And won't our now-grown kids be surprised?????

May 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLynn M

That picture seriously brought on flashbacks of my grandparent's kitchen. Their wok is black to the rim from decades of use(more due to their frugal habbit than anything else), so it's possible! I need to get back in touch with my inner Chineseness...

May 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterEllen

What about us poor folks with electric stoves? Can you use a wok on that or not really?

Sounds delicious!

May 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMom24@4evermom

Yes, you can! I cooked on my previous stove, which was electric, for 30 years. I used my wok regularly, and it worked well. I know have a propane cooktop so had to re-place my wok with a flat bottom one. Love it!

May 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterPam

What great timing. I am in the market for a wok and you've given some great direction. The noodles look great too. My kids love the ones from the hibachi table at our local japanese restaurant; these look just like them. Can't wait to try them!

Well, I had no idea I was such a wok dummy. Mine is so nice and clean. None of that uckky black patina on it. Must not be getting it hot enough! I do that with my cast iron skillet though. So, it makes sense, especially if you've watched Chinese chefs at work. You learn something new every day. Almost.

May 21, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterClaudia

I have used a Joyce Chen wok for about 4 years now, it has never seen soap just a good wash with hot water and wiped out with a clean cloth. Over the years the patina has gotten dark and lush! One of the things that I love to make is fried rice. To short cut the process I normally pick up one or two containers of white rice from our local Chinese take out! Put the rice in the frig until it is cold, I find that cooking the meat first works best (chicken, beef, pork or even fish). Take out the meat and cook onion for about two minutes add rice, move rice and onion to the side and scramble a few eggs. Add peas, carrots and cook for about two minutes (season with soy and fried rice mix) and then add meat back in. Everything should be cooked at all times on high heat. Vigorously stir everything around for a few minutes and serve!
Leftovers in the frig never last more then one or two days, cold or heated up it is simply the best!
I picked up my wok from Bed Bath and Beyond for $26 it came with the wok, a top, steel spatula and a decent little cook book but it was four years ago!!!
Love your photo of the new love of your life, I will pulling mine out today and reacquainting myself with and old friend!

May 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRichard

I tossed my old wok because it was a non-stick one and the non-stick coating was starting to come off in our food. Yikes. I have not replaced it. I am a vegetarian and I don't make stir fries! Don't tell anyone! Every so often I think about replacing it (I miss stir fries!) but get overwhelmed by choice. I trust you and your taste and it's off to Uwajimaya I go.

May 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDana

yes Yes YES!!!! I am so with you. Only my wok and I, we're married, 'til death do us part. The cheap wok, the long seasoning, the high heat -- I was literally standing over my gas flame tonight, wok so hot it could spit, blackening a bit of chipped finish back on (that would be the hard-earned, DIY, screaming hot flame + oil finish). I love my wok more than anything. And Grace Young rocks (her new book, also). Cashew chicken + asparagus tonight, plus quick stir-fried mushrooms. Woks. God love 'em. (Ahem. Thanks for hearing me out :)

May 24, 2010 | Unregistered Commentermolly

This looks great. I made a recent lo mein recipe recently with similar ingredients but it was pretty flat. I'm excited to try this one!

May 25, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterstephanie

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