The problem with stir frying is that most of the time you end up steaming rather than frying. You actually want them to fry and to fry quickly. That makes meat and vegetables browner, crispier, and more flavorful than boiling or steaming.
Unfortunately, when you try to do this in a frying pan at home, the food cooks too slowly and gives up liquid, which settles on the bottom of the pan. Because water boils at a much lower temp than oil, the pan cannot get hotter than 212F until all the water evaporates. So you end up stir steaming in your frying pan. The beauty of the wok is its bowl shape. You can pull the meat and vegetables up the curved sides and let the juices settle in the bottom so they can boil off or concentrate.
When buying a wok, the bigger the better. You don’t want to crowd your food. You can buy cast iron, but those woks are really really heavy, and they don’t cool off very fast when you turn down the heat. You can buy nonstick, but they scratch too easily. That leaves carbon steel, and that’s the stuff they use in most Chinese restaurants. Carbon steel needs to be seasoned and can rust, so you do need to wash and dry it by hand.
But if you want to cook more authentic Chinese food, you need a more authentic wok like carbon steel. Make sure you get a wok spatula, a special curved spatula that fits the curved bowl, a dome lid, a ring for it to sit on, and a drain rack. I prefer a flat bottom wok because it heats better on American stovetops, and I like handles on both sides so the wok is easy to lift. I bought mine on the cheap in Chicago’s Chinatown.
If you don’t have a Chinese store nearby, go for Helen Chen’s Asian Kitchen Flat Bottom Carbon Steel 14-Inch Lidded Wok Set. It has everything you need and is very reasonably priced.
Published On: 9/22/2018 Last Modified: 4/27/2021
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