I got a wok…

…a real one, because it was time to get serious.

I am not a musical snob and as such I will shamelessly cook/dance/sing to even the most cheesy ‘70s songs from my youth. Okay, I actually am a raging snob, but with a soft spot for the music I loved when I was growing up. And I love Abba as much as I love Zep. There, I said it.

Since we are browsing in the snob department, I have to confess that I’ve always sought out name brand cookware, but judiciously avoided the giant boxed sets and instead purchased ad hoc. Translation: I begrudgingly had to stick to a budget. My piecemeal collection of tri-ply pots and pans turned out to be wise investments, used daily for nearly 30 years. But a grossly oversized, 18-inch, Teflon-coated Calphalon wok was not one of them.

For Christmas my brother- and sister-in-law gave me a fabulous black carbon steel wok. I’d say it was to replace my old wok, but apparently I never had one to begin with. Me being me, I spent some time trying to learn a little bit about wok lore and the art v. science dynamics. Wok hei (also known as wok chi) is the Chinese notion of the “breadth of the wok,” or the characteristics of aroma and flavor that come from the perfectly deep-seared essence of wok cooking. Skill is not optional.

Seasoning the new wok with ginger, garlic and scallions in hot oil

I used the recipe above as a guide, but made some adjustments. First, I’m wasn’t entirely comfortable pairing green beans with shrimp – just struck me as yucky. So I diced up some chicken and marinated accordingly. Second, the reviews (always read the reviews!) said it took much longer than 20 minutes and I assumed that was creating the crispy part. I always have Lao Ga Ma Spicy Chili Crisp on hand so I used oil from the jar to fry the garlic and shallots. Added 2Tbs of crisp when the beans and chicken were reunited and we were in business. Next time I will be a bit more daring with high heat to sear the chicken more – time to take off the training wheels.

So my pursuit of wok hei brings us back to the snob thing. Some valuable lessons learned here. I realized that the name-brand wok was a flashy status symbol that gave me only gummy, steamed food. I also committed myself to better understand (and honor) the cultural and mechanical nuances of international cuisine. And I learned to be a better snob – an educated snob, a righteous snob. The righteous snob competes only with herself. I’d rather be better than the last time I tried than try to be better than you. You be you. I have Abba.

cheat sheet

  • Woks probably should be carbon steel or cast iron – my new Yosukata is black carbon steel which is a good conductor of heat, but loses that heat quickly. Cast iron take longer to reach a proper high temperature, but retains that heat. I guess it is about thermal efficiency. I’m cooking for two so efficiency never really had a chance.
  • Woks need to be properly seasoned, even if they come pre-seasoned. It’s like pregaming – you made it to the event, but you’re only just warmed up. This is a critically important step in order to introduce the natural non-stick qualities of your wok which will develop over time.
  • Always allow the wok to heat before adding oil. Then allow that oil to get super hot before cooking – nearly smoking.
  • Allow the wok to cool before cleaning it and then do so gently, without detergent or harsh scouring. It will rust, so wipe dry with paper towels or set on a low heat for a few.
  • Proper wok cooking tools, spatula and ladle, are worth it.
  • Be sure to use an oil with a high smoke point when you are cooking at high temps. As in not olive oil!

first week of 2022 highlights:

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