Monday, 1 September 2008

Cooking in Wok

A wok is a versatile round-bottomed cooking vessel originating in China. It is used especially in East and Southeast Asia.

It is most often used for stir frying, but can also be used many other ways, such as in steaming, deep frying, braising, stewing, or making soup. It is commonly, almost exclusively, cooked with a long handle chahn (spatula) or/and a long handle hoak (ladle). The long extensions of these utensils allows the cook to maneuver the food without burning the hand.

Typically a small amount (1-3 tablespoons) of peanut oil, soy oil, sunflower oil, or canola oil is placed in the wok and heated under full burner heat. (Alternatively, first heat the wok, when it smokes then add the oil) Fresh chopped garlic and ginger are often added to the oil to flavor it, then quickly scooped out before burning or turning brown. The first item to be cooked, for example, sliced meat, is stirred in the very hot oil until hot, then pushed up the side of the wok so as to drain off the oil while continuing to cook. The meat may be returned to the oil and pushed to the sides several times until the cooking is done. The hammered ridges or dimples along the side of the wok "grab" and prevent the meat from slipping back into the oil at the bottom of the wok.

Once cooked, the meat is often scooped out with a Chinese strainer to a side plate and the next ingredient such as vegetables are then cooked in the same manner, strained out or held against the side while any leftover cooking oil is thrown out before all of the ingredients are typically thrown back together, with sauces, seasonings, liquids, corn starch mixed with a little water for thickening, stirred and covered for a final heating for a minute or two or until smoke begins to escape from the cover. This way the chef controls the length of cooking for each item and the food does not cook sitting in the oil.

The main advantage of wok beyond its constructed material is its curved concave shape. The shape produces a small, hot area at the bottom which allows some of the food to be seared by intense heat while using relatively little fuel. The large sloped sides also make it easier for chefs to employ the tossing cooking technique on solid and thick liquid food with less spillage and a greater margin of safety. Curved sides also allows a person to cook without having to "chase the food around the pan" since bite-sized or finely chopped stir-fry ingredients usually tumble back to the center of the wok when agitated.

The curve also provides a larger usable cooking surface versus western-styled pots and pans, which typically have vertical edges. This allows large pieces of food seared at the bottom of the wok to be pushed up the gently sloped sides to continue cooking at a slower rate. While this occurs another ingredient for the same dish needing high heat is being cooked at the bottom. The pointed bottom also allows even small amounts of oil to pool. As such large food items can be shallow fried, while finely chopped garlic, hot peppers, green onions, and ginger can be essentially deep-fried in both cases with very small amount of cooking oil.

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