In Hong Kong, where I was born, I saw the woks set over charcoal braziers in the streets alongside store entrances and sidewalk Dai pai dong (大排檔): open-air food stall. At many large housing estates, you can hear the sound of sizzling while walking past the corridor. A mother would stand beside the wok, quickly tossing and stirring up the dishes of an entire meal for her family of eight.
Temple Street Night Market in Hong Kong.
Elsewhere in the city, in the kitchens of classy restaurants, each chef could count row upon row of woks to himself. A chef presides over the burners flaming at a volcanic 25,000 BTUs, a wok on each burner. He dances from one wok mixture to the next. All four limbs are called into use. The knees control the switches, the arms toss and stir and shake while flashes of steel and iron spark the air. Visit any Dai pai dong or sidewalk cafe-type restaurant in Hong Kong or places up and down the China coast. Order the house specialty and then watch the cook prime the propane tank, heat the wok, and conjure up an oyster crêpe, stir-fried noodles with breef, or an omelette with crabmeat.
a young girl cooking with a wok in a corridor of a old Hong Kong Public Housing Estate
Wok? What is a wok?
A wok is simply a pot and a pan. It's the Asian cook's favourite utensil since time immemorial, is now inspiring ever greater enthusiasm among gourmets in the West. The wok's round-bottomed shape is what principally distinguishes it from the pans normally used in the West. Although it looks different to a pot and a pan. As with most things, the difference is surface and physical. You will find your wok to be as reliable, friendly, and forgiving as your favourite pot or pan. And nothing can go wrong, not even the first time.
a men sit in from of a old wok shop
Everything you are used to cooking in a frying pan or saucepan can be cooked in a wok. You can use it for stir-frying, deep-frying, steaming and braising. The only limits are set by your own imagination: poach a whole fish, whip up an omelette, fry a chicken, roast chestnuts, make the roux for a sauce, steam appetiser dumplings, cook a stew, fry rice, sear a filet mignon.. and so on. The wok is the universal cooking pan par excellence.
The wok is big
The more room for you to toss and stir without inhibition. Its roominess is not meant to be filled. Think instead that it is a large salad bowl, with room to toss.
The wok is round
The more to help quicken the turning of the ingredients for uniform mixing. Its hemispheric shape accelerates the speed of the ingredients as they race around the curves of the wok. Because of its shape, the heat is distributed in such a way that everything in the centre of the wok cooks very rapidly, so that everything retains its aroma and texture. Once cooked, food can be pushed to the edge of the wok, where it will not go cold but can be safely left until all the other ingredients have been cooked.
Chefs using multiple woks in a commercial kitchen
The wok is deep
The more to maximize and control your use of oil. With less oil than it takes to coat a skillet, you can stir fry quickly; with much less oil than it takes to fill a deep fryer, you can deep fiy to a golden crispness The wok is also deep enough for braising.
The wok is high
Used with its lid, the wok has sufficient space to allow steam to rise and gently cook foods. Wok-steaming is a wonderful alternative to the dry oven heating and reheating.
The wok is a brilliant compromise of a flat and a deep pan. Cooking in it is a joy and a wonder to learn, and it opens up the doors to the art of cooking. The wok can liberate you to all styles of food. Don't limit yourself to Asian cuisine with the wok. The pleasure and ease which come with its use will start you on your way to the foods of other nationalities, maybe eventually to your own innovative cookery.
Why would I use a wok?
The wok is the world's most efficient frying pan, and the most efficient pan or pot overall. No other cooking utensil gives the cook more fun or a greater sense of exuberance. And it cooks every ingredient under the sun. The wok leads you naturally and automatically toward cooking as a 60-minute gourmet-often in less than 60 minutes. It is a friend to help you create hearty and speedy meals in one pot, without sacrificing the opportunity to cook impressively or to entertain with gusto. Look at its soft but dynamic design and note how its features work for you.
Woks are inexpensive, easy to use and clean, and they last forever. They have to be the most versatile everyday cookware in existence. Woks may be new to many, but remember-millions of people have been using them every day for centuries.
A wok fits into this new way of eating because it is the easiest, fastest, most fun way I know of to make delicious meals that will produce a lean, taut body. It simplifies your kitchen as you simplify your life around eating. Contrary to many people's preconceptions, it uses little or no oil due to its naturally non-stick property.
A wok is a pot and a pan, and that because of its unique shape, it can be used for practically anything. You'll be able to stir-fry, deep-fry, braise, poach, sauté, roast, or steam virtually anything within the confines of your wok - with just a little occasional help from your saucepan or skillet. You'll discover the pleasure and ease of wok cooking, too, as you begin to toss your ingredients with creative abandon.
Enjoy the adventures to which it leads you!