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Wok cooking

post #1 of 14
Thread Starter 
This is my first post in quite some time. I'm looking to throw a couple deck chairs off the Titanic. I've mostly exorcised the demon refined sugar, and cut down on white flour bread/buns and the burgers and other greasy temptations that nestle so nicely between them. I also bought a carbon steel wok and have been messing around stir frying. In the last ten days I've consumed a shrub worth of broccoli, a ball pit of onions, and carrots and sprouts to the point where a local warren of rabbits has staged a protest outside my house. It seems to be working as I've already shed a half ham of weight.

But am I stir frying correctly? Over the last week or so I've looked back at a bunch of threads about stir frying. I think I did a good job seasoning the wok. It is a flat bottom wok, as I bought it on a whim. I've since ordered a hand hammered round wok from The Wok Shop, as well as some other paraphernalia. They should be here in about a week.

I've been cooking ingredients in batches and assembling at the end so as to not overload the wok, yet my vegetables seem to be absorbing oil, especially broccoli and mushrooms. I start with a couple tablespoons of oil, but have to add at least a little before each ingredient, and that has to be going somewhere. My wild guess is it's going into me and my family, which sort of defeats the purpose. I fear my ingredients are not so much passing through the oil, but wallowing and soaking up instead, even though I'm shaking and stirring like Shakira on the George Lopez Show.

I'm thinking it's the temperature at which I'm cooking. Full blast seems to start to scorch, medium high and I seem to lose the sizzle. I cook on gas 16,000 BTU burners that set the oil and wok to smoking pretty easily.

I see comments about wok cooking on much more powerful burners, but how hot does it really need to be? The hotter the better? Won't the oil burn? I was not using a wok ring, so I'm afraid a fair amount of the heat was running up the sides of the wok. Maybe the bottom is not as hot as it should be and the sides are too hot? I stopped at an Asian market yesterday and bought a ring. I'm not sure if that's ideal for a flat bottom wok, but for three bucks I'll give it a whirl. I was using canola oil, but have picked up some peanut oil and will try that tomorrow.

Any tips are appreciated. Hotter. Cooler. More oil. Less oil. Keep practicing you dummy, you're technique probably stinks. Wait until you get a real wok with a round bottom.

I'm open to any suggestions.


post #2 of 14
It's Chinese new year on Sunday and I have been volunteered to do the dinner banquet.

I was thinking of firing up the steel wok my wife had when we first married oh those many years ago. We haven't used it in eons and I have never cooked in a wok before so I'm a bit nervous.

The instructions I have read all say the same thing - get the wok good and hot, then add the oil and the food immediately before the oil has a chance to burn. A quick swish around the hot wok and it's done, in batches as you are doing.

My MIL (a lovely woman bless her heart, but a lousy cook) was doing a stir fry one time and she switched the fire on low under a skillet, put some oil in the barely warm pan, then threw in the chicken. I said the fire is too low so she turned it up. I said, it's too late now!

Definately high heat I'd say and get the wok hot before adding the oil.
post #3 of 14
Musky - you should write a book - what an interesting post :D

Heat, as Jock says, is the key. Once you get your new wok - you will notice such a difference in the way the food cooks, It will require some experimentation - sure, maybe some failures, but the more you use it (look up seasoning a wok Please!!, don't want to waste that investment, hopefully it will come with instructions), the better it will get. It is my favourite Kitchen "pan".

When you add more oil, make sure to add it on the high curve of the wok, that way it will have a chance to heat before it gets to the food and makes it soggy as it will be cold if you add it in the middle base of the wok.

As for the scorching part. Smoke point on the oil is the time to start. You must keep the food moving. Thinly sliced meat should take a max of 15 seconds to brown - take it out! Get your garlic and ginger into a new little bit of oil, stir until fragrant, then add onions to cool the mix a bit. If it burns, toss it and clean out your wok. No good. Do the veg, hardest one like carrots, rutebega, water chestnuts, cabbage, chinese radish, celery etc first. Then bell peppers, mushrooms - the really soft things - now. Stir/toss till a touch tender - you want them to be crispy and crunchy, that is a big part of a stir fry. Meat back in, add mung bean sprouts if using, add your chicken or other stock plus your conrflour (sornstarch) slurry and any other sauces you may enjoy (maybe soy (dark or light), oyster sauce, sweet chilli sauce, fish sauce). Cook only just till thickened (don't want to lose crispness of veg or tenderness of meat, if using), moving the food the whole time. Dress with spring onion (scallion) sliced greens at last moment.

Serve right now :)

On noodles/rice whatever you fancy.

I love stir fry - can you tell? Wok hei does it for me.
 Don't handicap your children by making their lives easy.
Robert A. Heinlein

 Don't handicap your children by making their lives easy.
Robert A. Heinlein

post #4 of 14
Kevin, you'll find a world of difference using the wok ring, especially once the new, properly designed, wok arrives.

The flat-bottomed ones just don't do the job the way they're supposed to. In effect, they are merely frying pans with large, curved sides.
They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
post #5 of 14
Outside of passing meat or battered items, you need very little oil in a carbon steel wok. The heat and patina do most of the work to prevent sticking. Surely a lot less than I get in way too many Chinese restaurants. Chinese food shouldn't be that greasy.

Broccoli will suck up a ton of oil in the floret buds. Best to blanch it first in water. I learned that one the hard way. It also holds other liquids there too so it's best to give it a few minutes to drain a bit. This is also true at sauce time. You might think your dish looks way undersauced but after a couple of minutes at the table, the broccoli releases the liquid and makes it runny.

I'll sometimes toss broccoli in the wok with a little rice wine and water with the lid on and steam it for a minute or two, then remove it and heat the wok back up to stir fry temps.

You'll probably have better luck letting your items sit in the wok for a minute or two to sear and pick up that wok hei before continuing the stir-fry. Flat bottom woks and home stoves need that time to work right as they don't have the heat to do it by brute force as on a higher heat stove.

Grace Young's Breath of a Wok offers some of the best home stir frying discussion I've seen. Bruce Cost's Big Bowl cookbook was useful too for the passing and blanching info as well as both having tasty food.

More detail and outside links at http://www.cheftalk.com/forums/cooki...ial-class.html
post #6 of 14
Thread Starter 
I read your remedial class prior to posting Phatch, and it was excellent. I did blanch broccoli once, and it did work better. At 16,000 BTUs do I just crank it up full blast, let the wok get really hot, then add a small amount of oil, then the vegetables right after, or let the oil heat briefly before adding ingredients? I'm a little confused on this because even though 16,000 is not a restaurant type of power, on high it heats up pretty fast. If I let that get going it's much hotter than anything I've cooked in before. Maybe since that type of heat is new to me, I'm a little skittish. If I let oil sit on high it's really smoking in short order.

I've seen you mention the Grace Young book numerous times. I'm going to look for it, hopefully I can pick it up at Half Price Books. I'm looking forward to the round bottom wok.

post #7 of 14
You don't need to let the oil sit unless you're heating a large quantity for deep fry or passing. It will usually be hot enough just from the time of setting the oil container down.

I've taken to using a table top soy bottle for pouring oil in the wok. It comes out in a slow even stream so I can go around the wok with it and not add too much oil as often happens with the jugs.

Like these Lee Kum Kee, Premium Soy Sauce Table Top, 5.1-Ounce (6 Pack): Amazon.com: Grocery though there are plenty of other brands in similar sizes. I picked mine up already empty at an Asian grocer that has a diner attached to it. Cheap.
post #8 of 14
Hi Kevin, I cook using a wok allot,very healthy, you have received great advice from all .I find I don't use much oil at all, I heat the wok up very high pour oil around the top of the curve and it runs down,the oil will heat up as it travels.The thing is,like other ones said is to keep the food moving.Doesn't take long to cook anything in a wok.I hope you keep it up and you get the hang of it,it is worth it.
post #9 of 14
Kevin, your 16K BTUs is ample. I agree that you'll do better with a ring and a roundbottomed wok. That's what I have; it has a long handle and a loop handle, so I can stir or shake the pan.
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Moderator Emerita, Welcome Forum
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post #10 of 14
*quietly coughs* actually wok cooking vegetables isn't that healthy for green things.

I'm no antagonist, but wok cooking isn't particularly a good cooking method for green vegetables; as the pigment (chlorophyll) is exposed to the cells own acids (by rupturing the membranes around the chloroplasts) during the rapid cooking. One therefore loses colour and nutrients.

The best method (as mentioned by phatch) is to blanch in boiling alkaline water and add just before serving.
post #11 of 14
In a modern diet, nutrient loss isn't that important in general. We eat enough variety and volume to get the nutrients we need in spite of cooking loss.

worth understanding though.

Alkaline water has its own problems.
post #12 of 14
Then why wok fry at all?

post #13 of 14
Why cook at all? THere are raw food diets and adherents.

We cook for flavor, texture and food safety. And in some cases it frees nutrition not otherwise available.
post #14 of 14
Thread Starter 
Well, it's hot, and there's a lot of flipping, tossing, and turning. Almost as fun as it gets with your clothes on.

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