Adam’s mom inspired me to write this blog entry. When Adam brought her a wok from Taiwan, she wasn’t sure what to do. Growing up in Asia, cooking with a wok was second nature to me, so this week’s post is all about de-mystifying the wok.
Why Not Wok-n-Roll?
Many of my American friends think woks are only good for stir fry. And if they never learned Chinese cooking, they avoid woks like I avoid operating heavy machinery. While a wok tends to be big and bulky, and almost never comes with instructions, it’s potentially the most versatile cooking vessel in your kitchen. Personally I don’t buy any oversize kitchenware if it performs only one function, especially because I live in a small Manhattan apartment. (I pay $50 a month for my refrigerator space alone.) So everything in my tiny kitchen is multifunctional. If you already own a wok or are thinking of buying one, you should know that woks are about much more than stir fry. Here are some of the many ways I use my trusty wok.
Top 10 Ways to Use a Wok
1. Tossing Salad
The standard wok for home use is 12 to 14 inches wide and 4 to 5 inches deep. It’s the biggest salad bowl in your kitchen. Put your vegetables in, toss them and serve.
2. Boiling Pasta, Dumplings, Seafood and Vegetables
Woks are big enough to cook any shape of pasta and are actually ideal for long noodles. Instead of bending and breaking spaghetti or linguine, woks allow you to keep every pasta shape intact. And because woks hold ample water, your pasta or dumplings won’t stick together. Woks are also great for boiling over-sized vegetables (like cabbage or cauliflower) and seafood (like lobster or crab).
I use my wok to roast pine nuts, peanuts, almonds, sesame seeds and coffee beans. I can go on and on, but I think you get the picture.
4. Making Soup, Stew, Fondue, and Any One-Pot Dish
Most woks are big enough to make a dish for a family of six. Use your handy wok as an additional pot.
5. Steaming Dumplings, Vegetables, Buns, Eggs, and Seafood
You can place a traditional bamboo steamer inside the wok to steam. Or, you can use a steaming rack or a stand and place your plate on top. Put some water in the wok, close the lid and you’re ready to steam almost anything.
6. Making Gourmet Popcorn
If you’re tired of microwave-popcorn and looking for gourmet flavor to jazz up your next party, here’s a quick tip on how to make popcorn using your wok:
Melt butter in your wok under low heat, add popped corn and stir until every kernel is lightly coated with butter. Add sliced almonds, spices (or anything you desire), cover the lid and turn up the heat. After your corn is popped, open the lid, sprinkle some salt and voila!
7. Smoking Fish/Seafood
Imagine smoking your own salmon for your next Sunday breakfast. All you need is a wok, aluminum foil, wood chips and of course a nice slice of salmon. Cover the inside of your wok with aluminum foil, toss in a handful of wood chips, place the smoking rack on top and put your fish or squid directly on the rack or on a plate. Cover the lid and you’re ready to smoke. Just remember to open your window before you open the lid to air out your kitchen.
8. Deep Fry
Put oil in the wok. Once the temperature is right (each deep fry has a different temperature so check your recipe), start frying. You know the drill.
9. Heating Up Tortillas, Bread and Muffins
I actually use my wok as a mini-oven to heat up all of my bread products. It’s much quicker than the oven and saves energy.
10. Stir Fry
While stir fry is not nearly as intimidating as you think, it deserves some special attention. In my next blog, I’ll give you a Stir Fry 101 course and one of my easiest recipes to get you started.