A New Wok State of Mind
Last month while traipsing through San Francisco, I bought my very first wok -- well, my very first authentic wok, the real deal from China.
The idea of a new wok had been marinating in my brain for some time, inspired by Chinese cooking authority Grace Young. But it wasn't until I walked into Tane (call me "Octane") Chan's Wok shop in San Francisco, that I was faced with a do-it-now-or-you'll-regret-it moment.
Fifteen bucks and a few minutes later, I became the proud owner of a flat-bottomed, cast-iron wok (carbon-steel is the other variety), with an enamel exterior coating. Yesterday, I unwrapped my newly arrived kitchen baby and brought her into my world.
But before I could even consider cooking, I needed to give her a good scrubbing, to remove factory grime and any residual metal powder. This is one of the few times in the life of a wok that dish soap is not only welcome but encouraged.
With a copy of Young's "The Breath of a Wok, " at my side, I followed her instructions for both the wok's first washing and seasoning.
With a stainless steel scrubbing pad, I washed the wok, inside and out, and noticed that my scrubbing pad had turned black -- a phenomenon I had been warned of and told not to worry about. Next, I paper towel-dried the wok, and moved on to seasoning.
"A new wok represents the beginning of countless culinary possibilities," writes Young. And the "ritual of seasoning initiates the wok's culinary life."
At the most basic level, seasoning a wok means applying heat and oil to begin the creation of a patina, the desired nonstick surface that develops each time the wok is used. In addition to creating the nonstickiness, the patina also acts as a sealant and rust protector.
On a more symbolic level, Young says that seasoning a wok opens its pores: "It's like giving it a facial."
There are many "recipes" for seasoning a wok, several of which are mentioned in Young's book. The method I used includes the use of vegetable oil and Chinese chives. (I actually used flowering chives, but don't tell Grace.)
If you can't find Chinese chives, says Young, a good substitute is 1 bunch of chopped scallions and 1/2 cup of sliced ginger. These aromatics are used for their anti-bacterial qualities as well as to minimize the initial metallic taste of the wok.
Here's how it works: Heat the wok over high heat until "a bead of water vaporizes within 1 to 2 seconds of contact," writes Young. Add 2 tablespoons vegetable oil and 1/2 bunch of chives (or substitute). Lower heat and cook for at least five minutes (and for as long as 15 minutes, if you wish), using a wooden spoon or spatula to move the oiled chives all along the sides of the wok. Turn off heat and allow wok to cool before discarding the chives.
When cool, wash wok with hot water and a sponge. Dry on the stove, over low heat, at least 1 minute. Your wok is now ready for showtime!
Coming up next week: The wok's maiden voyage.
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