Friday, September 24, 2010

Wok Cooking 101

There is no end to the versatility and flavor that can be achieved by cooking in a wok. It's not only used for stir-frying, but for deep frying, steaming, making soup, or for even making popcorn. Less oil is needed to cook food in a wok when stir-frying, thus helping to reduce fat and calories. Vegetables cook up beautifully, warmed all the way through but still with a fresh 'crunch'. And meat is used more as a flavoring than a main ingredient. Diced into small cubes, four ounces of meat can flavor a wok-full of vegetables, thus reducing meat consumption. And of course you need not add meat at all if you don't want to. There are a few basic things about the wok that are different than traditional western cooking utensils:
  • Remember this rule of thumb - Hot wok + cold oil = foods don't stick. That means get your wok really hot BEFORE you put in the oil. Let the oil get hot for a minute or two, THEN put in the food.
  • Stir-frying in a wok takes less time than in regular pans. That's the whole point. Cook the food as fast as possible. This will ensure that meat has a crusty exterior but is still moist and tender on the inside and vegetables will be warmed all the way through but still have some 'bite'.
  • Use peanut oil (unless you're allergic to peanuts!) The wok can get very hot, even on a home stovetop. Regular cooking oils have a low smoking temperature while peanut oil's smoking temperature is over 500 degrees.
  • I've actually used a wok the way it's done in most oriental restaurant kitchens, over an intense gas burner. An entire stir-fry dish can be cooked in 3 minutes. That's how hot the fire is. Most kitchens don't have a heat source like that, but you can come close if you've got a gas stove. Lots of luck for an electric stovetop, or worse yet an electric wok. You can still cook on them, but it's not quite the same.
  • NEVER cook with a wok that does not have a lid. A lid is essential for cooking, plus is a safety feature, as cooking temperatures can get really hot even on a home range, and cooking oils can on occasion burst into flame. Slapping on the lid takes care of that problem in a hurry, especially if you're using the wok for deep-frying.
  • For wok cooking on a regular stovetop, cook the food in stages. Cook the meat first, then remove, let wok heat up again, then put in vegetables. Cook vegetables for a few minutes, add meat and put on the lid for the last minute. This will steam the food and help ensure doneness.
  • When the dish is cooked, serve immediately or make a sauce by dissolving one tablespoon of cornstarch in 1/2-cup water (meat or vegetable broth or stock is even better) and adding to the food. Let this cook until the sauce is thickened, then serve.
  • You'll spend more time in preparation than actual cooking. Cut vegetables into bite-sized pieces at an angle to increase the surface area of the vegetable to the wok.

My Zimbio