Wok Like a Man


They say that it takes a big person to admit when he’s wrong, especially after stubbornly holding out against all good reason.  This is a fact that I came to terms with recently when I finally gave up on my seven year (futile) attempt to effectively use a wok.

It all started in the early days of post graduate school life, living by myself in an apartment for the first time.  I was shopping for items to outfit the apartment in the place that many young individuals shop, IKEA (yes, they do sell something other than those meatballs).  When it comes to the kitchen, IKEA is fantastic for storage containers, inexpensive wine glasses and two of my absolute favorite items, my hanging pot-rack and magnetic knife strip.  I could have stopped there, but the lure of a $10 wok  was just too much to overcome.

Mind you, this isn’t the one they are selling now (for $7.99…gotta love how prices go DOWN at that place!), which has a non-stick coating.  This one was made of some sort of metal (still unidentified) that required seasoning.  Still, I was so excited to break it out and cook an authentic Asian meal.  I have a bit of a fetish for “authenticity.”  I guess I just feel that it’s better somehow…more time-tested than the short-cut recipes optimized for today’s kitchen.

I suppose I had heard all the warnings about why a wok isn’t the best choice for the home chef, but why would I ever let that stand in the way of my authentic idealism?  I bet you can see where this is going…

I think I can honestly say it never actually worked for me.  Not even once.  Visions of stir fry and kung pao chicken quickly receded into frustration as everything stuck to the surface.  Whatever seasoning there was vanished, and the time I made the mistake of cooking an acidic, tomato-based curry left me with a metallic aftertaste that let me know something was definitely not right.

I kept trotting it out, albeit with less and less frequency, because I was somehow still in love with an idealized image of me whipping up restaurant-quality Chinese dishes on my range, doing things the right way, as if that were somehow more important than just making a meal that tasted good.  My slavish devotion eventually got me to abandon any attempt to  cook anything from my Asian cookbooks.

I gave up the ghost this past week, and my wok headed to the trash bin.  Instead, I prepared a tasty tangerine beef stir fry using my new 10″ nonstick frying pan which sports a nicely sloping side, just like every cookbook tells you to use if you’re going to cook Asian cuisine in a Western kitchen.  No muss, no fuss.

If not for my stubbornness and irrational attachment to a $10 bad idea, I could have been enjoying dishes like this all along.

Moral of the story: Embrace the compromises in life and just tuck into a nice chicken and broccoli.

(Photo: Preconscious)

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  • BS August 19, 2009  

    Sad story! But I think you are placing too much blame on woks and not enough on Ikea…I too got a $10 ikea wok a few years ago and it rusted and turned gross after about three dinners…I went and got myself the real deal from chinatown (for about the same price), and have been happy with my stir-frys ever since.

  • dad gansie August 19, 2009  

    so far i’m happy with my ikea stuff especially the 12×9 grille pans makes great searing lines

  • Becky and the Beanstock August 19, 2009  

    Ah, see I don’t have problems with stuff sticking. I just hate the woks weird sides, which never stay as warm as the pan. So things cook unevenly. Guess that’s why wok chefs are always violently stirring and tossing. .

  • Alex Vanderlay August 20, 2009  

    I’d recommend trying this, works for me.

    First of all, you’ll need an iron steel wok -the cheapest kind made of a thin layer of iron steel that’s sold in practically any Chinese market. There’s no need to buy anything fancy, mine was less than $15 and it’s working out great. You just have to keep it well-seasoned and it will last practically forever.

    At any point in the making of this superb Pad Thai, if anything sticks to the pan and won’t come out easily with a gentle push of a metal spatula, your wok isn’t well-seasoned. No, no, you don’t have to rush out to buy a replacement. You just have to season it again.

    There are plenty of ways to season a pan, here’s how I do it. First, add to your wok one cup of oil –make sure you brush the oil over all the inside surface of the wok- and heat the wok until it is smoking. Tilt the pan around to keep lubricating the surface with oil and let it continues to smoke for a few minutes –make sure your smoke vent is running and all the windows are open, by the way. Then, take the pan off the heat and dispose of the oil. Pour half a cup of kosher salt into the wok and, with a kitchen rag, rub the salt all over the inside surface of the wok. Throw out the salt, wipe the wok clean with a damp towel. Pour a small amount of oil into a paper towel and wipe the oil all over the inside surface again. Your wok is now seasoned and ready.

    From Chez Pim: http://chezpim.typepad.com/blogs/2007/01/pad_thai_for_be.html

  • harleytexas August 22, 2009  

    My wife & I bought a wok from Ikea, the non-stick, and after using it around 3-4 times, the non-stick coating is coming off. We never used anything metal in it and clean it with mild soap and a sponge. Piece of crap.

  • Ben August 25, 2009  

    To be authentic, you would need a wok burner (much more powerful than a typical stove burner) and likely an improved exhaust system to go along.

    I can’t vouch for the business but the information presented is solid: http://www.indiajoze.com/equipment.html

  • Jon Mahn October 6, 2009  

    Sad story. Please take a moment to check out our ManPans Stir Fry Wok. A great product. Here is a link to a video of a chef using our pan at an asian restaurant. Pretty incredible. He is not paid for his endorsement. Thanks. http://www.manpans.com/pages/Bonsai-Bistro-Stir-Fry-Wok.html

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