In Chinese, the wok is called "dar shao" which directly translates as "Big Spoon".One of the most important pieces of Chinese cookware and used all over Asia, the wok is a great utensil known for its versatility. This conical metal pan can be used for stir-frying, deep-frying, braising, steaming, and stewing food. Choosing this handy utensil for your home can be a bit confusing. This is because there are many types of woks available in the market. While the classic woks used for Chinese cooking are round-bottomed, there are newer flat-bottomed ones available in the market that are suitable for conventional stoves. Moreover, there are different types of material and sizes to choose from. To help you choose the right wok for your kitchen, this Buzzle write-up dishes out a few tips.
The metal type is the most important consideration when choosing a wok. Each metal type has its own set of pros and cons. You need to choose the wok based on what you are comfortable with. While cast iron and carbon steel are more commonly used, non-stick woks have also gained popularity in recent years.
Other material available include stainless steel and aluminum. While these woks may work for home chefs, they do not have even heat distribution or heat retention, thus, making them extremely inefficient for Chinese cooking. Moreover, they are likely to have dents and warps when used for high heat flash cooking. The ideal metal type for woks are carbon steel, which has been seasoned.
There are many sizes of woks available in the market. While you may be itching to get that huge wok you saw at the restaurant, it is advisable to consider certain things before choosing the wok size. These include:
▣ The size and power of your burner
▣ What type of food you want to cook
▣ The amount of food to be cooked
While the woks used in restaurants are several feet in diameter, the ideal size of woks for most households should be around 14''. If you have a huge family or need to use the wok to cook for several people, then a 16'' wok should work well for you.
Flat-bottomed wok with loop handles
Round-bottomed wok with stick handle and loop handle
Woks vary from a round bottom to shallow, flat bottom. Ideally, the wok should be deep enough to allow you to toss the vegetables while cooking. Classic woks are round in shape, while the Western versions have a flat bottom that make them look like deep-frying pans.
Whether you need a round- or flat-bottomed wok, it depends on the stove you have. A rounded wok does have the advantage of a deeper bottom that enables flash cooking and easy tossing of food, but they do not sit well on a Western style stove and are, thus, unable to come in full contact with the stove's heating element. That is why you need a flat-bottomed wok, especially if you are using electric burners. Unfortunately, tossing and stir-frying with a flat-bottomed wok can be quite difficult. Moreover, the food is not evenly cooked in these vessels. To avoid this, you can use a round-bottomed wok with wok rings that allow the wok to sit safely on the burner while cooking. You should ideally choose a ring that is 4" smaller in diameter than the wok and fits the burner well.
Woks generally come with two loop handles on either side or a long stick-style handle on one side. The loop-style wok handles are seen in traditional woks and are best for large woks that cannot be lifted with just one handle. The long stick-style handles are good for smaller woks. In China, the popular stick handle woks are known as "Peking pans." Some of the newer woks in the market have a loop handle on one side and a stick-style handle on the other. These handles are riveted or welded to the sides of the wok.
Apart from the style, it is also important to pay attention to the material of the wok handles. Long heat-resistant wood or plastic handles are your best bet. Stainless steel handles are heat-resistant, sturdy, and remain relatively cool for a long time.
Woks can be found in Asian grocery stores and restaurant supply shops. They are also available in many popular kitchenware stores or online. Getting a versatile modern wok is a decision you will never regret. So, choose one with care, and you are sure to cherish it for years to come.