To many aspiring Western home cooks and chefs alike, the wok may seem like a daunting piece of cooking equipment. Its large shape may seem like one that can be difficult to manage, but you may find out that the wok is far easier to use than you may think.
What is a Wok?
Before we show you how a wok should be used, let’s go over a quick description of what a wok actually is. A wok is essentially a large metallic bowl that is most commonly used in Chinese cuisine for a wide array of cooking methods. These methods include, but are not limited to, stir-frying, boiling, stewing, and more. Essentially, it’s the Swiss Army knife of Chinese cooking, and many dishes can be cooked in this all-purpose cooking pot.
What is a Wok Used for?
Woks are particularly useful to chefs for two reasons. Firstly, the wok is very versatile, and an experienced chef can make anything from a pot of boiling stew to a steaming bowl of fried rice with it. Secondly, its unique shape makes it ideal for stir-frying and other Chinese cooking methods that make full use of its unique structure.
How Do You Cook with a Wok?
To answer this question, you first need to ask, “what am I doing with the wok?”. Are you roasting a batch of nuts? Are you steaming some delicious buns? Or are you frying freshly cut fish? Because it is so versatile, it can be hard to summarize the right way to use a wok without delving into the proper ways of using it for each possible cooking method. There are a few underlying concepts, however, that apply to almost all cooking methods, and as such we will discuss these instead.
Think of the Wok as More Than a Stir-Fryer
When one thinks of a wok, they picture a Chinese chef stir-frying a dish at high temperatures, often with vigor and skill. However, this isn’t the only way of using a wok. Many home cooks buy a wok just for the purpose of stir-frying. And while it is definitely possible to cook with other types of equipment, if one wants to cook well with the wok, one must learn how to use the wok in various ways.
Steaming, boiling, and braising require different ways to use the wok, and learning these methods will give you a better understanding of the overall shape and capabilities of the wok. Now, this does sound like a very vague concept, and it is, but over time you will understand that the wok was never made to merely stir-fry food. Rather, it's designed to serve as a general-purpose cooking apparatus that just so happened to be best known for stir-frying.
Cook Different Meals
The next logical step would be to actually apply your understanding by cooking with the wok in different ways. It may feel weird to try a familiar cooking method with entirely different cooking equipment, but eventually, you will get a feel for it. This will allow you to more easily cook dishes with similar recipes in the future, opening up more and more possibilities. Eventually, you’ll be able to cook with the wok in more ways than you’d originally thought.
The wok is, by no means of exaggeration, one of the most versatile cooking equipment ever invented. As such, it can take time to truly master and properly cook with. But if one puts in the time and effort to do so, they’ll be able to cook many different sorts of dishes and meals.