Nothing says comfort more than Chinese food, and there’s no better way to prepare comfort food than at home. The Wok is an essential Chinese cooking tool. Youtubers and chefs have encouraged adhering to tradition by elaborating on how cooking with Woks imbues the food with flavour and warmth.
As Woks grow in popularity, there is little clarity on what classifies as quality and traditional. Modified Woks in the market cater to those without traditional stoves. However, many looking for traditional ones do not know how to tell them apart. Worry not because this guide covers what you must look for while shopping.
What are Woks?
These heavy-bottomed curved pans are bowl-shaped pans that traditionally originate from South Asia. Their curved bottoms evenly distribute heat across the inner surface but are incompatible with induction stovetops. Many have begun phasing out traditional gas stovetops for environmental and convenience concerns.
Types of Woks
Contrary to popular belief, there are multiple styles and options for woks in the market.
Cantonese woks are traditional curved bottom pans with two short handles on either side. They are suited for traditional gas stovetops and are incompatible with flat induction tops. The two handles may or may not be safe from the heat.
Northern woks come with a single long handle. While these pans are traditionally curve-bottomed, the Northern Wok usually possesses more modifications. The bottom may be relatively flat for induction stovetop compatibility. Moreover, the handle is safe from heat, and you do not need a towel to hold the pan.
Why are Woks Special?
In Traditional Chinese Cuisine preparation, the Chinese believe that the “Breath of the Wok” makes food exponentially tastier.
The curved bottom distributes heat evenly, and the bowl-shaped pan ensures that the flavours stay within the food. The ease of tossing makes the cooking dynamic.
What you should consider while purchasing Woks
Metal pans are available in a variety of materials. Ensure that the woks are thick-bottomed since thin-bottomed pans cannot provide the characteristic non-stick surface of Woks.
To check whether your pan is thin-bottomed, rap the pan’s bottom with three sharp knocks. If the sound is twangy, the pan has a thin bottom, while a deeper and muted noise indicates it is thick-bottomed.
The characteristic of a wok is the curved bottom. While pans need modification for induction stovetops, one must ensure where the line between Woks and frying pans lies.
Woks with smaller flat areas located centrally will impart the most flavour and are closer to traditional Woks. Flatter Woks allow the flavour and heat to escape, all while not providing even heat distribution.
Understand your needs
Most Chinese dishes call for tossing and moving. Woks make tossing easier than any other pan. However, tossing is a cooking technique that takes time to develop. Cantonese Woks prove better for tossing because of two attachment points balancing the pan. On the other hand, Northern Woks are best for light tossing and even less so when it has a flattened bottom.
Most Woks do not have a Teflon or non-stick chemical coating. Instead, its thick bottom helps create a non-stick environment. While using Woks, it is crucial to let the pan stay on the stove until hot before adding room-temperature oil. The heating oil creates the perfect non-stick surface.
Many Traditional Chinese cooks do not wash Woks until necessary. Since Chinese meals consist of more than one stir fry or stews, chefs try to prepare all of them consecutively in the same pan to preserve the flavours. Remember to wash after every meal instead of each dish.