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Purchasing, Seasoning and Cleaning a Wok

In the December 2012 issue of School Nutrition, Cecily Walters details stir-fry techniques and how you can incorporate this delicious one-pot dish into your school nutrition operation using equipment you likely already have in “Wok This Way.” While schools may not use a wok to prepare stir-fry, since such specialty equipment is not conducive to bulk preparation, a wok is valuable for home cooks interested in perfecting stir-fry cuisine. Before you purchase a wok and begin cooking, though, take some time to review these pointers, gathered by Chris Walters, about what to look for and how to keep your wok in the best condition possible.

Grace Young, author of Stir Frying to the Sky’s Edge: The Ultimate Guide to Mastery, with Authentic Recipes and Stories, recommends woks that are made of cast iron or carbon-steel, because those heat and cool quickly and evenly. A carbon-steel wok also is more resilient than a stainless steel or a non-stick wok. A round-bottomed wok focuses the heat, oil and ingredients, but is limited to use only on gas ranges. Flat-bottomed woks are more versatile than round-bottomed ones, because they can be used on an electric range.

Young notes that while skillets can be used, they ideally should be made of cured carbon-steel. Cooks using skillets to prepare stir-fries should be aware that spillage is of more concern than when using a wok, and the skillet may require more oil than a wok.

A great carbon-steel wok shouldn't look like it is factory-fresh—to be most effective, it needs the lived-in look that only comes from seasoning and use. Seasoning provides a natural non-stick surface, and it will give your stir-fries a unique taste. Over time, the wok will become discolored. And that's a good thing.

When using a brand new carbon-steel wok, you will first need to remove the rust coating. Scrub the wok inside and out in hot water with a stainless steel scrubber and dish soap. Make sure to be very thorough with the inside. Rinse and dry over low heat.

To season the wok before you use it for the first time, first turn on the exhaust fan and open the windows, as the smell of any remaining coating is strong. Heat the wok over high heat until a drop of water evaporates on contact. Next add 2 Tbsps. of peanut (or other vegetable) oil, a half-cup ginger and a “bunch” of cut scallions. Lower the heat to medium and stir-fry for 20 minutes, smearing the entire surface with the ginger and scallions. Discard the solids, wash the wok with hot water and a soft sponge and dry over low heat. For repeat uses of the wok, cleaning is just a matter of soaking for 5 minutes and washing with hot water, a soft sponge and low-heat drying.

Credit: Grace Young, www.finecooking.com/item/42905/how-to-care-for-your-carbon-steel-wok