A quality wok is essential for good stir-fry
A good wok makes a huge difference in how the food tastes. Woks don’t have to be expensive to be good, but they do need to meet some standards if you want to make good tasting food. A good wok will have a good non-stick surface, good heat transfer and light enough for easy handling. Below is my opinion on each type of wok.
Coated Wok – Stay away!! Any type of coating is not good for cooking. It doesn’t matter what type of space-aged technology they claim to have, I recommend not using anything that is coated. If you want to know more about the risk of coated material, just google health risk and Teflon. On a scale of 1-10, I give these a 1.
Stainless Steel – “Good” quality ones are normally expensive and can cost up to $200. They can get pretty heavy and may take a long time to heat up and cool down. Stainless steel is commonly machine made and have a flat bottom. Also, food has a tendency to stick. On a scale of 1-10 I rate these between 3-5.
Cast iron – Good quality thick woks are heavier than Stainless steel. You can get thinner and lighter woks, but they tend to be brittle and could crack. Cast iron wok has good heat distribution and a decent natural non-stick surface (once you get it seasoned correctly), but it takes longer to heat up and cool down. On a scare of 1-10, I rate these between 4-7.
Carbon Steel – In my opinion, the best option. It heats up quickly and evenly and is very responsive to burner output. A decent quality one is inexpensive and if seasoned correctly, it has the best non-stick surface available. The only negative, it that it does require some knowledge to get the wok seasoned correctly. On a scale of 1-10, I rate these between 6-10.
Flat or round bottom wok?
I’ll come right out and say it, “Round bottom is better!” It tends to cook more evenly while also giving you different heat zones. Food is also easier to handle inside a round wok and it is easier to flip food. The only disadvantage is that you need a wok ring when using it on gas range and you can’t really use it on an electric flat cook surface.
What I use
In my lifetime, I’ve probably owned and tried at least 20 different woks. Some made with different metals, thickness coating and added gadgets. I’ve thrown most of them away and now only own two. Both of them Caron Steel. I don’t remember where I got the older one, but the newer one I bought in 2014 and has become my preferred one to use. It is a 14 inch Carbon Steel wok by Town Food services. I bought it from Amazon for $23. For a family of 4-8 people it does a great job. If you are cooking for 1-4 people the 12 inch version should work. More than 8, I recommend the 16 inch version. Although inexpensive, I find that it has all the things I look for in a wok. One note: You have to add your own wooden handle.
Seasoning your wok for stir-fry (especially if frying rice or noodle)
The key to being succesful at fried rice is having a well-seasoned wok so your ingredients do not stick to the pan. To season your wok, heat (a clean wok) up till it just begins to smoke, then add 2 Tblsp. oil and swirl it around til it covers the wok. Turn off heat. Pour out excess oil. Add 1 Tbsp. salt. With paper toweling or cloth, work salt in to wok by rubbing in a small circular motion. After you have covered the entire srface. wipe out excess salt and your wok is ready to use. You will find that your wok will get better the more you use it. Do this technique before each use until you feel your wok no longer needs it.
Pea tips (shoots)
They taste like peas, but with a wonderful light green flavor. The taste varies slightly depending on the type of peas you pick from. I love pan frying it by itself with some garlic or you can add your choice of meat. Pork, Bacon or chicken are my favorite. Any types of Pea tips can be used (Garden , Snow or Snap peas) but the snow peas are preferred.
Picking pea tips (shoots) To harvest shoots, start at the top of a pea vine. Gently grab it by its tip and follow the stem downwards, stopping just above the second leaf. Right at the point where it joins the main stem you will see a small green nubbin. Pinch right above it. This will allow it to continue growing. Done correctly, the plant will continue to sprout and provide more opportunities for harvest.
Prepping (the traditional way)
Peel papaya. Hold papaya in hand and with cleaver or large knife quickly chop lengthwise into the cucumber penetrating only to seeds. Rotate papaya until you have chopped all the way around, then start at one end of papaya and slice thinly to the other end as you would if using a vegetable peeler. Continue slicing and rotating the papaya until you reach the seeds. Discard seeds and use papaya for salads. Cucumbers may be prepared the same way.
Prepping (more efficiant way)
Recently I discovered the better and more efficient way to prepare the Papaya for the salad. instead of chopping then thinly slicing the papaya, I use a julienne peeler. The local Hmong store did not carry it and I have never seen on in stores. I accidentally ran across it on Amazon. I ordered it thinking it probably wouldn’t work, but it works wonderfully. I have since told everyone I know and order a bunch for friends and family. They are available here on Amazon.
You will need a decent size mortar and pestle. Start with the pepper corn, coriander and cumin powder. Work them until they are nicely crushed. Take them out and set aside. Next slice the peppers and add it to the mortar with the salt (if you are using dried peppers, you will need to soak them first) and work it until the pepper is nicely mashed up. Next start adding the other ingredients to the mix starting with the garlic, galangal and lemongrass. you are finished once the mixture has a nice paste-like consistency.
Some bamboo shoots can get quite large, to make life easier, I recommend getting an extra wide peeler. Ideally you want the bamboo as thin as possible to soak in the flavor of the dish you adding it to. With the peeler, hold the bamboo with the tip away from you, and peel from the wide end to the tip. Do not rotate the bamboo, but continue to peel all the way through until you have trouble holding it. Then simply peel remaining bamboo into small strips with your fingers