Wok heartbreak

I remember the days of Wok Wednesdays, when I cooked blithely in my wok and dreamed of a stir-fry future. Oh, what halcyon days those were. But those dreams were crushed a few weeks ago when I pulled the wok from my pantry. What happens to me and woks had happened again: It rusted.

In several photo exchanges, the kind and helpful Grace Young , author of “Stir Frying to the Sky’s Edge” (the Wok Wednesdays bible), tried to allay my fears. It looked like the darkening from seasoning to her. But she didn’t have the benefit of the metallic aroma and brownish residue left when I ran a finger across. She also was unaware of my previous disappointing relationships with woks.

I am baffled about what causes the problem – it’s not like I’m using the wok to store goldfish, or something. But I pulled it out today and went through the seasoning process again, after first scrubbing it with soap then hot oil and salt.

How long will the relationship last this time? I have no way of knowing. But I will try to enjoy it while I can.

My wok-up call

I once owned a wok. It was the early ’80s. Strangely, it was one of the first things I actually bought for my post-college kitchen. It joined dented aluminum pots and dull knives that I “borrowed” from my mother.

Based on my cooking knowledge at the time, me having a wok made as much sense as using a Lamborghini as a church van.

In college, my friends and I had discovered Asian food and vegetarian eating. Not that we were going to give up our burgers or frozen waffles, but it became “the thing” to have a wok.

So, there it was in my kitchen, with a round bottom, a metal ring to sit it over my lame rented electric range, and no directions. Seasoning? Nobody told me about that. The ring made the wok hover so high over my limping burner that it barely got hot. Food stuck to it like wallpaper. Then, it started to rust. I believe I converted it to a planter in the back yard.

Since then, I’ve done any Asian-style stir-frying in either a saute pan on the stove or (don’t throw things at me, now) an electric frying pan. I’m still working with electricity, although my range cranks out the heat now. (There’s no gas line to my house, and it would cost a stupid amount of money to get one.) My results haven’t been like the real stuff, but I was content.

Until today. The story in today’s Raleigh News & Observer here made me long for that crack and sizzle of properly stir-fried food. The article made it sound easy, with simple instructions. Most of all, the article made it sound like I could, indeed, wrestle that wok (a flat-bottomed one) to the ground and make it do what I want.

I bought a wok this morning, before I could weaken. And I signed up for WokWednesdays, a locally spurred plan for a group to cook its way through Grace Young’s “Stir-Frying to the Sky’s Edge.” Find out about it here.

I can’t wok away now.