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.

Wokking again

I’ve noticed a couple of things in the course of Wok Wednesdays. One, that I need to sharpen my knives. Before I can stir fry, I have to chop – a lot. If you aspire to wokking, get those kitchen knives good and sharp. It will make life easier and get dinner on the table faster. Mine will be on the way to the sharpener tomorrow.

The other thing is just how little oil good stir frying requires, when you have a well-seasoned wok – and mine apparently is on the way to being so. Tonight’s recipe, Chinese Trinidadian Stir-Fried Shrimp with Rum, called for just two tablespoons of vegetable oil. And it was plenty. Nothing stuck.

I have to say, this week’s recipe wasn’t my favorite so far. The ketchup-based sauce reminded me of restaurant Chinese food – a much better version of it, but reminiscent of conventional flavors. I like a little more…oomph.

I decided to peel the shrimp despite instructions to leave the shells on to make them more moist. I dislike dealing with shells in a completed dish. I did squeeze half a lime over the peeled and deveined shrimp and left it for a couple of minutes before cooking. The rest of the lime went into my iced tea and a strawberry cider-soda concoction I’ve been enjoying recently. More on that later.

This is my first time participating in a “group-cook” like this. It’s a great way to explore a technique and piece of equipment that I’d been frustrated by in the past. Read more about the group experience here.

Rolling with the wok

chinese burmese chili chicken

Another Wednesday, another recipe from “Stir-Frying to the Sky’s Edge” by Grace Young. The Hub is starting to look forward to Wok Wednesdays, to see what will emerge from the pan. It’s interesting that having a virtual cooking class provides more motivation than struggling with the wok on my own, even for an alleged Food Professional like myself. (Follow along with us on Twitter at #wokwednesdays.)

This was a spicy one: Chinese Burmese Chili Chicken, with red and green bell peppers, zucchini, fish sauce and plenty of spice – Anaheim chilies, chili powder and cumin. It continues to surprise me that cooking in the super-hot wok requires so little oil, only two tablespoons in this case. For this recipe, the range hood was up full and both ceiling fans were going as the spices toasted a bit in the bottom.

While the cooking goes quickly, the chopping takes time. It took me about 30 minutes to wash and whack all the ingredients, and put them into their own little bowls – handy for quick addition.

So far, so good with the wok. No danger of it becoming a planter, yet.

Wok Wednesday No. 1

I signed up for Wok Wednesdays in the hope of overcoming my issues with the cooking implement. Things did not get off to a reassuring start. My new 14-inch carbon-steel wok was, as the directions said, “coated with a food-grade clear protective layer at the factory before shipment.” This had to be removed. Thirty minutes and three SOS pads later, I was grateful I hadn’t bought the mani on Saturday, just the pedi. Is polyurethane “food grade”? Because that’s what appeared to be on my wok.

After eliminating the last bits of the stuff with the aid of C-4 (ha, ha, just kidding, TSA), I consulted our Wok Wednesdays bible, “Stir-Frying to the Sky’s Edge” by Grace Young (Simon & Schuster, 2010). Young’s seasoning instructions – stir-frying sliced ginger and scallions for about 15 minutes and rubbing them all over the wok – were a breeze.

Our first recipe was a simple one: Stir-Fried Garlic Spinach. it was just, well, garlic and spinach (with vegetable oil, salt and a little sugar). I wondered what the big deal could be. I’ve made sauteed spinach and garlic hundreds of times in conventional frying pans. Honestly, it was different. The deep wok holds copious amounts of fluffy greens more easily than a saute pan. The greens didn’t collect liquid, like they do when I use a saucepan, probably because the wok can get super-hot very quickly. It got hot fast even on my electric range. And it took longer to wash the greens (I threw in some swiss chard, too) than it did to cook them.

Since the wok was there, after cooking the greens I cooked some diced tofu, onions and Japanese turnips in soy sauce, sesame oil and sherry. Frequent visitors here know that I am also attempting to embrace the bean curd. Cooking it in the wok gave it the crispy outside texture I’d been looking for.