A wok is a deep and rounded frying pan that originated in Asia. They are great for cooking stir fries or noodle dishes and add a lot of their own flavor to the foods cooked in them. Woks are popular to own as they develop their own unique flavor over time from the different ingredients that have been cooked in them. They have become common in U.S. restaurants and homes in part because of the rise of Asian culinary influence, but also in part due to their customizability to individual flavor preferences.
To enjoy the best benefits of a wok though you have to know how to develop and care for it properly. It has to be treated differently than typical frying pans for it to be able to reach its full flavor potential. Let us outline the most crucial steps in seasoning and caring for your wok.
Removing the Factory Coating of the Wok
The first thing you need to do with your new wok is to remove the protective coating that all woks come from the factory with. It is a thin film made to prevent rust while on display or in transit to its end user but must be scrubbed away before seasoning or cooking.
The protective coating can be removed with hot water, dish soap, and some elbow grease. Many recommend steel wool but a rough brush can do the trick too. This is just about the only time you will be using soap and rigorously scrubbing your wok. It is not difficult to remove the coating; a few minutes of washing should be sufficient. If you are worried about getting all of the coating off, a good tip is to cook some onions to a char in the wok to make sure every last bit is removed.
How to Season a Wok
After removing the factory coating it is time to season your new wok. This process is a big part of what makes a wok special. Each wok develops its own flavor profile over time and you can help cultivate that taste by what you cook in it and how you season it.
Be prepared for your wok to change color, over time it will ultimately end up black. This is a good thing; it means you have developed a good coating.
- Heat your wok over high heat, smoke is normal so be prepared to turn your hood’s vent on.
- Heat the wok until it is hot but not singeing. You are looking for heat that is going to sizzle oil but not evaporate it. Test it with a flick water, you want the water to sizzle but not instantly explode into steam as it hits the pan.
- Once the wok hits ideal heat, pull it off of the burner.
- While holding it off of the heat, add 2 to 3 tablespoons of oil (or lard if that’s more your style) into the wok and swirl it around to coat the bottom and sides. Pick your favorite type of oil, peanut oil is great if you plan to cook traditional Asian dishes.
- Put the wok back on the heat and add some food with great flavors for that first stir fry, scallions and ginger are a favorite. Stir fry for 15-20 minutes making sure the ingredients touch all sides of the wok.
- Remove your wok from heat and let it cool. Either serve up the food you stir fried, or if it was just for flavor, discard it.
- Once it is cooled, wash your wok with hot water and wipe it with a sponge or gentle brush to remove food all particles. You are working to cultivate a coating so resist the urge to scrub off all of the oil and black layer that is beginning to form- this is where your flavor will come from!
- To dry, place it over low heat for 1-2 minutes or until all water has evaporated.
- If you are done with your wok feel free to add another light coat of oil before storing. If you’d like to get down to business though, your wok is now ready for use!
How to Clean a Wok
The best way to clean a wok in minimally and gently. Yes, it needs to be cleaned each time after its used, but you will not be running it through the dishwasher or scrubbing it down like you would other pots and pans.
- Use warm water and a non-abrasive tool (like a sponge or soft brush) to remove any food particles left on your wok after cooking.
- If you have any stubborn stains let the wok sit it warm water for a few minutes and try again, avoid using soap if you can.
- If you do feel the need to use soap, only use a small amount and steer towards gentler varieties or detergents.
- Dry your wok over low heat until all water has evaporated. Sitting water can lead to rust spots which are very difficult to get rid of without ruining the seasoning of a wok.
Tips for Caring for Your Wok
- Avoid things like steaming or boiling in your wok- it is at its best when frying.
- New woks especially do great with fat. Fry some bacon in there to help cultivate the coating and taste of your wok.
- Use utensils other than metal when cooking to prevent yourself from scratching off the coating.
- Avoid acidic foods such as vinegar and tomatoes to protect the coating. If you’d like to add these ingredients do it after your dish is out of the wok.
- Remember that it takes a while for the coating to become mature and nonstick, be patient and make sure you are not wearing it off during cleaning or cooking.
- If you haven’t used it in while and its looking dry, heat it and oil it again before use.