If there’s one kitchen tool I can’t function without, it’s the wok. Take a quick squiz at my recipes and you’ll see how much I use it (and how much I LOVE it). Why? Because my wok gets better every time I cook in it, building up magical layers of ingrained savoury flavour over time and regular use. But it’s not just a one-trick pan, my friend. If you’re wondering what to cook in a wok, you’re probably hitting on stir-frying. I get it. It’s the most obvious way to cook in a wok. But. BUT. There are also some other techniques it’s great for, too. Let me dish…
What to cook in a wok
Hint: they’re not just for stir-frying.
Asian cooks don’t tend to have every pot and pan known to humankind in their cupboard; they pretty much rely on a wok for most types of cooking. (Oh, and a claypot, which is a whole other story.)
Woks are so multi-functional they can just about do everything, and that’s exactly how they’ve traditionally been used. You can deep-fry, shallow-fry, braise, stew, steam, poach, boil, dry-toast and even smoke in a wok. So let’s dive into a few different ways you might want to use your wok for a change of pace from stir-frying.
All about wok steaming
I find that water strips the seasoning from a recently seasoned wok, so hold up on steaming until you’ve built up a good, seasoned surface. Flat-bottomed woks (like my MAKO, just sayin’) work best, otherwise you need to pop the wok on a wok ring for a spot of extra stability.
Use your wok and a bamboo steamer to make dumplings, like these har gow beauts.
Put your food in a bamboo steamer or bowl or a plate, depending on what’s cooking. A plate works best for fish, poultry, veggies and meats, a bowl is good for pieces of tofu, while the steamer is for things like dumplings and sticky rice that need steam to come up from the bottom (line your basket first with perforated baking paper or even cabbage leaves). I’ve even got an ingenious hack for cooking my Thai lime and garlic steamed fish where you don’t even need a steamer (it’s a goodie, check it out).
No steamer? No worries. All you need is some aluminium foil.
Whichever method you use, make sure the food sits above the water level and get the water boiling before cooking. Starting from cold is a no-no. Oh, and use the lid from a large bamboo steamer to cover the wok for steaming; a solid metal lid will collect condensation that will drip straight down. Soggy dinner? Not on my watch.
One more word of advice: watch your water level and top it up if needed. And always take care when you’re lifting that lid – that rush of steam is HOT, so turn off the heat before retrieving your food.
How to deep-fry in a wok
Live for the crunch and all the crispy things.
Mmmm… crispy-crunchy deep-fries! Is there anything better? The good news is you need less cooking oil when deep-frying in a wok compared to a saucepan. I reckon it’s way safer, too; oil can easily bubble over in a pot. Stay safe though and don’t fill your wok more than half full with oil.
Another word of caution: don’t use a shallow wok. I designed my MAKO wok to be 14.8cm (5.8 inches) so it was plenty deep enough to deep-fry. You’re welcome.
Deep-frying safely in your wok
Craggly, fabulous Vietnamese sweet potato and prawn fritters.
A wobbly wok is a dangerous wok, so use a wok ring. Although you don’t need to worry about this with a flat-bottomed wok, as it’s already stable.
Also, grab yourself a thermometer so you’re not second-guessing oil temperature. There’s nothing worse than oily (oil too cool) or incinerated (oil too hot) dinner. If your temperature is bang-on, your deep-fry won’t absorb oil, won’t be greasy and will turn out just right. I like to use the Asian mama technique of dipping a chopstick into the oil and watching for small bubbles, but you can’t go wrong with a cook’s thermometer. Safety first, people.
Dry off your food first using kitchen paper. Or make sure it’s well coated with batter, crumbing or whatever. Moisture makes hot oil sputter and spit, a scenario that can quickly turn nasty. No burns, please.
Searing, braising and more (in a wok)
Hold onto your hat, my friend: a wok is also a nifty bit of kit for cooking – shock horror – BOLOGNESE. That’s right – fusion pasta is a gift and a wok is the giver. Try my recipe for 15-Minute Bolognese and you’ll see exactly what I’m talking about.
Have you ever seen anything more beautiful?
Now that you’re a wok master, it’s time to get cooking. Let me know what you make first!