Why Marion Grasby loves cooking with a wok

Her must-have tool in the kitchen

Why Marion Grasby loves cooking with a wok

If you know one thing about me, it’s probably that I LOVE my wok. Seriously love it. When I cook, a wok is pretty much always there like an extension of my arm. It’s so incredibly manoeuvrable and easy to use. I love using a wok because it’s super-responsive to heat, so I can cook fast and accurately. It’s versatile too; there are so many things I can cook in a wok and for day-to-day cooking, it’s the best tool for quick cooking. I love the steam, sizzle and smoke a wok creates.

Most of all I love the flavour it gives. For me, a wok is not so much a cooking implement as it is an extra ingredient, the lovely patina that builds up gives added layers of smoky depth and character to anything it touches. Yep, I have a real thing for my wok and these, my friends, are the main reasons why.

A wok is versatile.

Think a wok is just for stir-frying? Stir-fries are awesome but you can do heaps more with your wok than cook a stir-fry. You can also:

  1. Steam in a wok: Dumplings, fish, chicken, delicate custards and even potatoes to make mash and beetroot for a dip; steaming in a wok is an exciting way to cook.
  2. Fry in a wok: With the perfect shape for frying, whether shallow or deep, I fry everything from chicken, prawn toasts, fish, pancakes, eggs, squid and even ice-cream in my wok.
  3. Smoke in a wok: Duck, chicken, eggs, tofu and certain cheeses like feta can all be smoked in a wok. It’s incredibly easy to do and oh, those flavours! Stunning.
  4. Char in a wok: I use my wok like a pseudo grill or oven to get roasted and charred effects, without having to heat up an entire oven. This method suits ingredients like prawns, sausages, cherry tomatoes, cruciferous vegetables (cauliflower, cabbage and broccolini), capsicums and peppers, mushrooms and corn.
  5. Simmer in a wok: The wide shape and large capacity makes a wok perfect for simmering; it encourages fast evaporation when you want to reduce and thicken a sauce, for example. I make creamy pie fillings, soups, broths, curry gravies and pasta sauces in my wok.

My ideal shaped wok

  • I prefer a flat-bottomed wok for home-cooking as a rounded one won’t sit properly on most domestic stoves. And above everything else, you need a stable cooking surface for your wok!
  • I like a wok with a top diameter of about 37cm (14 1/2 inches) and a base one of about 14cm (5 1/2 inches). This gives a generous central base for searing, plus plenty of room for deep-frying, steaming and smoking.
  • A good deep-sided bowl shape with a wide top gives two distinct cooking zones – the hot centre, where the hard-core searing happens, and the sides, where food can be pushed up to make way for new ingredients in the centre, or to stop ingredients over-cooking in the hot zone.
  • A material thickness of about 1.5-2mm (1/16 inch) is ideal in my opinion as it makes a wok that’s light, so you can easily manoeuvre it over the heat. It also means it heats and cools faster.
  • I like a long-handled wok with a little helper handle; this makes managing it safe and easy when it’s full and heavy.

Why do I always talk about a pre-seasoned carbon steel wok?

My ultimate wok is made from pre-seasoned carbon steel. Here’s why:

  1. Carbon steel heats and cools fast, it’s light, and is very durable.
  2. Pre-seasoned, because there’s no risk of a new wok rusting if it’s pre-seasoned. The work of building up a naturally non-stick surface has already been done!
  3. Even with a pre-seasoned wok, the patina, or surface ‘seasoning’, will keep building up over time, imparting deep, smoky-savoury flavours when you cook.
  4. You can buy woks made from other materials such as cast iron (this gives a great sear but is incredibly heavy), stainless steel (needs to be scrubbed clean after each use and won’t build up a patina), and non-stick coatings (these don’t get hot enough for proper wok cooking). In my experience carbon steel wins out over these every time.

My current wok recipe favourites

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