A wok is a versatile Chinese cooking utensil.
It is a round-bottomed pan that ranges from 1 foot to 4 feet (300 to 1200 mm) in diameter. Almost every Chinese family owns one. It is most often used for stir-frying, but can also be used many other ways, such as in steaming and deep frying or to make soup. One advantage of woks is that the shape produces a small, hot area at the bottom while using relatively little fuel.
Woks are also sold in western countries, where they tend to be given flat bottoms and non-stick coatings. This makes them more similar to a deep frying pan than a true wok. However, the flat bottoms mean that they can be used on an electric range.
Carbon steel woks need to be seasoned before use. This is somewhat different from seasoning cast iron, but it is for the same purpose -- to provide a non-stick coating and prevent rust from forming on the cooking surface. The exact procedure for this is something of an art, but in a nutshell:
- You will need a gas stove or some source of intense heat. An electric burner is probably not sufficient, but you might have some success. Sturdy leather gloves also might be handy: You will be dealing with very hot metal.
- Don't do this to anything other than a carbon steel wok, or you will likely ruin your wok. If your wok doesn't have a black non-stick coating, is somewhat bluish in color except for some rust spots, is completely unlabelled, and you got it for a low price at an Asian market, it's probably a carbon steel wok.
- You will need a well ventilated area, as you will be generating lots of smoke.
- Remove any protective oil coating from the cooking surface with steel wool or a scouring pad. Make sure you have it perfectly clean. Dry it off, or rust will form almost immediately.
- Wipe the inner surface of the wok with a cooking oil that smokes at high temperatures, such as peanut oil. Keep the surface coated at all times while seasoning the wok, but do not allow puddles of oil to form. If you do, you will end up with a gummy substance and you will have to clean it off and start over. Keep a cellulose sponge or folded paper towel handy to wipe the oil around.
- Starting with the edges, keep a hot flame beneath one point of the wok at a time. When the oil starts to smoke and changes color to a shiny dark yellow, turn the pan a little and work on a new spot. You can keep building up layers this way, but make sure you've coated the whole wok before you do more layers. It is probably unnecessary to do more than three.
- You should end up with an even, shiny, dark yellowish-brown coating all over the inside of your wok. Let it cool and rinse it off, and it is ready to cook on. If you get streaks in the coating, your oil may have been too thick or you didn't remove all the original oil coating. Scrub that area clean with steel wool and season it again.
Rinse your wok clean after every use, pat it dry and reheat it, empty, for few minutes to evaporate any remaining dampness, and put it away with a light coat of oily aerosol. Use soap sparingly to avoid removing the seasoning. Over time, as you use your wok, you may build up a black, burned area at the bottom. This is considered desirable. Supposedly, it adds flavor to food you cook in the wok.