November 12, 2010

Wok-it science

If I had to choose my most used piece of kitchen cookware it would probably be my wok. I make just about everything in it. I've had the blackened old thing for about 25 years, and am very attached. In an earlier post I gave a little history of how I came to own it.
We bought our favorite, flat-bottomed wok when we were living in Australia. We were visiting a living museum — a reconstructed mining town focused on the 19th century Australian gold rush era. All the businesses of the town were functioning as they would have been back in 1861; the bakery sold bread, the foundry produced metal objects, etc. Since many Chinese people had been brought to the area to work on the railroads, Chinese culture influenced the products available in the town. The foundry of the mining town made woks, and, missing my wok from home while living in Geelong, I bought one! We still have it and use it often.


My wok-love must have worn off on my three boys because they all seem to think the wok is essential to a kitchen. So, I shouldn't be too surprised that the youngest recently ordered a wok from the San Francisco-based wokshop.com before he's even found an apartment. He got a 14-inch, flat-bottomed hand-hammered carbon steel wok, and I'm a little jealous. It's so pretty. And it's deeper than mine. Now I want one, too. Tsk.



Jordan's been reading The Breath of a Wok, a beautiful book about traditional Chinese cooking (not vegetarian) that I highly recommend if you want to get close and personal with your wok, and master the intricacies of Chinese wok cooking. He's learned a lot, and his already wonderful cooking has gotten even better. When the new wok arrived, he followed the directions in the cookbook to clean and season it. It took both of us taking turns to finally remove the stubborn oil coating on the metal. First the wok was scoured in hot soapy water, then salt and water were boiled in it, then both steps were repeated. Next the wok was seasoned by cooking onion in oil until the onion was charred. The seasoning is best done with oil and Chinese chives, but we didn't happen to have Chinese chives.



After the wok was seasoned, Jordan tried it out by cooking Japanese eggplant and bok choy.



The next night he whipped up a coconut soup and spring rolls.



Am I lucky, or what?



I took a turn, too, and stir-fried yuba, carrots and cabbage, which I can't seem to get enough of. I'm not saying the new wok is better than mine, but it sure LOOKS better.

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28 comments:

  1. Looks so yummy! Congrats on having a personal chef/slave haha

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  2. When I was in China, we visited a tiny little home with a huge wok for a stove. It was the biggest wok I've ever seen. I need to get one of those too. MoFo is making me need lots of kitchen stuff.

    One of my favorite dishes in China was eggplants. They make it so well.

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  3. That is a lovely wok--I'd be jealous, too! And the food looks fantastic as well.

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  4. I can't even begin to imagine a kitchen without a wok! I use mine for everything and it rarely ever leaves the hob. Thanks for the book recommendation!

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  5. LOVE the title and the pictures are beautiful. I'm on a pictures kick right now and on a mission to get a better camera (and maybe some lighting? and an assistant to check the backdrop and layout. :) I am really starting to learn what an integral part pictures play.

    Great post.

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  6. So much great looking food! My parents had a wok when I was growing up. I've always wanted one. I have this really horrible one that was a hand-me-down from a friend. Time to upgrade.

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  7. This post reminds me that I should definitely use my work more! What amazing meals. I'm very grateful that my husband was very stubborn when we got it and seasoned it beautifully for us! (I didn't know the first thing...)

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  8. Aimee,
    Thanks! I wish I had a spring roll right now.

    Nicole,
    I hope he doesn't read your comment. :D

    Aimee,
    I've never been to China but I'm sure it's an amazing experience. Did you bring back a wok? A wok spatula?

    Tiffany,
    I'm generally jealous of any cool kitchen stuff I see. I'm weak like that.

    Kip,
    I've never made oatmeal in the wok but just about everything else so I know what you mean. The book is really wonderful!

    Cami,
    Thanks. I'm never satisfied with my photos, and I REALLY MISS my tripod, which is still in Wisconsin. I'm thinking about getting a tabletop tripod for the low-light situations I often find myself in. Maybe we could hire Rose (Dandelion) to set up scenes for us.:)

    Mo,
    Yes, you need a wok. Check out wokshop.com. The woks are very reasonably priced.

    JL,
    I don't think it would be possible for me to use my wok more, but if you have an underused, beautifully seasoned one, you definitely should!

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  9. I use my wok for just about everything too. I couldn't live without it. All of your dishes look super yummy! :-)

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  10. I love the title!

    That wok does look pretty, and the resulting food gorgeous! You are lucky to have such a talented cook around...certainly takes after mom in more ways than the wok love. I think that kids who grow in homes where good home-cooked food abounds, turn out to be good cooks in general.

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  11. Delicious! I like the first recipe you cooked. The eggplant had me. Yum!

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  12. Chow vegan,
    A wok seems like the perfect, all-purpose cooking vessel. I reach for it just about every day.

    Rose,
    You should see how pretty it looks in person, with all the hand-hammered circles. I'm sure it will still look good even after it turns all black. And yes, I am lucky. He's doing his best to look for an apartment and move out, and I'll miss him.

    Daphne,
    The little Japanese eggplants are so good!

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  13. Mmmm it all looks delicious but that coconut soup has me intrigued. And I totally LOL'd at the title of this post.
    :)

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  14. I love my wok so, so much! I must admit, though, I've never made soup in it!

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  15. Jeni,
    Anything filled with coconut makes me nervous (fat) but I eat it anyway.

    Shellyfish,
    Truthfully, it's a little hard to get the soup out of the wok, but sometimes I do it anyway. :)

    Nancy,
    You want an unseasoned, heavy gauge carbon steel 14-inch wok with a 4 to 5-inch flat bottom. (Don't get stainless steel or non-stick) Hand-hammered or spun is recommended, though I have a smooth one and have never found that a problem. Having a long handle makes it easier to use (but harder to store). Wood handles don't get hot but they can eventually crack. You can also find woks (from Joyce Chen) with plastic handles. The wok, when properly seasoned and cared for, will become non-stick with use. You can never leave water in it or it will rust — I dry mine by heating it on the stove.

    I was trying to think about why, when long handles on woks are recommended, I never really felt comfortable with the long-handled wok I owned (I have three woks). I think it's because I'm short, and the handle sticks up at an angle that makes me reach in an uncomfortable way. I'm happier with potholders and the small handles, but this is personal preference. It's best to have handles on both sides of the wok.

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  16. What a cool wok and beautiful food. It's so nice to see your boys cooking up amazing food.

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  17. Yum...your son sounds like a fabulous cook! I shouldn't be surprised--he learned from the best :-)

    Courtney

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  18. It's a shame, I almost never use my wok.Thank you for this inspiring post.

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  19. I accidentally erased this comment so I'm putting it back! My answer is above.

    nancy elstad said:

    I see they have so many choices at the wok, hand hammered, wood handles, already seasoned, stainless steel? How to pick? What are the things to look for? I see your handles are steel and on each side, would wood be better because it doesn't get hot? Thanks for your help, I need a wok!

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  20. Dreaninitvegan,
    Thank you. I love when any of our boys cook.

    Thanks, Courtney. I think they are better cooks than me.

    Mihl,
    You probably use your baking pans far more than I do. It all balances out in the cooking universe.

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  21. Oh, you are so wit-tay! ;)

    And also very lucky, as you mention. I have a decent wok (though I could use a new one more like yours or Jordan's) but don't use it nearly enough. Maybe you've inspired me. . . everything looks so delicious!

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  22. This is an ode to the wok! I have serious wok jealousy, mine is the biggest piece of shiitake ever.

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  23. Ricki,
    Thank yew, deah. Very lucky, indeed. I love when other people cook for me.

    River,
    Yes it is, la la la. I love my wok, but I'm still jealous of my son's new one. Good wok's are not very expensive. You could cook the shiitake and replace it.

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  24. The food looks so good!

    The wok pan is probably my most used kitchen cookware as well - I cook nearly everything in it (I only use our "regular" frying pan for making injera and occasional pancakes). Unfortunately, my wok is a non-stick wok, as I haven't been able to find a steel or cast iron wok anywhere in Denmark yet. I wish the wok shop delivered to Europe as well - but then again, it might be better for my economy that they don't. ;)

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  25. Seglare,
    It sounds like the wok you have works for you, and that's the most important thing.

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  26. What a beautiful wok! I just got a cast iron one so I can get rid of the cheap nonstick one I had!

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  27. Marisa,
    I've never used a cast iron wok, but I love cast iron in general. I hope it works well for you. We've been using our son's wok, and when he leaves I'm afraid we won't want to go back to our old one.

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