How to buy and season a wok

You can of course use a non-stick wok, but it will cost a lot and make you lazy. If you get a proper cheapo beaten steel one you can make it non-stick by seasoning it properly, and it gets better as it gets older. And as it gets older it won’t add chewy bits of Teflon to your cooking, which is when you can tell your pricey non-stick wok is past its use by date.

However, beaten steel will not work on a flashy halogen hob, so you’ll be forced to buy a special one that will. It’ll cost you an arm and a leg, but hey ho. You need a wok.

For goodness sake don’t buy an electric one. They’re very expensive, and they never get hot enough. There’s some thermal cutoff thingy that stops it getting hot enough to smoke, and you don’t want that. In general if a wok doesn’t look as if it’s going to burst into flames any minute, it’s not hot enough.

Most big cities and towns have a Chinese or oriental supermarket these days, especially college towns. So get yourself down there and buy a beaten steel wok. If you have a gas hob, get a round bottom wok with a hob stand; if you’ve got an electric hob, pick a wok with a flat bottom.

While you’re at it, buy a couple of those split bamboo wok scrubbers. They will get sticky stuff off without ruining the seasoning.

Get on the bus and take your new wok home. Be nice to it on its final journey, because it has a hard life ahead of it.

At home, give the wok a wash in water as hot as you can bear. This will remove any machine oil that it’s been coated with to stop it rusting. Give it really good scrub, then rinse it and do it all again. And don’t forget the outside! That needs to be degreased too.

Right, time to wok and roll. Slice an onion. Put the wok on the hob on full heat, and leave it to heat up. It’ll start to smoke, which is mildly alarming but no cause for concern, and then it will begin to go blue at its hottest part. Keep your nerve; it’s all going to plan.

When it starts to go blue, add a couple of tablespoons of oil. Don’t use olive oil; it’ll burn, and you’ll have a devil of a job cleaning up. Groundnut oil is best, but any good quality cooking oil will suffice. Good quality eliminates Qucik’n’Dry, OK? Good quality.

Swirl the oil around the wok to cover as much of it as you can. It’s quite easy to pour the hot oil all over yourself doing this, so take care. Leave the wok on full heat and open the window.

When the wok starts to smoke (it won’t stunt its growth), hurl the onion in from a safe distance. It should hiss vigorously If it doesn’t, you’re a scaredy cat. When things have died down a bit, move the onion and oil around the wok with a spatula, trying to cover as much area as you can with hot oil. Keep the heat up, and keep things moving fast.

When the onion starts to brown, sling it out, and plunge the wok into a sinkful of plain hot water that I forgot to tell you about. There will be a lot of hissing and spitting, so be careful. Scrub the wok to remove any burnt on bits, then dry it with kitchen paper. Then repeat the whole process, but this time add a couple of tablespoons of dark soy sauce when the onion stops hissing. Stir stir stir, coating the wok. Keep things moving vigorously; that’s why it’s called stir frying. Stir frying is a full contact sport.

If you’ve been a diligent pupil, the bluing on the wok should now be replaced with a rather pleasing brown film. Keep going. Now is not the time to bottle out. Let the onion caramelise, then let it start to burn. Hence the open window.

When the onion is good and burnt, turn off the heat and let things cool down. Sling out the contents, and wash the wok gently in warm, slightly soapy water, and gently remove any sticky bits. Rinse and dry, then coat the inside of the wok with cooking oil, rubbed on gently with a piece of kitchen towel.

Voila! Good to go.


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