A cooking utensil used in many styles of Eastern cooking. It is a large, iron bowl, and can vary from 40cm to 100cm in length. Recently, the materials used to make a wok has changed, such as the inclusion of teflon, but traditional woks are made from brittle iron, which gives it a hollow "clang" noise when you strike it. The curvature of a wok is designed for maximum efficiency in the transmission of heat when applied to its bottom. Since most Chinese foods are cooked sliced and diced instead of in large chunks (e.g. steak), heat must be distributed evenly to cook the food properly.

The bottom of a wok is flat, and oil and other condiments are usually added in a little pool at the bottom of a pre-heated wok before the food is dumped in. A wok is usually accompanied by a steel spatula, curved at the ends so food can be picked up easily, and a huge metal cover. Once the food is dumped into the wok, cooks use the large spatula to stir food around to make sure the heat is evenly distributed. Stir fry in a wok is when oil is added in.

A wok can cook food in other ways, such as steaming. Water is added in a pool at the bottom, the food is suspended inside the wok with a metal holder, and the wok is covered with the cover. With fish, stuff is often added to the water to give it flavor. Cantonese steamed fish (usually carp) is famous in China.

The design of a wok is essential to the sliced and diced style of Chinese food. The wok, along with chopsticks, which are designed to pick up small pieces of food, were designed around the way Chinese food is cooked. The wok is also extremely versatile, being able to cook many types of food in different styles.

Woks are ubiquitous throughout Asia. In Thailand, I ate many many meals prepared in a wok, including literally hundreds of plates of pad thai. Like much street food throughout Asia, pad thai is prepared in approximately one minute in a wok which, during busy times, almost never leaves the gas flame that provides the heat for cooking.

Those street woks are so well seasoned that they do not require any washing; after each round of food prep, the cook simply throws a bit of water into the wok, swirls it around, throws it away, and moves right on to the next round. They place the wok on the heat to evaporate the remaining water, then pour in a little oil and get to it.

For you and me, it can be difficult to achieve and maintain this level of seasoning for our woks. If you buy a wok that is completely unseasoned, you will need to season it. Wipe the pan inside and out with a little light vegetable oil and heat it in a medium oven for about half an hour. Allow it to cool and repeat the process several times to build up a good coating. A good coating on a well-seasoned wok will discourage food from sticking and make the wok much easier to clean. Woks should be washed by being wiped with a soft wet cloth; only use a mild soap if absolutely necessary. If your wok is made of cast iron, it should be dried immediately after washing to prevent rusting. Over time a wok will blacken, a sign that it has been used well. It is said that the blacker the wok the better the cook.

The home cook faces a number of problems in achieving this perfect wok coating. If any food sticks to the wok, it is difficult to avoid scrubbing to remove it, which compromises the coating so carefully built up. A careless roommate can mistreat your wok, ruining all your hard work in maintaining the wok's coating. But the most serious problem I faced is that acidic foods like lime juice, chili garlic sauce, or tamarind eat away at the coating, exposing the raw metal underneath. As the Thai food I prepare so often tends to have sauces made from these delicious acidic ingredients, I found it impossible to maintain a steel wok in optimum condition.

Therefore, I now use a non-stick, teflon-coated wok. One of the main advantages of a non-stick wok is, of course, that nothing sticks to it. It's a breeze to clean, and doesn't require much special care. As with any non-stick cookware, you should not expose it to very high heat; I generally stir-fry at medium high. In addition, don't use metal utensils to stir things in your non-stick cookware, as they will scratch the surface. Don't scrub non-stick vessels with an abrasive scrubber, either, for the same reason. For steaming in my wok, I use big bamboo steamers set on the top of the wok. I use my wok almost every day, and even though it's a cheap one I bought in my local Chinatown, it will serve me for several years before I have to replace it.

Incidentally, I use a wok with a flat, as opposed to a curved, bottom. This allows me to place my wok directly on the burner of my electric stove so that I have much better control over temperature than if I were to use a wok ring. If you must use a ring, put the wider side facing up and the narrower side on the burner; this will send more heat to the bottom of the wok, where you want it.

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