I own two woks. Well, technically I own three woks, but the one that goes with the blue lid you see in the picture has rusted over and is now used as a potting bowl when I garden. I just gotta say, Ming Tsai, you make crappy woks. But the lovely blue matching lid and set of four plates, four rice bowls, four dipping saucers, wooden spoon, and cheapy cookbook were just too much of a bargain to pass up. Especially since it was on clearance at Target. So I guess the few months I was able to cook with your wok made it not such a bad bargain. And the ceramic handles with blue dragons on them, does make the wok a very pretty potting bowl. Alright, moving on.
The wok you see pictured above is 16-inches in diameter and made of black steel. Purchased for $9.99 at A Chau Supermarket in Fountain Valley if anyone's interested. It's great for making fried rice and stir-fries. The huge lip makes it perfect for frying anything since oil splatters stay within the range of the wok. Well, that's if you only add a few inches of oil at the bottom and don't fill it up when you fry. The helper handle on the other side actually doesn't make it that unwieldy. Indispensable is the bamboo wok cleaner which easily removes any food particles. I had absolutely no complaints about this wok.
But then I started getting wok envy. What about carbon steel woks? Are they so much better at conducting high heat, essential for the "breath of the wok" cooking? And 16 inches is a whole lot for a woman to handle! A nice 14 inches would perfectly fit my blue wok lid. I saw this carbon steel 14-inch baby at the San Gabriel Superstore for $12.99 and had to get it.
And because I've had several inquiries about woks in general, this is the perfect opportunity to show you how to season a wok. Seasoned properly, your wok will essentially be non-stick for life. Look at that shiny surface.
Most woks from China will have an odd industrial oil coating. I'm not sure if that's to keep it non-stick, but proper seasoning will take care of that anyway. Plus, the smell is pretty nasty and I don't want whatever that oil is remaining in my food. A few heavy squirts of dishwashing liquid and scrubbing still didn't remove it. Yuck!
So, here's what you do. Do not do this if you have woks that come with non-stick coatings. After washing the wok, fill it up with water and put it on the stove. Dump a whole lot of cheap tea leaves, and even a cheap tea bag or two, and set it to boil. Do this very carefully as I don't want to be responsible for any burns! The tannins or acids or whatever in the tea will start to break down that oily residue.
After half an hour or so, or if the water boils (there's actually so much water that my wok never did quite get to boiling so I was safe), turn the heat off and let the water cool down.
Then discard everything and wash again with soap.
Wipe dry and add some coarse salt. Take a paper towel and rub in the salt to remove any remaining residue.
Repeat the tea or salt as necessary if you still smell the industrial oil.
Now your wok is ready for the final step. Turn your stove on to high heat. Let any remaining water burn off. When the wok is hot, pour a few drizzles of sesame oil around the rim and let it trickle down. Turn off the heat, and with a paper towel, rub the sesame oil all over the inside of the wok. Do this while the wok is still hot. Now it's ready for cooking.
Your wok will slowly get darker and darker as you cook with it. You can see how dark my wok has gotten after almost a year of use.
Remember to always repeat the last step to ensure your wok stays non-stick. Some people advise not washing with soap ever again. That thought grosses me out. My usual routine is to use the bamboo wok scrubber to remove any stuck food particles. Then a very light squirt of dishwashing liquid and a quick scrub is all that's necessary. With the wok still wet, I put it on the stove and let the water burn off before applying the coat of sesame oil.
As for cleaning the bamboo scrubber, I squirt a whole lot of dishwashing liquid on the ends and rub it between my hands until the individual bamboo strips are clean. Shake and let air dry.
As for this new carbon steel wok vs. my black steel one? I actually prefer my old one! Huh! It conducted heat better, the helper handle made it less unwieldy than the smaller carbon steel one, and I think I'm just more used to cooking with it. But, I've been using the smaller wok lately to cook smaller amounts of food so it came in handy after all. And sometimes, a girl just needs two woks.
Hope that helps if you're considering whether to purchase a wok or not.
Update June 3, 2014:
I actually have several more woks added to my pantry. Bought a thin cast iron one and another 14-inch carbon steel wok with a flat bottom. I seasoned them using the boiled tea and salt method, but now I rub coconut oil at the end. I use coconut oil on my other cast iron and black steel pans too.
The woks that get the most use in my kitchen are my original black steel wok for frying and the newest carbon steel flat-bottomed wok for stir-fries.
San Gabriel Superstore
1635 S San Gabriel Blvd
San Gabriel, CA 91776