Every home should have one. A wok, that is. Stir-frying is such a great way to cook the most delicious, fresh-tasting and healthy meals in one pan.
Wafer-thin slices of meat tossed together with nutritious veggies and garlic, ginger and a splash, perhaps, of soy or oyster sauce – what could be better?
Our children will happily devour a big bowl of this, because the vegetables are the right side of crunchy and the meat is in bite-sized pieces. And the slight novelty of the chopsticks always helps too.
The trick for a great stir-fry is to prepare all the ingredients in advance, so when cooking over a very high heat you can throw them all in to the wok in quick succession, without burning anything.
The next tip is to preheat your wok very slowly – over a low heat until very very hot and actually smoking (this may take about 10 minutes) – then turn up the heat to high before you start cooking. This way, you won't lose all the heat from the wok the second the first ingredient goes in.
Great vegetables for stir-fries are carrots, broccoli, mange tout, mushrooms, peas, peppers, and of course Chinese greens – basically anything with a bit of crunch. Make sure the meat you use is sliced wafer thin, for very quick cooking, to prevent toughness. So whether it is beef, pork, chicken or even lamb that you are using, a handy tip is to place it in the freezer for 15 minutes – that way, it is very easily cut into thin slices with a sharp knife.
For great stir-fries you'll need a proper stir-fry wok. The wok is the most essential piece of equipment in an Asian kitchen. As for your own needs, go for the original style: the steel, round-bottomed type. This is usually the cheapest one available and much more authentic than the non-stick or flat-bottomed variety (which you will have to use if cooking on electric or an Aga). Most good kitchen shops and nearly all Asian stores will stock the 'proper' ones.
Getting the best out of your wok
Before you use your wok at home, you will have to 'season' it. This will make it naturally non-stick and last for ever.
1. Firstly, when you buy your wok, it will have a protective oil coating on it to prevent it from rusting in the shop. Give it a good scrub to remove the coating, then dry it thoroughly.
2. Now, 'season' your wok. Open the windows, as it will get smoky in the kitchen. Place the wok on a high heat. The steel will change to a blue-ish colour, don't worry about this.
3. The wok should now be fiery hot, and smoking. Now is the time to apply some oil (such as sunflower or vegetable oil). Grease a folded up kitchen towel with a little oil, and carefully wipe it around the inside of the wok. Do not pour the oil in as it will catch fire – remember, the wok is incredibly hot at this point. Now turn the heat right down to the lowest setting and let the oil sink into the wok for 10 minutes. If the wok dries out a bit during this time, give it a quick wipe with the towel. It should now be turning a deep shiny black.
4. After the time is up, turn off the heat and let the wok cool. Once so, run it under the tap and gently wipe the inside with a sponge. Dry the wok and then wipe the inside with a little oil to protect it when it is stored.
5. Make sure your wok is stored somewhere dry, otherwise it may rust. If it does, then give it a scrub and 'season' it again (steps 2-4 ).
6. The blackness of the wok is the protective layer, so after using it, do not use a scourer or iron wool on it! Plastic washing brushes or something similar are the best cleaning utensils to use as they will not remove the black coating. Washing-up liquid should not be used, as this may soak into the steel and flavour the food.