I see you watching the Food Network on weeknights, laughing every time someone forgets an ingredient on Chopped. I hear you mutter to yourself “I could do better” in between bites of reheated Chinese take-out. I feel it when you roll your eyes at Rachel Ray, Alton Brown, and at Bobby Flay, wondering why they’re famous and you’re not. Then you finish your microwaved meal and continue picking Dorito crumbs out of your belly button, just like you do every day.
Today, we embark on an adventure. Throw away your microwave. Clean out your freezer. Set your “instant” foods ablaze and never look upon them again. Today, my friends, we cook.
And hell, it’s not as hard as you think.
If you live in the city (of course you do, why would you be reading this otherwise), you most likely have a few, but not many, cooking vessels and implements for stovetop use. Maybe a skillet and a few pots.
You don’t need them.
No, friends, the only tool you will need to boil, sauté, steam, and deep fry is a wok. I recommend ones made by The Wok Shop in San Francisco—I own one, and I couldn’t be happier.
When choosing a wok, there are a few important things to keep in mind. The most important thing is to get something light, preferably made from carbon steel. You want something that will get hot fast, and be manageable enough to toss over the heat. Oh, and also, if you have an electric or induction stove, you’ll need a flat bottomed wok. Otherwise you’ll be forced to balance the wok on its end while you cook and that just sounds like the most terrible thing. If you’re cooking with gas, you can get either a flat bottom wok, or a normal round-bottomed one and mount it on a wok ring.
You’ll also want a wok with some texture to it. Not to put too fine a point on it, but the whole point of a wok is that parts of it get super-hot, while parts stay relatively cool. The texture on the sides of the wok allows you to push cooked food up to the cooler sides of the wok to avoid burning while other food cooks near the bottom.
You shouldn’t pay more than 40 bucks for a nice big wok, and you really can use it for pretty much any kitchen task you can think of. You can scramble eggs in it, cook pasta in it, deep fry in it, steam vegetables in it, or, of course, make yourself a stir fry.
Oh, but you don’t have any shelf space! Where are you going to put this gigantic wok? Aw, jeez. Sorry, guys. My bad. Go return it.
Or you could just hammer a nail into your drywall above your stove and hang the wok from there. Woks actually look really good hung up in a kitchen, and despite their size, will be both out of the way and readily available there.
So you have your wok! Time to start cooking!
Hah, just kidding. Nah, you’re not ready yet. And neither is your wok. You gotta season it first. The Wok Shop has a pretty great video guide for a few different ways you can season your wok, but if you’re pressed for time or just don’t want to watch a video, here’s how I seasoned mine.
First, you’re gonna want to wash the wok thoroughly with hot soapy water, and then dry it by setting it on high heat on your stove until all the moisture evaporates.
While this is happening, chop a whole bunch of scallions, and mince a big ol’ handful each of ginger and garlic. Open a door or window. Things are about to get really smoky.
Keep the wok on the stove, and turn the heat all the way up if you haven’t already. You want the wok to be screaming hot. You’ll know you’re ready for the next step by flicking some water at the wok. If the wok hisses loudly at you like an angry cat, you can move on.
Take the wok off the heat and pop a couple tablespoons of a neutral fat (canola or vegetable works here, but traditionalists like to use lard) in the wok and toss it around so that it coats the bottom and sides. Throw the scallions, ginger, and garlic in there.
Burn the fuck out of them.
I’m serious. Burning these elements until they are carbon-black will release an enzyme that will keep the food you cook in the wok from tasting ever-so-slightly of, uh, metal. While you stir-fry, make sure you get the oil and aromatics up to the sides of the wok.
Continue tossing until the color of the wok starts to change. You’re looking for just a slight tinge of yellow or orange in most cases. The wok will also start to look a bit glossy. Again, make sure that this change happens on the bottom as well as on the sides of the wok. Discard the burning hot oil by throwing it at the invaders trying to scale your castle walls, or alternatively, by waiting a few minutes for it to cool and dumping the aromatics and burnt oil into the sink.
Wash your wok with hot water, and use a paper towel or brush to knock away any burnt-on residue. You’re done!
Your wok is still new, though, and boiling water in it, or cooking with heavy acids like lemons or vinegar will damage the coating, so wait on that until the wok gets a nice, broken in brownish black hue around the bottom and sides.
Luckily, the recipe I’m about to share with you is perfect for a new wok. It’s healthy, quick, and perfect for getting rid of random stuff in your fridge. It doesn’t taste half bad either.
Simple Shirataki Stir-Fry (serves 1)
1 package Shirataki Noodles
1 Green Bell Pepper, diced
1 Jalapeno, seeded and diced
1 Onion, diced
1/2lb Pork Loin, cut into cubes
Red Pepper Flakes
Before we begin, a note on shirataki noodles. These are inexpensive, super low calorie noodles made from a Japanese yam that are packed with fiber and take very well to surrounding flavors. You can buy them at Jewel—they usually run around a buck or two per pack. They come (usually) packed in a liquid, and will need to be drained and thoroughly washed in order to remove the earthy, briny, and fishy odor of the liquid.
Here’s how this is going to work. Right now, before you even start reading the rest of this recipe, you’re going to season your meat with salt and pepper and cube it, dice your vegetables, and mince your garlic and ginger, okay? Because this is going to get real fast real quick. Once you turn the heat on under your wok, there’s no going back. Ready? Okay. Let’s get started.
When cooking with a wok, dishes are enhanced by flavoring the oils used to stir-fry ingredients. Traditionally, this is achieved by throwing a clove of minced garlic into the oil with some red pepper flakes and a healthy amount of minced ginger. Turn the heat all the way up under your wok, and coat it with peanut oil. Before the wok gets too hot, wipe the oil up and around the pan with a paper towel, removing the excess oil and spreading it up to the sides. Throw the garlic, ginger, and pepper flakes in there and toss with a wooden spoon or spatula.
Make sure your door is still open.
Test to make sure the oil is hot using the same water method as when you seasoned the wok, then throw the pork in there. Make sure to toss and stir often so that it cooks evenly. As soon as the outside is cooked move the pork to the sides of the wok and throw the noodles and veggies into the middle. Toss the veggies and noodles together—you want the veggies cooked to the point where their flavors are brought out in the oil while still retaining their crunch and brightness. When the pork firms up and starts to brown in the wok as you toss it with the rest of the ingredients, you’re done. Pour the stir fry out onto a plate, and dress with sambal (a hot chili paste available in the international section of the grocery store) and soy sauce to taste.
Hah, no, kidding again. Your wok needs some love first. Run some warm water in your sink and wipe off all the stuck on food with a brush or wet paper towel after the wok has cooled off enough to touch. Put the wok back on the flame to dry. This will prevent rust, and should be done right after cooking.
Now you can eat.
I know, you’re full, and you don’t want to think about wok maintenance, but here are some quick rules for you to ignore. Don’t use soap on the wok. Warm water and a paper towel or brush should be enough to loosen any stuck food. The more you use the wok, the more seasoned it will be. In essence, be good to the wok, and the wok will be good to you. It really is impossible to ruin your wok. Even if the seasoning deteriorates, all you have to do is scrub with steel wool, wash with soap, and re-season. It’s as loyal as your family dog, except you can also make delicious food in it.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, there are some marauders scaling my apartment complex so I have to go heat up some peanut oil.