olive podcast: 10 things you need to know about wok cooking
In this week's episode, chef, TV presenter and cookery school owner Jeremy Pang shares 10 things you need to know about wok cooking
Jeremy Pang shares expert tips on mastering this essential piece of kitchen kit
The wok clock
This is my version of mise en place, which we use in the cookery school. When you’re cooking at home, it would be something like a large, round plate that you can turn into a ‘clock’, with all your prepared ingredients laid out in a circle. So, you start at 12 o’clock with your first ingredient, then as you add each one to the wok, you follow your ingredients clockwise all the way round, with perhaps the sauce, rice or noodles in the middle – basically whatever is going to go in last. If you follow the clock, you never get confused about what goes in next. I’m a strong believer in preparing your food before you start cooking, unless it’s something that’s really, really slowly cooked. So the wok clock, whether it’s stir-frying or any type of cooking that requires a number of ingredients, means you can have it all set up and be really organised.
Anyone who knows anything about Chinese cooking will probably talk about ‘wok hei’ (pronounced wok hay). It translates literally as wok’s breath or air. When you know how to circulate the air and heat around a wok, that’s when you become skilled at wok cooking. Most people are capable of bringing a wok to a high heat, and when you get smoke coming off it, you have hot air that’s naturally going upwards. The skill of cooking with a wok is being able to manoeuvre that air. Wok hei is about controlling air and heat. It’s all about manoeuvring the wok, whether using a spatula or the movement of your hand, tossing the wok.
Seasoning a wok
Seasoning, or creating a protective patina, on a carbon steel wok isn’t dissimilar to seasoning an iron skillet pan. The difference is you don’t need any salt for it and you don’t pour loads of oil in.
First, clean the wok with a scourer. Then, dry it on the hob – keep it over the flame until it changes colour all the way around. It starts a stainless steel colour, then goes through many blue shades before becoming a sort of a dark grey – that bluish/dark grey colour needs to be seen all the way around the wok. It’s easier to do this on a gas hob than induction. Once you’ve done that first burn, rub 1-2 tsp of oil into the inside bowl of the wok using a few sheets of kitchen paper, then heat it again. The second time you do it, open all your windows and get the extractor fan on full, because it creates a lot of smoke. You want to burn it to a point where the smoke has all gone and it’s so hot that the smoke has finished. If you do that all the way around, you’ve got a well-seasoned wok.
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Jeremy’s top 3 cooking hacks
PREPARATION Cooking is 90% prep, so get your ingredients chopped, sliced or weighed out first so you know what you’re doing.
FREEZING Finely chopped ginger or garlic is great for freezing. Do a big batch of ginger, a few bulbs of garlic and the equivalent of any other herbs or spices. I freeze ingredients in a thin layer on a tray, then, once frozen, crack them into rough portions to put into a container, ready to use.
CORNFLOUR When I’m preparing meat for a marinade, I add about 1 tsp of cornflour to 400g of meat. Massage that in, and when it hits the wok, it will brown well. When you eventually add liquid, the cornflour will make the sauce silky without altering the flavour.