This week in the test kitchen, we were working on recipes that required a wok. Even in professional kitchens, less frequented equipment have a way of hiding best when you need it most. A fly on the wall would have heard,
“Do we have a wok?”
“Yeah, I know I’ve used it before, but I haven’t seen it recently.”
“Do you remember packing it? Maybe it got lost in the move.”
“How do you lose a wok?!”
Once unearthed and inspected for quality assurance we concluded that our carbon steel wok had received no love. But that was about to change. A bit of research in our cookbook library uncovered an excellent wok priming primer by Chinese cookbook author and wok connoisseur, Grace Young. Armed with good counsel and some steel wool, we undertook a transformation on par with Michael Caine’s makeover of Sandra Bullock in Miss Congeniality. Our wok has never looked, or cooked, better.
Whether your wok is brand new, oft used or gathering rust, a trip through the seasoning cycle is a must. This method works for both carbon steel and cast-iron vessels.
Spring Seasoning – for the brand new, or seriously neglected wok
Step 1: Buff – scour the inside (more rigorously) and outside (less rigorously) with a stainless steel sponge and hot soapy water. Rinse clean; do not dry. Place empty pan over low heat until the water has evaporated, about 2 minutes.
Note: with new carbon steel woks this step may produce a slight chemical odor, that’s just the factory’s anti-rust coat burning off. No worries, just open a window.
Step 2: Season – preheat wok over high heat, 30 seconds to 1 minute, then coat with a couple glugs of peanut or vegetable oil. Add sliced, unpeeled ginger from a 2-inch knob and 1 bunch of scallions, quartered crosswise. Lower heat to medium and stir-fry for about 10 minutes, using a spatula to continuously rub the aromatics all over the wok’s inner surface. (The mixture will coat and flavor the cooking surface, while also cleansing it with natural astringents.) Remove wok from heat, leaving the seasoning ingredients in the pan until cool, then discard. It’s okay if the wok’s color changes or turns blotchy.
Step 3: Seal – rinse out wok with hot water (NO SOAP!) and use a soft sponge to remove any food remains. Return to low heat until dry, about 1 minute. Cool.
Now you’ve got a fragrant patina and you’re ready to wok n’ roll! (I couldn’t resist.)
Post Season Maintenance
Light Cleaning – after general use. Wash wok using only hot water (soaking if necessary) and a gentle sponge. Rinse with hot water and dry on stovetop over low heat.
Heavy Duty Cleaning – when wok has built up a sticky residue, has stubborn cooked-on food, or hasn’t been used in some time. Think of it as exfoliating your wok, which, as any spa technician will tell you, rejuvenates and moisturizes the surface.
In a small bowl, mix 2 teaspoons salt (preferably kosher) with 1 teaspoon peanut or vegetable oil. Place wok over high heat, 1 to 2 minutes; remove from heat. Using a thick wad of paper towel (careful!) buff the hot pan with salt scrub. Wipe clean, rinse out with hot water and dry over low heat.
Seasoning technique adapted from Stir-Frying to the Sky’s Edge by Grace Young. (Simon & Schuster, 2010).
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