Do you have a wok that sees a lot more cupboard time than actual cooking opportunities? Do you wish there were some other ways to use your wok besides making stir-fry? If so, you are certainly not alone. Most people, unless they are cooking Asian-inspired dishes, tend to forego the wok for other pieces of cookware on most nights of the week. This, however, is quite unfortunate, as there are actually plenty of great ways in which to use a wok—ways other than making delicious Chinese, Japanese, or Korean stir-fry dishes.
To illustrate this point, below we have highlighted several unique cooking techniques for which a wok may be the perfect choice. We have also listed a number of scrumptious foods and alternative uses that can get your wok a lot more use time.
Cooking Methods in a Wok (Besides Stir-Fry)
Stir-frying in a wok is an absolutely delicious way to cook, producing any number of yummy Asian-inspired recipes. However, there are several other cooking methods for which a wok is a wonderful choice—and perhaps even the best choice. Below we have listed just a few of these methods and provided our reasoning for including them on our list.
Steaming Food in a Wok
Believe it or not, the wok is one of the best pieces of cookware available for the process of steaming. Its concave shape makes it simply ideal for inserting a bamboo steamer. The material in bamboo steamers, particularly the bamboo lids on these steamers, is great to use when steaming as it naturally soaks up any excess moisture. Unfortunately, because the lid of a wok is metal—just as the lid of a metal steamer is metal—it may cause condensed water to drip back onto the food, which can taint its flavor. This is why a bamboo steamer insert works so wonderfully inside a wok.
For best results when steaming in a wok, you should always bring the water inside the vessel to a rapid boil prior to putting the food in the steamer. Be very careful when adding or removing food into the steamer. This method of cooking not only heats the food, but the steam inside is very hot and can burn unprotected hands. Hence, we recommend you use tongs when adding or retrieving food from the wok/steamer.
Although steaming (or boiling or poaching) in a wok can sometimes remove the cookware’s thin layer of seasoning/patina, you can take solace in the fact that re-seasoning a wok is a very fast and easy process.
Smoking Food in a Wok
If you have ever tried indoor smoking with regular cookware you already know what a hassle that can be. However, smoking food in a wok is not only one of the most inventive and exotic ways in which to use this vessel, it is also one of the best. Unlike most traditional pieces of cookware, which tend to be very shallow and limiting, a wok is plenty deep and wide enough to accommodate an indoor smoking setup. Moreover, its spacious interior provides more than enough room to allow the smoke to circulate around the food being smoked.
To smoke food in a wok you have plenty of options. One of the best ways, however, is to cover the interior of the wok completely with foil and scatter tea leaves, sugar and rice in the bottom of it. The tea will contribute the aromatic smoke to the food; the sugar will caramelize, allowing it to lightly color and sweeten the food; and the rice acts as the fuel source, keeping the wok smoking during the entire process. With the wok uncovered, heat this unique mixture until it begins to smoke, and then immediately cover the wok with its lid. This will trap the smoke inside and infuse the food with the smoky flavor you crave.
Always start with a clean, dry wok, eliminating any stuck-on pieces of food that can burn and ruin the smoky flavor. Keep an eye on whatever food you plan to smoke to ensure it does not burn, as this can give the food a very bitter and unpleasant taste.
Deep-Frying in a Wok
Want to fry more food in fewer batches? If so, the wok is the pan of choice for deep-frying. The concave shape of the wok means it requires less oil than a regular pot to complete the deep-frying process. Also, because it gets larger as you move up the sides, it allows you to add more food than you normally would in a single batch. Here are some basic tips to follow when deep-frying with a wok:
- Watch the oil level. When using a wok to deep-fry food, never fill that wok up more than halfway with the oil. Too much oil can cause spatters and even injuries.
- Monitor the oil temperature. It is crucial that you use a deep-fry or candy thermometer to consistently monitor the temperature of the oil.
- Dry the food. As is the case with any cookware, moisture added to oil can cause it to spit and spatter. Hence, it is imperative that you thoroughly dry all the food you plan to cook in this manner.
- One Piece of food at a time. Be sure to add the food ingredients to the oil one at a time. Failure to do so may cause the pieces to stick together and lead to uneven cooking.
- Adding and Removing Food. When adding food to the oil, try and use wooden utensils or chopsticks. However, when removing the food, you can save time by using a metal strainer or skimmer of some kind, which will allow you to retrieve multiple pieces of delicious fried food simultaneously.
Foods/Dishes that Go Hand-in-Hand with a Wok (and Some Alternative Uses)
There are countless foods and dishes that can be prepared or cooked using a wok. Here we have compiled just a few of these suggestions—suggestions that can keep your wok busy almost every night of the week.
- Toss a Salad. With its concave bottom and a body that gets wider as you move up the pan, a wok is the perfect vessel for tossing any type of salad.
- Steam a Lobster. Using the steaming method we described above, the wok is ideal for steaming lobster and other shellfish.
- Mixing Batter. Bakers can get lots of uses from a wok, as its shape makes it great for mixing batter and kneading dough.
- Spruce up Your Garden. If you have an old wok that you hardly use anymore, you can transform it into an elegant flowerpot that will spruce up any patio or garden area.
- Tacos Anyone? When creating taco filling or mixing rice and bean dishes like paella and arroz con pollo, the wok is the perfect preparation vessel.
- Egg-Zactly. You may find this hard to believe, but a wok is the perfect vessel for scrambling eggs, especially when you have a lot to scramble. Woks tend to heat very evenly up the sides, keeping even the largest batches of eggs cooking, and its concave bottom reduces the chance of the eggs sticking to the bottom of the pan.
- Make Fondue. If you have an electric wok, you already possess one of the best types of fondue sets. Unlike electric fondue pots, woks do not emit the unpleasant smell of denatured alcohol burning, and the surface area of the wok is actually bigger than that of most fondue pots.
- Keep Tortillas Warm. If you want to keep your tortillas warm until you are ready to serve your favorite Mexican dish, a wok is the perfect choice of cookware. Simply place your wok on your electric or gas stove, and turn the burner to the low or warm setting. Place the tortillas in the wok—which fit nicely, by the way—and place the lid on top for warm fresh tortillas.
- Keep Your Kitchen (or any room) Fresh. A wok can make a great air freshener in a pinch. Merely fill the wok full of tepid or lukewarm water, add a piece of lemon, orange, lime, cinnamon stick or any scent you wish, and place the pan on the stove with low heat. Leave uncovered and the pleasant aromas will waft into your kitchen and beyond.
- Roast Coffee Beans. If you have some green coffee beans you would like to roast, turn to your wok for best results. However, if you choose to use your wok in this fashion, it is recommended you do so outside, as the roasting process can produce a lot of smoke.
As you can see, your wok no longer has to stay hidden away in the cupboard waiting patiently for Asian Food Night. With these cooking methods, delicious dishes and alternative uses, your wok can now serve as one of the most useful tools in your cooking arsenal—always at the ready to make your life easier.