When we got married, my husband and I received a gift of a wok. It wasn’t electric, it wasn’t non-stick — it was made for function, not beauty. I looked at the metal pan with the rounded bottom and wondered what I would do with something that wouldn’t even balance on a burner on our apartment stove. And, what would I do to prevent the thing from turning into a bowl of rust?
If only I had owned one of Grace Young’s cookbooks at that time.
I met Grace Young a couple of weeks ago when I attended a demonstration she did at the International Culinary Center in New York during the International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP) annual conference.
The petite, dark-haired woman handles a wok the way a seasoned pizza maker handles dough — with ease, confidence and passion. Grace Young, also known as Stir-Fry Grace, calls herself a certified wok therapist. If you’ve got any problems having to do with woks or wok cooking, she is the person you need to contact.
What did I learn from Grace Young? Lots. But here are five things everyone should know:
1. Never use a non-stick wok. They don’t hold up to the heat necessary for stir-fry cooking. Grace Young claims she has a non-stick radar. Watch out.
The home cook should use a 14-inch carbon steel flat-bottom wok.
As a traveling cooking teacher, Young packs her carbon-steel wok in her carry-on bag. It sends the security agents into a frenzy. Eventually, she makes it through.
Grace Young suggests two New York Chinatown Wok Sources:
Hung Chong Imports Inc.
New York, NY 10013
An excellent source for flat-bottomed carbon-steel and the traditional Chinese made castiron woks. Also, carries sandpots, spatulas, bamboo steamers, and a large selection of
Western cookware. Be careful when shopping as they do carry nonstick woks.
KK Discount Store
78 Mulberry Street
This small shop is packed full of Chinese cooking equipment including 14-inch flat-bottomed carbon-steel woks. Their prices for woks tend to be a little less expensive than Hung Chong.
2. Wok cooking has been around for 2,000 years. In ancient times, the wok was used for drying grains and tea leaves. Now, there are 8 uses for the wok: pan frying, deep frying, boiling, braising, poaching, smoking, steaming and of course, stir-frying. In other words, a wok is a sort of all-purpose pan.
3. Because stir-frying vegetables, meat and seafood over high temperatures takes little time, it’s very important to use fresh, in-season ingredients.
4. Use an oil with a high smoke-point. Peanut oil and grapeseed oil are good choices for stir-fry cooking. Be sure the wok is hot before adding the oil, swirling it down the sides of the wok.
5. It’s important to season your wok. Grace Young calls it wok-bonding time. In the photo at the top of this blog, she is showing our group how to season a carbon steel wok.
Seasoning a Carbon-Steel Wok with Scallions and Gingerby Grace Young
1 bunch scallions
1/2 cup sliced unpeeled ginger
2 tablespoons canola or grapeseed vegetable oil
1. Wash the inside and outside of a carbon-steel wok with hot water using a stainless steel
scrubber and liquid dish-washing soap. Rinse with hot water. Dry the wok on a burner
over low heat for 1 to 2 minutes until no water droplets are visible.
2. Open the windows and turn the exhaust fan on high speed. Heat the wok over high heat
until a bead of water vaporizes within 1 to 2 seconds of contact. Swirl in the oil and add
the scallions and ginger. Reduce heat to medium and stir-fry 15 to 20 minutes, pushing
mixture up sides of the wok to the edge. If the mixture becomes dry add an additional
tablespoon of oil. Remove from heat and allow the wok to cool. Discard the scallions and
3. Wash the wok with hot water. Dry the wok on a burner over low heat for 1 to 2 minutes
to make sure the pan is totally dry. The wok is seasoned and ready for cooking.
6. (a bonus!) I must go shopping for a carbon-steel flat-bottom wok and purchase Grace Young’s most recent cookbook, “Stir Frying to the Sky’s Edge: The Ultimate Guide to Mastery, with Authentic Recipes and Stories.” The cookbook won the 2011 James Beard Best International Cookbook Award.
Grace Young prepared Classic Dry-Fried Pepper and Salt Shrimp as part of her demonstration. She was adamant that we eat it immediately after it came out of the wok. That is when you will experience the best wok hay. In Cantonese, hay means energy, life force or breath. Wok hay is the highly prized but elusive taste that food achieves when properly stir-fried in a wok and served immediately.
Learn more about Grace Young and her cookbooks and find some of her recipes at her website. Click here.
Classic Dry-Fried Pepper and Salt Shrimpused with permission from Grace Young
There are many versions of this beloved dry-fried stir-fry. The absence of liquid in the stir-fry allows you to experience a concentrated shrimp flavor accented by the garlic, ginger, chilies, and Sichuan peppercorns. For this reason it’s imperative to use the freshest ingredients. Frozen shrimp will work just make sure it’s quality shrimp. (GY)
- 2 tablespoons plus ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 pound large shrimp, peeled and deveined
- ¼ teaspoon sugar
- ¼ teaspoon roasted and ground Sichuan
- 2 tablespoons peanut or vegetable oil
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic
- 1 tablespoon minced ginger
- 1 teaspoon minced jalapeno chili, with seeds
- In a large bowl combine 1 tablespoon of the salt with 1 quart cold water. Add the shrimp and swish the shrimp in the water with your hand for about 30 seconds. Drain. Add 1 more tablespoon salt to the bowl with 1 quart cold water and repeat. Rinse the shrimp under cold water and set on several sheets of paper towels. With more paper towels, pat the shrimp dry. In a small bowl combine the remaining ½ teaspoon salt, sugar, and ground peppercorns.
- Heat a 14-inch flat-bottomed wok or 12-inch skillet over high heat until a bead of water vaporizes within 1 to 2 seconds of contact. Swirl in 1 tablespoon of the oil, add the garlic, ginger, and chili, then, using a metal spatula, stir-fry 10 seconds or until the aromatics are fragrant. Push the garlic mixture to the sides of the wok, carefully add the shrimp and spread them evenly in one layer in the wok. Cook undisturbed 1 minute, letting the shrimp begin to sear. Swirl in the remaining 1 tablespoon oil, and stir-fry 1 minute or until shrimp just begin to turn orange. Sprinkle on the salt mixture, and stir-fry 1 to 2 minutes or until the shrimp are just cooked. Serves 2 as a main dish with rice or 4 as part of a multicourse meal.