I pride myself on being a self-taught cook and baker. Although I would love to take a few culinary school courses or apprentice myself to one of my favorite bakers for a few months, I'm not likely to do so anytime in the near future. Generally, I haven’t been stymied by my lack of “culinary education.” I read cookbooks, check out demonstrations online, watch friends cook their specialties, and seem to have no fear about trying most dishes.
But when it comes to wok cooking, I have been singularly unsuccessful - until tonight. I realized that my stir fries were pitiful long ago, and have used my wok only rarely for family dinners when everyone at the table was too famished to notice, much less criticize the meal.
Recently my wok life improved dramatically, when I stumbled upon Grace Young on Twitter. If you don’t know her and you want to learn to stir-fry, or even if you just have a reverence for cooking that has been handed down from one generation to the next, buy her book Stir-Frying to the Sky’s Edge and join Wok Wednesdays. After all, how can you resist learning from a woman who writes a book about “the universal longing for home”?
The first lesson I learned from Grace is that non-stick woks are the devil’s invention. No good comes of using them, as the non-stick coating prevents proper stir-frying. Maybe that accounts for some part of my lack of stir-fry success. Out goes my non-stick wok! If I can’t bear to throw it in the trash, I’ll use it as a planter or find a jug band that needs a funky percussion instrument. Here are the old (non-stick) and new (too clean, not-yet-seasoned) woks before the non-stick met its very timely demise.
At her suggestion, I bought a carbon steel 14” flat-bottomed wok and a metal spatula to begin my new stir-frying life. I’m not bragging (though I am a world class shopper) when I tell you that the wok and spatula together cost under $18, picked up at a local Asian store that had tons of great dishes, utensils and sauces, all of which sorely tempted me too.
After urging us to get a proper wok and explaining how to shop for one, Grace’s next lesson was about properly seasoning and caring for it. Her video on how to season the wok before you start cooking in it is straightforward and incredibly easy to follow – as you’ll see from my pictures below. Although it takes a while for the wok to develop a proper patina (as Grace patiently explains to those of us who are impatient by nature), hopefully my seasoning gave my wok a good start.
Our first stir-fry dish was Stir-Fried Garlic Spinach. It took literally 10 minutes to prepare, 6 of which were spent finding ingredients and smashing a few cloves of garlic, then 2 minutes to heat the wok and before you know it, the spinach is done. It doesn’t get any easier than that! Unfortuantely, it's also too fast forme to take pictures of while I was stir frying, so you'll have to take it on faith - or try it yourself. Here's the recipe.
There is nothing like a confidence-building first attempt to inspire me. So onward I go, learning to stir-frying to the sky’s edge. (If you want to know what that means, check the last page of the introduction to Grace’s book.)