Thousands of years ago, Chinese cooks figured out how to prepare healthy food quickly using a simple, versatile piece of equipment – the Chinese wok. You can use any large skillet for stir-frying, but inexpensive woks are readily available and ideally suited to the job. And with a wok, you can boil and steam, too. There are so many possibilities.

How The Wok Works

One of the secrets to Asian cooking is heat. The wok’s round-bottomed shape is designed to heat up quickly. The resulting dishes are exotic, and mostly ingredients included are easy to come by at a local Asian market.

Preheat the wok before adding oil. You’ll know it’s hot enough when a bead of water evaporates within seconds of contact. Drizzle the oil down the side of the hot wok, swirling to coat the entire surface. Stir in garlic, onions, chiles and other aromatics. They’re pungent and will permeate the oil, spreading flavor throughout the other ingredients.

Push the aromatics aside and add protein — such as meat, poultry and seafood — in a single layer, then don’t touch for a minute while it sears. Stir-fry until about three-quarters cooked, then transfer to a plate, along with the aromatics.

Group and add vegetables in categories, from longest to shortest cook time, as follows: Hard veggies such as broccoli, carrots and potatoes; medium-hard such as zucchini, mushrooms and bell peppers; and soft/leafy such as leafy greens and tomatoes.

Use the stir-fry action: Quickly and constantly slide a spatula between the food and the wok, tumbling the food over on itself.  Return the protein and aromatics to the wok and swirl liquid ingredients. (Broth, wine, soy sauce or coconut milk, to name a few) down the side of the wok to deglaze the pan and intensify the flavor.

Use peanut or canola oil: Because of their high smoke points, they can take the heat without burning. Cut ingredients into uniform-size pieces for even cooking. Give hard veggies such as carrots, broccoli and potatoes a head start by blanching them before stir-frying. Slice meat and poultry thinly across the grain for tenderness. Dry vegetables, shrimp and scallops well before adding to the wok or they’ll steam instead of sear.

Listen for the hallmark sizzling sound as you stir-fry — this lets you know the wok is hot enough. Use a wide metal pancake turner or a stir-fry spatula with sides to facilitate the stir-fry motion.

After cooking, wash your wok with hot water and a soft sponge — and an optional drop of soap.

Your will probably be flat-bottomed and around 14 inches wide, so there’s plenty of room for ingredients. Usually woks have a naturally nonstick surface. Break in a new wok by “seasoning” it, a process of cooking on a protective coating of oil so that the surface is naturally nonstick and resistant to rust. Scrub the wok with steel wool, hot water and soap to remove the factory coating. Dry thoroughly.

Preheat the wok over high heat; add 3 tablespoons vegetable oil, 1/2 cup sliced fresh ginger and 1 bunch scallions, cut into 2-inch pieces. Stir-fry over medium heat, pressing the oily aromatics over the entire surface for 15 minutes.

Rinse the wok with hot water and wipe with a soft sponge. Dry with a terrycloth towel or place the rinsed wok on the stovetop over low heat until thoroughly dried.

If you’re in the Oklahoma City area, find the right wok for your kitchen at Super Cao Ngyuen.

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