Wok Talk - It's All About the Seasoning
I will admit to being a bit of a skeptic. In my experience many (but not all) things are nowhere near as good as the claims made for them. I have been known to once in a while be dead wrong. If you’ve been reading my Big Green Egg blog entries this year you will know that to be the case. I knew it was a good grill, but I simply didn’t believe the claims made for it. I was shocked when I got one myself and found out what an incredible grilling tool it was. My next surprise was the joys of cooking on a properly seasoned wok.
In doing my research to try to get up and running stir frying on my Big Green Egg, I did lots of reading about woks and stir frying. Most of the pieces covered properly seasoning your wok and the benefits of cooking on a properly seasoning a wok. They almost seemed to cover it too much in some cases. Now to the skeptic in me, some of the claims for the benefits realized seemed like they were exaggerated because they seemed to me to be just too good to be true. I figured the benefits were being stressed to get you to go through the seasoning process which probably wasn’t as easy as claimed. All of this was being done by someone totally ignorant to the process and the end results. You see I’ve never owned or cooked on a wok until about a month ago.
Well let me tell you other than the first session, seasoning a wok involves little more than cooking on it. Yes you heard me: just season it correctly before first use and then just use it often and you will quickly have a pan that is as non-stick as any pan i’ve ever owned. It is so non-stick it reminds me of those “magic” non-stick pans that are “As Seen on TV” or in infomercials. Now I’ve covered seasoning the Wok in two different blog entries: BIG GREEN EGG - PT. 18 - FIRST STIR FRY and WOK TALK - HITTING A COMFORT ZONE, so I am not going to go through it again here. There is a little bit of time involved seasoning your wok for the first time. There are several methods that can be used and none of them are particularly difficult. It is important you take the time to do one of them and do it correctly. The claims that all you have to do after that to complete the seasoning process is to cook on your wok is absolutely, totally true.
This is what the wok looked like after it came out of the oven & after it had cooked up a batch of Chinese chives.(left). This picture was taken one month later after I’d used the wok two dozen times. It is now a deep black color and has all of the good properties of a non-stick pan. (right).
I seasoned my wok using the combination of browning it in the oven with a light coating of oil on it and then stir-frying some Chinese chive on it. The oven seasoning gave it a deep golden brown color. After cooking the Chinese chive on it there were areas, particularly at the very bottom that had started to turn a very dark brown bordering on black. After my first wok cook the black areas had spread nicely. I did have to keep the food moving almost constantly or it would stick. But all in all things were going nicely. My second wok cook was a bit of a set back though in terms of the seasoning. I used a higher temperature and the wok cook almost got away from me. Some food did stick to the wok in several places and some of the seasoning came off as I was moving the wok spatula around the wok. The resident wok eggspert on the Big Green Egg forums expressed his surprise at how good the seasoning on my wok was looking. This was based on the pictures I posted on the Big Green Egg Egghead forum of my second cook. He said both me and the wok looked like we had been doing this for a long time.
I was almost embarrassed to post my question about what to do about the areas where the seasoning had come off and other areas where some food had stuck on and wouldn’t come off. The answer I got seemed to good to be true and was my first inkling that these ease of use claims for the wok might actually be true. The answer was just keep cooking on the wok. Sure enough after the third cook the missing seasoning was healing nicely and the spots were about 75 percent as dark as the finish on the rest of the wok. The areas of stuck on food from the previous cook had reduced in size and visibility as well. I was very pleasantly surprised to say the least. I mean the concept of not having to do anything special to correct two problems seemed to good to be true. This is when I began to realize these other claims about the ease of use for a wok might not be too good to be true either.
I now have about two dozen cooks on my wok and I noticed 5 or 6 cooks ago that the surface of the wok had become truly non-stick. I realized this when I was pouring the finished stir-fry out of the wok into the serving bowl. Just like a pancake slides out of a non-stick pan as a single unit, so was my finished stir-fry. Prior to this, the finished stir-fries would do a combination of sliding out and rolling out. Some of the food slide and in places some of it might stick a little bit. The other foods momentum would cause it to roll over the stuck food. So as I said the food would come out of the wok with a combination of a sliding and rolling motion. Suddenly the food was behaving differently. I would tilt the wok and all of the food would start moving and all of it slid out of the wok in one fluid motion. There was no sticking whatsoever and it looked like one of those miracle non-stick pans As seen on TV. I also noticed around this time that the food was moving around the wok freely and easily while I was cooking. It rarely, if ever, stuck to the wok any more and was easier to move around. One of the improvements I had made to my cooking technique was to swirl in any liquids high up on the walls of the wok. This serves to deglaze the wok as well as lubricate it better for the cooking to come.
The last benefit to a properly seasoned wok was ease of cleanup. Normally I simply swish some hot (non-soapy) water around it with a 3M sponge made with a sponge surface on one side and a plastic brillo-like surface on the other. This is now usually enough to clean out the wok. My last stir-fry presented a bit more of a problem. I usually clean out the wok as soon as I finished eating. This last time the wok sat around about an hour before I got to it. I simply let the wok soak for about 5 minutes filled with hot water while I went out to finish cleaning up around the Egg. When I came back inside I simply poured off the water I was soaking it with and rinsed the wok off with more hot water. Most of the remaining food rinsed off and the rest came off with a couple swipes of the sponge, just like my non-stick pans.
So if you are just getting into stir-frying like me and are getting a new wok, be sure to read up on properly seasoning your wok and take the time to do it right. Use your wok often and do your cleanup with non-soapy water. Your reward will be a pan that is as good as any other non-stick pan I have ever used. This is a case where all of the to good to be true claims really are true.
SOME RELATED LINKSHere are some linksto blog entries where I talked a little bit about seasoning my wok.
WOK TALK - HITTING A COMFORT ZONE
BIG GREEN EGG PT. 18-FIRST STIR FRY