I’ve been following the debate on this forum in another thread about wok cooking and how wok hei (Cantonese expression meaning the ‘breath of the wok’) is a must to really get the most out of using a wok for for instance stir fry dishes.
First I would like to show a video where you see AND hear a wok in action at an Asian top restaurant and you really hear what ‘wok hei’ sounds like and why it’s close to impossible to obtain wok hei in regular home kitchens - western home kitchens as well as Asian home kitchens a like.
To get a flame like what you see in the video will not be possible in 99% of all home kitchens. You either need to go outside or have a professional setting in your home kitchen to obtain anything close to wok hei.
But is wok hei really necessary to get the most out of a wok used at home on your non professional stovetop ?
I’m not so sure. I honestly use my two woks because of their design much more than to be dreaming of getting my stir fry to taste like wok hei made stir fry, since that’s not possible on my gas stovetop at home.
I find my woks are the most versatile pans in my kitchen - and I’m a cookware geek with more than 50+ pots & pans in my collection.
I can boil pasta and noodles in my woks, so I’ll save washing up an extra pan. Is a wok ideal for this ? No, but it works just fine.
I can sear meat in my woks, not ideal for larger pieces of steak like a ribeye of course, but you get the point.
I can deep fry in my woks - though I don’t, since I’m not a deep fry fan, but my wife does it often. Is the wok ideal for deep fry ? No, but it works just fine*****
*****As ChemicalKinetics points out, a wok is in fact ideal for deep frying of smaller portions and for shallow deep frying.
I can jump sauté and toss vegetables in my woks like in no other pan I own. The wok is king for jump sautéing.
In fact I make most of my one-pot dishes like rice dishes, vegetable dishes, pasta dishes and noodle dishes in my woks and prefer them slightly over my Sauciers and sauter pans for these one-pot dishes.
But again, I don’t use a wok in hope of obtaining wok hei stir fry dishes to magically appear out of the blue on my gas stovetop at home.
I still feel my home made stir fry is on par with most stir fry dishes I can get in local Chinese and Thai restaurants in my hometown - Copenhagen in Denmark - whether these restaurants obtain wok hei or not.
Being able to pick your own favourite ingredients for you own home made stir fry in many cases can make up for a restaurant wok hei made stir fry, where you got to accept the ingredients the restaurant uses.
At home you’re the BOSS of your own dish and you decide exactly what type of spices and ingredients you want to include in your home made stir fry.
People often overlook this great advantage you have in your home kitchen.
I spoke to two of my friends about wok cooking and home kitchens the other day. One is a Thai and has lived in Denmark for 21 years. He’s a fully trained danish chef. The other is also a fully trained danish chef, but comes originally from Vietnam.
Both agreed that technically it would be better to use a frying pan or a big saucier than an actual wok for home cooking since home stovetop are better suited for cookware with flatter bottoms, if you look for anything close to wok hei in a home kitchen environment (unless you have a big BTU flame and a wok ring at home)
So in fact if I wanted a home style wok hei’ish stir fry, I really should fire up my thickest Darto carbon steel frying pan or my Demeyere Proline frying pan and heat the living crap out of it and stir fry my ingredients in that instead of using a flat or round bottom wok since the flatter frying pan have a larger surface that will high heat sauté the ingredients better and faster.
I still DO think my Demeyere Apollo 32 cm 7-PLY flat bottom wok does such an amazing job, that I’ll continue using it at home for my wok dishes, pasta dishes and what not.
So how about you ?
Do you use a wok in your home kitchen and what do you feel are the ups and downs to wok cooking in a home kitchen environment ?