Something I learned from a chef friend of mine when not having a wok at your disposal, is to stir fry everything separately, then combine at the end. Start with the aromatics (garlic and ginger), remove, do the onion, remove, veggies, etc, etc. Meanwhile the oil your using picks up on all the flavors.
I’ve done ok with stirfry, and generally use the method you describe below. It’s just when I try to do a noodle dish that it all falls apart. For instance yesterday I tried pad see ew. First oil, some garlic, and steamed broccoli. Then out, and new oil, more garlic, and tofu and egg. Then out. Once I put in soaked noodles, they literally took up the entire pan. I put in the sauce, and they drank it right up. So I tried to split them in half and put in 1/2 the sauced noodles and 1/2 the veg stuff in at a time. Even tried to add a little water to get some of the sauce back in the bottom of the pan so that the chunks could soak it up. But no go. Ended up a big mess, lots of dishes, and still pretty tasty noodles with pretty bland toppings all around. So I’m trying to find a way to incorporate better. It all would have been much easier in a small batch, I see now.
That ordeal is why I don’t do noodle dishes. They always seem to end up like that: a lot of mush for a lot of work.
I’ve had success with all kinds of rice dishes, but noodles, I leave for the restaurants…for now!
I have a gas cooktop. I bought a Joyce Chen flat bottom carbon steel wok with wooden handles back in the early 80’s from her daughter-in-law’s shop in Acton, MA. It’s totally blackened and non-stick at this point in time. I love that vessel. I can make fish and chips in it.
+1 on the carbon steel woks. They’re relatively cheap (I think I just picked mine up from a Chinese supermarket), lightweight, thin (and thus quick to get super hot) and building up a non stick seasoning seems to have been simpler than on my cast iron.
I’ve had it for around 10 years now and wouldn’t change it.
Americas Test Kitchen has a good wok review on YouTube.
I tend to not use a lot of oil and and some stuff stuck at first but just soak the wok in cold water and it will come off. As long as you season after you use it each time you’ll get a non stick surface after a while. Also if you are cooking leafy vegetables and want them to wilt faster because they’re taking up too much space don’t be afraid to add a splash of water to create some steam.
This is my wok after a year.
Prepare noodles - I used Italian wheat fettuccine (because: pandemic) and cooked to al dente in water with a Tbsp oil, then drained, rinsed in cold water, and tossed well with more oil. Set aside. For rice noodles I would drain, possibly rinse, and toss with plenty of oil.
Heat up a large carbon steel wok on a gas stove. Mine has a fairly slick non-stick surface from seasoning with flax oil in the oven.
Add vegetable or grapeseed oil, heat very hot, and add garlic and ginger. Stir fry briefly then add thinly sliced carrot, zucchini, and mushrooms and stir well to prevent the aromatics from overcooking. Let the veggies brown a bit, spreading over the pan to maximize surface contact. Remove to a bowl.
Add plenty more oil, let it get very hot, then add your well-drained noodles and rapidly stir fry. I sprinkled on some salt and followed the same technique of spreading out and letting sit undisturbed to brown.
Return vegetables to pan and toss to distribute. Add sauce by the spoonful and toss to cover vegetables and noodles.
You’ll get better browning/wok hey with carbon steel than non-stick because non-stick surfaces aren’t stable or safe at higher temps. I’d go for a traditional wok, but if you won’t be using it often enough to justify the cost/kitchen real estate, consider an alternative: a large cast iron skillet (10"+). It can take the heat, will be non-stick if properly seasoned, and chars well.
One other idea, look for YouTube videos of street food vendors preparing the dishes you want to make. That will give you some noodle-y insight into draining, tossing with oil, etc.
ETA: I don’t think you’ll get the same results heating up a large stainless steel pot as a wok, because it doesn’t have that slick, seasoned coating.
If you don’t have a gas flame, and a way to stabilize the wok, you’re much better off with stainless steel.
I’m going to add to the cacaphony of folks who swear by something different. I bought a Lodge cast iron wok several years back. It was preseasoned, Lodge said, and nothing has ever stuck to it. It has a flat bottom and the inside is curved. Is it heavy? Yep, and It’s fairly big. I don’t see that as a bad thing, though, I’m not inclined to flip stuff into the air while I’m cooking, because I’ve proven over time that I’m a spaz when it comes to that, plus it makes for extra cleaning. But it won’t clatter around or tip while you toss and stir. I knew I’d like it, I just didn’t realize how much I’d end up liking it. I adore it.
Why not a flat bottomed wok? Or a cast iron pan? A stainless steel pot does not have a slick surface to release food during vigorous stir frying. I just don’t see how that’s going to work considering her issues with the noodles sticking.
Here’s what a popular wok shop recommends:
"7. . Woks for ceramic/glass cooktops:
The only wok I would safely recommend for a glass ceramic cooktop is the Joyce Chen, pre-seasoned castiron wok. The bottom is totally flat, approx. 6" diameter and will sit absolutely flat (which is necessary) on your ceramic stove top. Our flat bottom carbon steel woks are as flat as flat can get the way they are spun out; however, some customers have told us that the wok"danced" on their stove, was just a smidge shy of being “totally flat”. From the naked eye, the bottom of our flat bottom woks, look flat to me, but just not completely and totally flat on the ceramic stove. Our flat bottom woks wok perfectly, wonderfully on coil electric burners because these burners “give”. Also, woks nicely on grills too and of course gas stoves. Glass top stoves are really not made for woks. There are new woks on the market from Korea that are marble and we have heard great things about them and stock them for glass top stoves. A lot of our east Indian and Korean customers purchase the marble coated woks and are very satisfied; they say marble cooks very well. (note on our site we do mention carbon steel flat bottom woks not recommended for glass top stoves)."
We bought our wok from this company and have been very pleased. They’re well rated and cheap. Obviously from the photos, I do a crappy job maintaining the seasoned finish, and it still works great.
Well, here we are talking about belief. I do not believe that any wok can perform well on a ceramic/glass cooktop. Of course, I don’t have one, so I am not speaking from experience, but from belief. My carbon steel wok heats up quickly and cools down quickly. A cooking utensil that does not do this does not, to my belief, have the properties one looks for in a wok. For example, my wok is the ideal utensil for making popcorn. It heats quickly to a high heat, but once the corn is in, it cools quickly and does not burn the corn. I do not believe that one could reproduce this with cast iron or stainless steel. But I do believe that stainless steel could produce good stir-fry dishes, if one concentrates on dishes that need high heat. The key is, in my opinion, constant tossing. This is, I believe, more important than the surface of the utensil.
My MIL came to stay at our house in the 90’s with her husband for a few months. I caught her washing a whole chicken with ivory soap and scrubbing my blackened wok with an SOS pad, along with my seasoned cast iron skillet and then put my electric teakettle on my gas burner to boil water for her tea. I came very close to grabbing her around her neck.
People who don’t know kitchen!
I really appreciate all the advice above. Since I’m feeling wokky, and I’ve tried to get results with a large stainless pot without success, I think I’ll be looking for that flat bottomed carbon steel wok. And hopefully with enough time, will get enough season on it like the photos above. I have a cast iron pan, but I don’t really know how to use it, and so it mostly sits around. And I think I’m done with nonstick surfaces for things like woks. There’s something telling about using the cookware that is used in the Chinese and Thai restaurants, so I think that’s where I’m headed. But grateful for all of your experiences!
She was so OCD she drove me crazy. Finally dearly departed.
Confirmed, I have a Staub cast iron wok that is supposed to work on induction. I hate it as a wok, the flat bottom contact is too small, it is slow to heat up, the side never gets hot enough, and it is too heavy to do any tossing. I’ve better result with my extra large paella pan on induction, or an ordinary casserole or even a pan… I think a bigger flat bottom is important for induction unless you have a pro hemispherical induction hob to fit a regular round bottom wok.
I like a round bottom wok better than a flat bottom one. I find it easier to toss the food. I have heavy duty cast iron grates on my stove and I flip it over. The wok nestles in there close the flame. Many round-bottom woks come with a ring, if you take of the grate off the ring should fit around the burner.
I used to have a crazy housekeeper. He had to inspect my house to make sure my housekeeping was up to his standards, he didn’t believe in vacuum cleaners and hand brushed my carpets. One day I came home and found my very blackened wok shiny. I know he meant well, but still…