My new wok -- I am steaming, not stir-frying

livvysmomMarch 15, 2005

I bought the 14" Joyce Chen carbon steel flat-bottomed wok. I believe I have it properly seasoning because so far nothing has stuck and it has not rusted. It is a nice wok except for one irritating thing; it is supposed to be flat-bottomed but still wobbles on my smoothop electric stove. I use the handle to keep it flat while cooking the best I can.

Anyhow, last night I made cashew chicken. It was delicious; the vegetables where perfectly cooked and the chicken melted in your mouth.

The vegetables were very easy to stir fry and turned out well. However, I felt more like I steamed the chicken then stir-fried. I added oil to the hot wok, waited for it to smoke and then added only half the chicken. It sputtered and sizzled for a few seconds then silence; it seemed to be cooking in the liquid at the bottom of the wok. The chicken was slightly frozen when I added it (isn't it supposed to be?). Also, my recipe said to toss the cut up chicken with 1 T soy sauce and cornstarch (should I have drained it before adding it to the wok?).

I am using a burner on my smoothtop that I consider to be a very "hot" burner. It boils water very quickly and doesn't have much of a simmer at all.

Any suggestions would be appreciated. Maybe I just have to wait for my smoothtop to croak so I can get the dual fuel range of my dreams??

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Add liq and you will steam, it will bring the temp of the pot down. Try draining it next time. I would also let it thaw more. If you want the liq for sauce you can add it after the chicken is done.

    Bookmark   March 15, 2005 at 7:58AM
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Using a wok on electric is a challenge; keep experimenting.

    Bookmark   March 15, 2005 at 9:12AM
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Hmmm, "It was delicious; the vegetables where perfectly cooked and the chicken melted in your mouth."

I'm not sure I would recommend doing anything different. Sounds like a great result!

    Bookmark   March 15, 2005 at 5:45PM
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Bumblebeez SC Zone 7

Next time, totally defrost the chicken and keep the pieces bigger to compensate for not being slightly frozen. Pat them dry so they don't add liquid to the wok.
And, I would also test water in your wok to make sure it will come to a rolling boil. Just to see how well it works with a wobble. Or test the oil with a candy thermometor to make sure it stays at the corect temperature. Off hand, at least 350 or 375.

    Bookmark   March 15, 2005 at 9:25PM
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It is a matter of BTU's. Most ranges found in homes do not put out enough heat, especially electric. Try very small amounts.

Here is my secret. I use my Webber Kettle charcoal grill to WOK. Build a big fire like you would for steaks. Leave the charcoal mounded up and form a hallow like you would mashed potatos for gravy. Place the Wok in and you will have all the heat you need. In fact you will get the flare ups just like you see on TV with professional chefs, so be careful. I use a long nose vice grips for a handle and one of those silicon heat gloves. Works great.

    Bookmark   March 15, 2005 at 11:09PM
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As has been suggested, make sure that everything you put in the wok is warm (room temperature) and dry. This will make the best use of the heat you have available. To get the most heat in the wok, make sure that you keep it in contact with the smooth top all the time. On a gas burner, the flame heats a pan even if it is lifted up slightly from the burner. On a smoothtop, you get very little heat when the pan is not in direct contact. Keep the burner on its highest setting, and keep the wok still, and you will get all the heat possible.

Good luck,


    Bookmark   March 16, 2005 at 9:22AM
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Thanks for all the great advice. I'll be using the wok again this Sunday and will make sure the chicken is nice and dry before adding it to the wok.

    Bookmark   March 17, 2005 at 8:42AM
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I have given up on getting a decent result making Chinese food on my smoothtop. (I had no trouble at all on a gas stove in my last house.) Now, I tell my spouse that if he want Chinese food (or Thai or anything else that requires high heat and control thereof) that he can get me a new gas stove or get takeout!

I think you are right in wanting your smooth top to die so you can get the stove of your dreams.

    Bookmark   March 20, 2005 at 3:32AM
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A wok is really not the best thing for use on most home stoves -- especially electric ones since there just isn't enough BTU's to heat up the sides.

Per Cooks Illustrated (America's Test Kitchen) the best stir fried results for the home cook are when using a regular nonstick large skillet since there is more of a surface for the food to be seared on -- this prevents the food from steaming.

As others have suggested, you also need to cook in small batches, have the food not right out of the fridge and let the pan reheat as you add a batch.

I have used this method and produced the best stir fries ever -- no more steamed soggy Chinese food -- it was always tasty but it wasn't stir fried :)

I know that the wok is a sacrosanct piece of equipment among many on these board -- the bottom line is that the small flat surface of the wok provides no advantage for home cooks since the entire style is meant to be used on a source of heat in which the wok including the sides is heated to a high temperature and used as part of the cooking process.

    Bookmark   March 20, 2005 at 9:21AM
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Gil Roschuni

Many Asian households are tossing out their gas fired woks for induction units. The gas units can melt the countertops adjacent to them from all the wasted heat they put out. The induction units have all the BTUs of the high-end gas units without the extra wasted heat that ruins the cooking experience. As a result, induction woks are sweeping Asia. An induction wok cooker with a 3500W induction generator will give you the equivalent of about a 31,000 BTU gas burner. Some tabletop units are available as well as complete 4-6 burner built-in induction cooktops. Check it out. :-)

    Bookmark   April 8, 2005 at 8:58PM
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I recommend you try a cast iron wok. Lodge makes good products. Because of the heavy nature of cast iron, it has a high thermal mass and holds heat better than anything. You'll have to wait a while for it to heat, but then it should serve you well.

    Bookmark   April 11, 2005 at 5:42PM
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Dry food, fully thawed (the partial freezing is to make cutting easy). Room temp is nice, but not the best idea with poultry. Fine with beef and pork for stir frying (but not ground).

Cook in smaller batches if necessary.

Liquid is added at the end of cooking to make the sauce.

    Bookmark   April 13, 2005 at 11:08PM
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Induction is the way to get really memorable stir fry. Check the appliances forum, there is always a thread on the subject.
I think that induction is the new cook top for serious cooks. Even the biggies like Viking are introducing induction.

    Bookmark   April 14, 2005 at 2:39AM
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