The most basic traditional Chinese cooking utensil is called a wok, which has a sloping side and rounded bottom. It is an extremely versatile equipment in the Chinese kitchen and can be used for almost all type of cooking - stir-frying, deep-frying, shallow-frying, steaming or stewing.
The wok is particularly suitable for stir fry dishes, since its rounded base and concave sides help to keep food in the motion during the stirring and turning process which is intrinsic to the technique. The food can be stir-fried in a small amount of oil and then moved off to the side where the heat is lower. When the food is pushed to the sides, liquid will drain and collect in the bottom of the wok, ready to be thickened into sauce, usually done in a separate pan in western cooking.
Today, a wide variety of woks of different materials, sizes and shapes are available. You can select either a round-bottomed or flat-bottomed wok if you have a gas stove. But, if you have an electric range, the flat bottomed wok is designed for this, because it sits directly on the element. A round-bottomed wok will need a ring stand or a collar to sit on the burner.
||Of all the materials a wok is made with: aluminum, spun sheet steel, copper, stainless steel; the traditional uncoated carbon steel wok is still the most preferred for its good heat conductivity and economical price. Do not buy a stainless steel wok because it does not season and food is more likely to stick to the surface. Also stay away from teflon coated woks as they do not heat up very hot. An electric wok is a big NO NO for cooking chinese food too.
As for size, woks come in a variety of sizes - 10" to several feet in diameter as can be seen in some big Chinese restaurants. A 14-inch wok is adequate for home cooking.
Nowadays, most people are going for the wok that has one long handle, similar to that on a skillet because it is lighter and easier two use than the traditional two-handled wok.
Wok is the one piece of equipment that is essential if you want to get serious about Chinese cooking. However, if you do not wish to invest in one just yet, a wide frying pan can take the place of the Chinese wok. The Chinese cook would first fry fish or meat or poultry or vegetables in his wok, then push it upwards and aside while preparing ingredients in the base of the wok, keeping both apart. With the flat frying pans, fry the fish or other food and transfer it to a heated dish while carrying out the second preparation, or use another frying pan.
How to season and clean a wok >>