Breaking in the New Wok
In his book Cast Iron Cooking: From Johnnycakes to Blackened Redfish, A. D. Livingston famously says, “If you’ve got a dutch oven, you don’t need no damn wok.” And while in essence that’s true--that you can cook just about anything in a dutch oven that you can cook in a wok--it doesn’t mean that a wok isn’t of tremendous value or even that a wok won’t be a better choice for any kind of stir-fry dish.
Kathy and I have been having our own “Asian night” for a while. A few years ago, her brother, Clark, gave me a traditional steel wok. We’ve used it for stir-fry on many occasions, almost always with rice and whatever leftovers were in the refrigerator. Lately, we added a very basic egg drop soup to the menu as well, and at this point I decided I really needed a second wok.
Of course, if I was going to buy a wok myself, knowing that Lodge makes a cast iron wok, I knew this was the one I had to have. In looking at customer comments on Amazon.com and other places, while some folks raved about the Lodge cast iron wok, I also discovered there were wok purists who decried it for being too heavy or that the cast iron was simply not the right kind of metal for stir-fry.
If you’re reading this post, you would probably agree with me that most food is simply better in cast iron! With this assumption in hand, I ordered the Lodge cast iron wok.
My first impression regarding the new wok was how large it was! In the picture above, you see it next to a standard 10 1/4” cast iron skillet. The weight of the cast iron makes for a pan that stays still. I don’t have to hold on to one side of it as I stir.
And as I’ve mentioned before, unfortunately, our current home has an electric range (never again!), but the diameter of the base is small enough that I can actually use the wok--as big as it is--from the smaller burner. As with any wok, by concentrating the heat at the bottom, food that needs less heat can be pushed to the sides.
Cast iron required: cast iron wok
When I make stir-fry, I usually start with sesame oil which I allow to get hot at the bottom of the pan over a medium heat. The sesame oil will give a dish a nice Asian flavor. As I mentioned, we often add whatever is available from leftovers, but if we are including ingredients like uncooked bacon, shrimp, or even raw vegetables like onions (green, white, or yellow) or broccoli, it’s best to add these ingredients first to the oil. I want to always be careful that any meat is fully cooked. Any meat or raw vegetables should be added before the rice which should already be cooked. When adding broccoli, I generally cook it to a bright green, but Kathy often wants it cooked a bit longer.
At this point, I will add in rice that is already cooked. Usually we have leftover rice from another meal, which is often our excuse for stir-fry in the first place. Soy sauce is added to taste. Now the primary purpose is to heat the rice to the same temperature as the rest of the ingredients. The final touch is to add a bit of egg. If raw egg is added to the mixture at this point, it will simply be lost. A better method is to lightly scramble a couple of eggs in another, smaller skillet and right before they are a the point I might serve them as a breakfast item, I take them and add them to the stir-fry, mixing them in without mixing them so fine that they are lost. White pepper and a little more soy sauce or even sesame oil can be added if necessary to taste.
EGG DROP SOUP
Cast iron optional, but a wok (steel or cast iron) is a nice touch
We now use our original steel wok for the egg drop soup. Technically, you don’t need a wok to make egg drop soup, but it certainly seems appropriate to make it in one. The recipe is a very basic one by Rhonda Parkinson which I found a while back on the internet. Although cast iron isn’t really required, I include this recipe here for the sake of completeness. This recipe is basic and easy to make, and to us, it’s as good or better than any egg drop soup we’d get in a restaurant.
- 4 cups chicken broth or stock
- 2 eggs, lightly beaten
- 1-2 green onions, minced
- 1/4 teaspoon white pepper
- Salt to taste
- A few drops of sesame oil (optional)
In a wok or saucepan, bring the 4 cups of chicken broth to a boil. Add the white pepper and salt, and the sesame oil if using. Cook for about another minute.
Very slowly pour in the eggs in a steady stream. To make shreds, stir the egg rapidly in a clockwise direction for one minute. To make thin streams or ribbons, gently stir the eggs in a clockwise direction until they form.
Garnish with green onion and serve.
THAILAND PEANUT PESTO (shown here with optional shrimp & broccoli)
Cast Iron Required: Wok
Another recipe we’ve made recently in the wok is Thailand Peanut Pesto which I found on the Tabasco website. This recipe requires one to make a homemade peanut sauce which is just as good as anything I’ve ever had in a restaurant. Kathy generally doesn’t care for peanut-flavored Asian recipes, but she loves this one.
- 1 cup unsalted roasted peanuts
- 1/3 cup Tabasco brand Soy Sauce
- 1 teaspoon Original Tabasco brand Pepper Sauce
- 1/4 cup honey
- 1/3 cup water
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/2 cup sesame oil
- 1 pound bowtie pasta, cooked according to package instructions
- 1/2 cup chopped green onions
Place peanuts in the bowl of a food processor and process until finely ground. With motor running, add remaining ingredients except pasta and green onions, one at a time, through feeder tube. Process until a thick, smooth paste has formed.
Transfer mixture to a bowl; cover and refrigerate until ready to use. Toss with hot cooked pasta and garnish with green onion.
Makes 4 servings.
Try adding vegetables such as steamed broccoli or snow peas to this, or turn it into an entrée by adding cooked chicken or shrimp.
Ultimately, I’m quite pleased with the cast iron wok from Lodge. It’s heavy so that it doesn’t move on the stovetop while stirring food in it, and everything I’ve cooked in it has been wonderful so far. Whether you are a cast iron aficionado or whether you simply enjoy Asian food, I highly recommend this wok for your cooking enjoyment.
Feel free to leave your thoughts or ask questions in the comments below, or you can contact Rick directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.