Sunday, May 13, 2012

How to season a new wok - Things mom taught (and things I learned)

A new ceramic-coated 15" "haak gum gong" wok
From all the literature I've been reading about the science behind seasoning a wok, I'm pretty sure the "traditional" method of seasoning a wok that I was taught, with fatty pork and chives, is scientifically unsound, but I'm going to tell you the rationale behind my purchase and what I've learned anyway, for reference and in the interests of covering the different schools of thought out there.

New wok in its wrapping, with the name clearly printed on the plastic bag. It was only HK$55!
My not-so-secret confession is that it took me about 10 months of moving into my new apartment to actually buy a wok (which prompted me to post my mom's awesome spare ribs recipe). Previously in terms of pans (as opposed to pots) I had just 2 skillet thingys, one of which was from Ikea (don't judge, they offered to deliver it with my furniture - how could I resist!). I bought this at an old homewares store on Bonham St. East in Sheung Wan (darling place, I also got some classic blue dragon and "cock" patterned bowls and plates there) - you can generally buy these at the mom n' pop homewares stores that have plastic brooms and buckets hanging at the entrance. Most wet markets in Hong Kong have at least one store like this.

Pork fat back
My mom taught me to season the wok in the classic way that "everyone knows" - with pork fat and chives. My quasi-scientific thought was the the chives were just for cleaning and grubby black bits off after you were done with frying the fat, so I decided paper towels would do, and just went to the butcher and said, I want some fatty pork (肥豬肉) for seasoning (or "opening") my wok (開鑊). He gave me what you can see above, which I assume is fat back, and as I was taking my wallet out, he said, "you can have it for free". Awesome.

Lots of drippings
As with everything that "everyone knows", no-one actually knows why it's done that way. A quick search on Mr. Google brings up this, which tells me lard is traditional, but no longer relevant, because pork fat no longer has enough omega-3's for a reaction between the wok and the metal to create a non-stick patina. Also check out Singaporean blog ieatishootipost's post about his research into seasoning his carbon steel wok.

But - one crucial thing about this wok is that it's not plain carbon steel. As you can see, it's black and glossy on the outside. My initial research is inconclusive, but my guess it that it's either enamel or ceramic (please leave a comment if you know!). A lot of people swear by this type of black shiny wok ("haak gum gong" 黑金剛) and say it'll last forever, unlike the Teflon or modern "non-stick" pans that can't seem to withstand high heat. Many "serious" foodies tend to use uncoated carbon steel, stainless steel, or even cast iron woks with no coating, so the link about seasoning mentioned above will probably be useful.

Rubbing the very hot pork fat around the very hot wok
What I did was, I cleaned the wok in soapy water, gave it a little scrub, then dried it with a tea towel and put it on my stove, and turned the heat on high. I left it to dry and heat up for about 3-4 minutes, dropped a tiny drop of water using the end of a chopstick into the wok to see if it was hot enough (it evaporated almost immediately - I didn't even see the whole drop land on the surface) and deemed it hot enough. I then placed the fat in, fat side (not skin) down. I figured I wasn't cooking, I just wanted the oil, and that was under the skin, not on it. A lot of oil came out of these pieces of fat, perhaps a whole cup - probably too much. It happened quite quickly, so I began rubbing the fat into the sides of the wok. I did this for another 3-4 minutes, basically until I was satisfied that the surface of the wok had taken in enough fat.

So pork fat wasn't supposed to be ideal, but then again, with the coating on the wok, are we expecting the same reaction/effect? 

In any case, my wok is working great - the general steps to making sure nothing sticks on a day-to-day basis are: heat wok up, add (room temp) oil, (try and leave ingredients out to reach room temp as well) then fry away! 

I don't know about the rest, but my mom taught me the last part.

Happy mom's day!

6 comments:

  1. I keep using a lot of water and reboiling it again and again, until that stinkiness is gone! Then I oil it using normal frying oil everytime I use it.

    No one taught me but now I know how everyone else does it properly! : ) Great post as usual!!

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  2. I never ask how my mom seasons a wok because I never use one but your post has inspired me and now I want to know if they use the same method! Great post on mother's day ;)

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  3. My 2 woks were seasoned by my mother-in-law and I don't recall how she did it but i remember telling me about 'opening' it, etc..Now she is no longer here it is too late to ask and I realize how these 'everyday' things are important to be passed on (and of course how much we are missing her).
    I think the most important thing is to have enough heat (which is very difficult to get at home with my western type cooker).
    Nice post on Mother's day! And thanks a lot for sharing.

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  4. Interesting method and very useful post Janice. I seasoned mine just using oil but I don't think it is perfectly done as every now and then I get black bits flaking off. I assume you don't wash your wok after cooking as well - or just rinse with water no soap?

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  5. I have a silver carbon wok that I seasoned religiously and it now has a wonderfully non-stick patina. It's my pride and joy.

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  6. Try the oven method.
    1.Clean the wok
    2.Dry it on stove
    3.Apply Thin Layer of oil
    4.Put into a 500F Oven
    5.Wait for half an hour
    6.Take it out and fry some scallion

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