Chinese home kitchens typically aren’t heavy with gadgetry. You will normally find a sizeable round chopping block, an all purpose meat cleaver, a fruit/paring knife and, at the centre of it all, a wok. A wok which preferably comes with a lid.
Woks can be used for essentially every type of Chinese cooking method – stir-frying, pan-frying, deep-frying, boiling, stewing, braising, steaming, smoking (the latter two are when the lid comes in handy) – hence their importance in the kitchen. As a result, the desirable features of a wok include even heating and having steep and deep sides to prevent spillage when cooking, as well as for practical spacing issues on the stove.
In a space-tight city such as Hong Kong, it is common for home kitchens to have two-burner gas stoves which sit atop a section of purposely low kitchen benchtop. The wok lives permanently on one of the burners because why would you need to put it away when you’re using it every day? And although I have a four-burner cooktop in my current kitchen, I still need to be mindful of large woks which can effectively invade the space of other burners despite it being positioned on only one of them!
My maternal grandfather had a small wok which was coveted by all family members. It heated up quickly and was relatively light, and had become blackened through being well-seasoned over many years of use which rendered it non-stick. It was narrow in diameter and had a rounded bottom which fit perfectly into the stove burners. This was inherited by an aunt of mine but sadly it had to be retired a couple of years ago.
Modern woks, such as the Anolon one pictured above, conveniently come with a non-stick coating which does away with the seasoning process and means little or no oil needs to be used when cooking. Well, unless you’re deep-frying, of course! They also tend to have a wider flat area at the bottom compared with traditional woks, which means you can still fry “flat” things (like eggs, crêpes, pancakes, etc) without everything pooling in a pit. At 30cm in diameter the Anolon wok is at the upper extremity of my ideal size, only because I have small hands and wrists and have trouble balancing anything larger, although the rubber-coated handle which is ingeniously taller than it is wide aids with its grip.
And grip is important when cooking things such as the stir-fry below, so that you can slide it out onto a plate when done rather than having to lift it out in sections and lose heat from your cooked dish.
Stir-fried bitter melon with egg (涼瓜炒蛋) (serves 2-3 as part of a meal)
Bitter melon is something I didn’t learn to appreciate until a few years spent living in Hong Kong. It was rarely available in Sydney during my childhood, although thankfully this is not the case now. Cantonese cuisine features melons/gourds from summer through to autumn, whilst the colder months are spent eating green leafy vegetables. Blanching the melon slices prior to cooking helps to temper the bitterness, and cooking it with egg adds a creamy sweetness.
· 1 medium-sized bitter melon
· 2-3 eggs, lightly beaten
· small chopped chilli, XO sauce (optional)
1. Halve the bitter melon lengthwise and remove the seeds and soft inner pith by scraping with a teaspoon. Cut the melon into thin (3-4mm) slices.
2. Heat a wok over medium-high heat and add the bitter melon. Pour enough freshly boiled water over to cover the melon slices. Add 1 tsp salt and stir until dissolved. Once the bitter melon slices take on a bright green colour, strain and set aside. Discard the cooking water.
3. Return the wok to the heat and wipe dry the inside with a paper towel. Return bitter melon to the wok and stir-fry briefly with ½ tsp salt. (Chopped chilli and XO sauce, if using, can be added to the melon at this point in time.) Pour over the egg and let cook until starting to set before turning over, in sections – it does not have to be neat or kept in one piece like an omelette. Continue to flip and turn until the egg is cooked then slide onto a plate to serve.
Mademoiselle Délicieuse received an Anolon Advanced 30cm Open Stir-Fry pan for review courtesy of Kitchenware Direct as part of this post.