The best gift: a Wok

IMG_8302This holiday season if you’re wondering what to give, you can’t go wrong with a wok. At a time when we all want to simplify our lives, this essential tool is ideal for nine different cooking techniques: stir-frying, pan-frying, braising, boiling, poaching, steaming, deep-fat-frying, smoking, and even roasting. Instead of the expensive ten piece cookware set William Sonoma wants you to buy, for under $30, you can purchase a high-quality American-made wok that can do just about everything.

When you give a wok you’re giving a piece of culinary tradition. For over 2000 years the wok has been the workhorse of the Chinese kitchen. There’s something special about knowing how to cook with a traditional wok. And the wok is a health pan: a carbon-steel wok acquires a natural nonstick surface the more you cook with it. Slowly with each dish you cook the wok’s patina begins to build, the color of the pan changes like beautiful raku pottery.

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My favorite source for woks is The WokShop.com, located in the heart of San Francisco’s Chinatown (718 Grant Ave). For over forty years it’s been the temple for wok cooking with the best selection of woks and an amazing staff that is super knowledgeable. They can advise on the best wok for an induction stove, semi-professional range (like a Viking/Wolf) or an ordinary gas stove. If you’re lucky to meet the owner, Tane Chan (pictured below), you’ll be charmed by her wit and wok expertise. The wok that’s the most popular for a residential stove is the 14-inch flat-bottomed carbon-steel wok (see the wok Tane is holding). But the WokShop also has the traditional Cantonese cast-iron wok, hand-hammered woks from China, Northern pao woks, and much, much more…

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If you want a more elaborate gift, include a bamboo steamer that fits into your wok, a spatula, a classic cleaver (for as little as $7), skimmer for deep-fat frying, and negi cutter for cutting fine scallion shreds. Or fill the wok with essential condiments like Koon Chun hoisin sauce, organic Kikkoman soy sauce, chili bean sauce, Kadoya sesame oil, and a high smoking point oil such as peanut or grapeseed. I can even suggest a great cookbook to go with your wok.

A few months ago, my friend Kate introduced me to Mike, a friend who was anxious to get my advice on the best wok to buy. I’ve coached lots of people on woks but what cracked me up about Mike was when he told me,”If I can do this wok thing I’m never leaving the house.” It’s true. The gift of a wok will provide your friends and family with a new passion and a delicious adventure learning the ways of the wok and unlocking its mysteries.

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