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leviathan

Chinese woks and cleavers

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Getting to know the nature of the pans you have and how they perform in your particular setup is paramount.

Exactly. I used to use a cast iron skillet for most of my chinese cooking and I would usually have to adapt certain recipes when cooking with it. For example, I'd often take it off the heat a little early, and when mixing sauces I'd add a little extra water to account for the extra evaporation due to the hot pan.


Edited by sheetz (log)

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There is value in listening to our circumstances.

Nice statement.

I second that!

It says it all when I think about the introduction of Chinese food to North America: chop suey, chow mein, wood stove, cast iron frying pan, etc. I think I might even add that to my signature(If I could find out how to do that!), with your permission, of course. :biggrin:


Dejah

www.hillmanweb.com

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The issue with woks is that they are thin and made of carbon steel which is a relatively poor heat conductor, which is why extremely powerful heat sources are needed to use them effectively. A home stovetop is unlikely to be able to produce sufficient heat for anything but the smallest batches.

This is simply wrong. Carbon steel conducts heat better than stainless steel, cast iron, or ceramic. It may not be as good as copper or aluminum, but it is not "poor". You may be trying to raise the issue of heat loss, or radiation, hence the need for a good flame underneath. And too, the round bottom of the steel wok doesn't connect with most electrically heated surfaces. But most home gas burners, on high, will be able to work a wok for a typical family batch.

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Perhaps I should qualify my statements a little bit. I am in complete agreement that there is value in considering our circumstances, but given that, I prefer my tools highly functional. I am not saying that good chinese food cannot be made with inexpensive stainless steel, I just think its better to invest in a good quality pan that will be easier to use and last longer. Generally when learning something new I prefer explanations of what the variables involved are. Personally, I always found this sort of explanation more useful than "its all in the skill of the user, just go buy whatever".

As far as cast iron goes, I was talking about a cast iron wok. I think cast iron woks are great for certain applications (e.g. a lot of Indian food), but not for very high heat cooking. I wouldn't use a cast iron wok for high heat cooking because of its greater size, and therefore weight and thermal mass. I think a 14" wok is the preferable minimum, 16" being better. This is larger than a standard 11" cast iron pan, and will therefore be heavier and have more thermal mass.

Basically what I'm trying to say is that I think there is value in buying and using good tools. And there are limitations to certain tools as well. Making sushi, whipping egg whites in a plasic bowl, and achieving good wok hei all things that are very difficult to do without the proper tools.

This is simply wrong. Carbon steel conducts heat better than stainless steel, cast iron, or ceramic. It may not be as good as copper or aluminum, but it is not "poor".

I am no metallurgist, but according to the eCGI course and this website carbon steel has lower thermal conductivity than cast iron. I qualified my statement with "relatively" with the idea in mind that almost all cooking metals are relatively poor thermal conductors outside of aluminum and copper. I did come on a bit strongly with the bit about home stovetops, but I don't think its a stretch to say that carbon steel woks aren't ideal for most home stovetops.

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but I don't think its a stretch to say that carbon steel woks aren't ideal for most home stovetops.

It is for me and every single one of my friends and relatives. We leer at SS with disdain, scoff at nonstick, spit at cast iron, laugh uproariously at electric woks, and sniff at induction woks :laugh::biggrin: .

I have a gas range with a 15K btu burner now, but my second choice for home cooking would be a flat bottomed carbon steel wok over the large burner of a home range. When that burner gets cherry red, wok hei is a cinch when cooking one or two portions.

As for good tools for any job, no need to buy a $2000. camera when your skill is at the Brownie level.


Edited by Ben Hong (log)

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I am no metallurgist, but according to the eCGI course and this website carbon steel has lower thermal conductivity than cast iron.

Gram per gram that is correct, but what you are not taking into consideration is the relative thickness of the cookware. A thin sheet of carbon steel like that used for a wok will respond more quickly to changes in temperature than a very thick piece of cast iron or even aluminum.

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I should be more precise with my words, I guess when I said most home stovetops I was thinking electric, as gas is rarer generally speaking.

It is for me and every single one of my friends and relatives. We leer at SS with disdain, scoff at nonstick, spit at cast iron, laugh uproariously at electric woks, and sniff at induction woks.

Interesting that you choose flat bottom carbon steel for electric. I have one of these and would love to use it more often but I just find the heat distribution too uneven. I have an old electric stove with a big burner that really pumps out the heat, but its all concentrated on the bottom 2 inches or so of my wok. I find that when cooking medium to large batches the bottom stuff burns or cooks too quickly. Is there something I'm missing, more tossing perhaps? It has been a while since I gave it a spin, maybe I just gave up too early.

I think you said earlier in a thread that you'd prefer a frying pan for a single portion due to more even heat distribution. What changes between this and a larger portion that makes you prefer a wok? It seems like a flat bottomed wok would better for smaller portions as most of the food would be in contact with or close to the heat source.

Gram per gram that is correct, but what you are not taking into consideration is the relative thickness of the cookware. A thin sheet of carbon steel like that used for a wok will respond more quickly to changes in temperature than a very thick piece of cast iron or even aluminum.

Thermal conductivity is an inherent property, different for different metals. It's a measure of how quickly a material moves heat around. Rereading my posts there I see that some of the thermodynamics are a bit iffy, thanks for pointing that out.

But, I don't want to get bogged down in the science when it's all laid out so clearly in the eCGI course. I think the basic point for a carbon steel wok is that at its thickness it doesn't have much thermal mass, so you need a powerful heat source to bring it back up to temperature after adding stuff to it.

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...

. And there are limitations to certain tools as well. Making sushi, whipping egg whites in a plasic bowl, and achieving good wok hei all things that are very difficult to do without the proper tools.

...

Very true. For Chinese food though, most households in China - especially those in the rural areas - would do fine with a close-to-rusty cleaver, a almost deformed chopping block, a bowl, a pair of worn wooden chopsticks, an iron spatula and a well-seasoned wok. That's about all they need (and to some, all they can afford).

For example, no fancy tongs in China that a pair of wooden chopsticks and a wet towel can't do. We are the minimalists, utilitarians.


Edited by hzrt8w (log)

W.K. Leung ("Ah Leung") aka "hzrt8w"

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I am in complete agreement that there is value in considering our circumstances, but given that, I prefer my tools highly functional. Generally when learning something new I prefer explanations of what the variables involved are.

Basically what I'm trying to say is that I think there is value in buying and using good tools. And there are limitations to certain tools as well. Making sushi, whipping egg whites in a plasic bowl, and achieving good wok hei all things that are very difficult to do without the proper tools.

Gabriel,

Please do not misunderstand; I own expensive pans, knives and tools as well as cheap pans, knives and tools. I would consider everything I own a good tool, as I attempt to not keep things I do not or cannot use. Price has little to do with function; I have a "fish spatula" every bit as good as a $25 Lamson Sharp that I paid 69 cents for at a Korean kitchen store. I have an $8 cleaver and a $200 chef knife with a blade made of VG-10 sandwiched between 63 layers of nickel (ever seen a rusty nickel – or one that wasn’t shiny?). I’ve used it nearly every day for 3 years and it still looks like it just came out of the box and properly sharpened, will shave an issue of Gourmet in half.

There is value in good tools as well as knowing the variables; still there is a point where things get out of hand. Gold is a better conductor than copper but I doubt many of us would buy gold core pans if they existed, even if we could afford them. Good tools are a supplement to skill at whatever level, but if you come to depend on them they can cripple you when you do not have them. If you never learn to roast a pork shoulder without a digital probe thermometer, that day your batteries go out in that cabin in the forest in Montana – you might be in trouble. These things are “luxurious gifts”, but they are not necessary to cook good food. Those cast iron woks from China were designed to make the most efficient use of the energy available at the time, cooking over a fire – heat retention would have been crucial. In other contexts though, it may be a detriment.

Some of the best food I’ve ever eaten was cooked on a stick over a fire.

I think I might even add that to my signature(If I could find out how to do that!), with your permission, of course. :biggrin:

Dejah please do as you wish, but please understand that any wisdom I have obtained can be traced back to others. Though I know it is not a direct quote, rather a paraphrase of the statement, “They no longer listen to their circumstances, they recite their circumstances."

Still, I would rather not be given credit for a concept I did not originate, so if you place it – please do so without attribution, with my permission.

edit:

Thank you BTW.


Edited by sizzleteeth (log)

"At the gate, I said goodnight to the fortune teller... the carnival sign threw colored shadows on her face... but I could tell she was blushing." - B.McMahan

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Very true. For Chinese food though, most households in China - especially those in the rural areas - would do away with a close-to-rusty cleaver, a almost deformed chopping block, a bowl, a pair of worn wooden chopsticks, an iron spatula and a well-seasoned wok. That's about all they need (and to some, all they can afford).

For example, no fancy tongs in China that a pair of wooden chopsticks and a wet towel can't do. We are the minimalists, utilitarians.

Ah Leung: Do you mean they would do fine with....?

You KNOW we would never do away with a close-to-rusty cleaver, an almost deformed chopping block, etc. :laugh:


Dejah

www.hillmanweb.com

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Sizzleteeth,

I am in complete agreement with your philosophies; I do not think that the most expensive is in anyway in the best. I apologise if my comments seemed construed as a judgement of your appreciation of quality.

I simply don't think that thin, cheap stainless steel pans are a good investment for an inexperienced cook. I think it better to invest in something of higher quality that will last longer and facilitate learning easier; this does not necessarily mean buying the best that's available. Many great chefs have doubtless learned to cook with good quality pans from day one, but I don't think anyone would say that they would be incapable of producing good results with worse equipment if necessary.

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Many great chefs have doubtless learned to cook with good quality pans from day one

Maybe, but I've heard many stories of those great chefs learning at the knees of their grandmas, so I suspect they learned on what we'd considering highly inferior tools.

I also agree, though, that there's no reason to get a stainless steel pan when a carbon steel wok is so cheap---whatever kind of range you have. It really is about learning to use the tools you have.

I watched my relatives in China make great food with cheap electric stoves and traditional woks. I grew up watching my parents use a round-bottomed wok on something like a Magic Chef stove, thus teaching me how to stir-fry with an unbalanced, wobbly wok without spilling a thing. Now I have a gas range, but a cheap 70s one. I'm hoping to get a Blue Star later this year when we re-model the kitchen, but until then I have an underpowered stove with a 15 year old Cantonese style wok with "ear" handles, a virtually non-stick interior, and a few rust spots on the outside that I haven't gotten around to scrubbing off.

There's one other advantages to a wok other than what Gabriel Lewis cited: for those of us who are klutzes, the higher sides means we can swirl the oil around and toss food about with less of a chance of things spilling or flipping onto the floor!

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Ah Leung: Do you mean they would do fine with....?

You KNOW we would never do away with a close-to-rusty cleaver, an almost deformed chopping block, etc.  :laugh:

Yes. Note edited. Thank you English Professor Dai Gah Jeah. :smile:


W.K. Leung ("Ah Leung") aka "hzrt8w"

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I suggest you read the eCGI course on stovetop cookware to get a good understanding of the different attributes of stovetop cookware and whats good for what. If your not going to get a wok I would suggest a large stainless steel saute pan or saute evasee with a thick aluminum base. You'll find all the relevant information for a selecting a good one of these in the eCGI course.

Okay, I just read through the entire eCGI course and the subsequent Q&A, and I've got a massive head ache from reading it. But, so far, this is what I got from the person who was responsible for the course:

1) woks may be good for braising, steaming, frying, etc.. but they are not good tools for stir frying in a american kitchen.

2) if you are going to use a wok, cast iron wok would be the best solution and the thicker the cast iron, the better for stir frying

3) cast iron woks are traditional and authentic in chinese kitchens

4) since woks aren't that good for stir frying, he recommended you to use a stainless lined heavy copper curved sauteusse evasee

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I glanced thru the course and Q&A, and though the course was very good, it was really just common sense and nothing I didn't already know.

Several key points that were brought up

--There's no real point in spending big bucks on thermally responsive cookware when using an electric stove because the slowness of the heat source negates any of the cookware's inherent advantages. Hence, almost any curved sauteusse evasee type pan (of which a flat bottomed wok is one) would work reasonably well for stir frying on an electric cooktop.

--A stainless lined copper pan might work great, but most of us have to consider the cost to performance ratio when choosing our cookware.

--Technique when stir frying is especially important. All the experienced cooks in this forum know the basic stir frying rules like not overcrowding the pan, cooking the meat separately, and blanching certain veggies before adding them in. Understanding these basic concepts will carry one quite far without the need of any special type of cookware.

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I glanced thru the course and Q&A...

--There's no real point in spending big bucks on thermally responsive cookware when using an electric stove because the slowness of the heat source negates any of the cookware's inherent advantages.  Hence, almost any curved sauteusse evasee type pan (of which a flat bottomed wok is one) would work reasonably well for stir frying on an electric cooktop.

See, I guess the weird thing to me is that I think of a wok as basic kitchen equipment while the course assumes that I'd more likely have a Sauteuse Evasée and have to go scouting around for an exotic wok to make my exotic Chinese food. :smile:

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Sizzleteeth,

I simply don't think that thin, cheap stainless steel pans are a good investment for an inexperienced cook. I think it better to invest in something of higher quality that will last longer and facilitate learning easier; this does not necessarily mean buying the best that's available. Many great chefs have doubtless learned to cook with good quality pans from day one, but I don't think anyone would say that they would be incapable of producing good results with worse equipment if necessary.

This is puzzling. In earlier posts you belittled carbon steel woks and cast iron skillets for chinese food. Now it's just SS?

The common steel wok, and the cast iron wok, used with a simple cleaver, a stump block, and a primitive flame, have produced fine dishes for 1000 years.

If we all learned with these simple tools, or even cheap SS, there might be a little less elitism in the kitchen.

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Leviathan... or anybody that lives in SoCal.

I just stopped by 99 Ranch Market this morning on Valley.

They have carbon steel woks stamped with "Taiwan 2006" - basically the same ones mentioned above for $5.98.

IMG_1629.jpg


"At the gate, I said goodnight to the fortune teller... the carnival sign threw colored shadows on her face... but I could tell she was blushing." - B.McMahan

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Leviathan... or anybody that lives in SoCal.

I just stopped by 99 Ranch Market this morning on Valley.

They have carbon steel woks stamped with "Taiwan 2006" - basically the same ones mentioned above for $5.98.

They're the same wok and the same "original price" at our Wal-Mart here in Manitoba, I should have checked while there today to see if ours are on sale - like I need ANOTHER wok! :wink:


Dejah

www.hillmanweb.com

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Leviathan... or anybody that lives in SoCal.

I just stopped by 99 Ranch Market this morning on Valley.

They have carbon steel woks stamped with "Taiwan 2006" - basically the same ones mentioned above for $5.98.

IMG_1629.jpg

Are those round bottom? I need to get my parents a round bottomed wok but they'll yell at me if I get them a wok over $10.


nakedsushi.net (not so much sushi, and not exactly naked)

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Are those round bottom? I need to get my parents a round bottomed wok but they'll yell at me if I get them a wok over $10.

No they are flat bottom - though they do have some round bottom with the 1 piece steel handles similar to the one hzrt8w didn't choose at the Wok Shop.

BTW - those $50 induction cook tops must have been Tatung (based in Long Beach).

They have the 1300w versions at New Egg for $62.

http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.asp?...N82E16896130004

I looked for them again but they must have sold out, don't like mentioning stuff like that without a source. :wink:


Edited by sizzleteeth (log)

"At the gate, I said goodnight to the fortune teller... the carnival sign threw colored shadows on her face... but I could tell she was blushing." - B.McMahan

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No they are flat bottom - though they do have some round bottom with the 1 piece steel handles similar to the one hzrt8w didn't choose at the Wok Shop.

I've seen those 1 pc steel ones but they look like they're covered or coated in some type of shiny coating. I'm afraid of that flaking off and getting into the food or melting in high heat.


nakedsushi.net (not so much sushi, and not exactly naked)

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My wok just died after five years of daily usage. The full story is here.

Strange thing was that when I went to buy a new one (and I searched everywhere), I couldn't find a round bottom one anywhere! And I'm in China!

In the end I chose the least flat. I think the fashion is changing - perhaps due to the emergence of the table top induction cooker. We love those hotpots!

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No they are flat bottom - though they do have some round bottom with the 1 piece steel handles similar to the one hzrt8w didn't choose at the Wok Shop.

I've seen those 1 pc steel ones but they look like they're covered or coated in some type of shiny coating. I'm afraid of that flaking off and getting into the food or melting in high heat.

Are you talking about the coating that you have to wash/burn off before seasoning a new wok?


Dejah

www.hillmanweb.com

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I currently have a really heavy cast iron wok, which I love but it's quite heavy and cumbersome. I would like to get a lighter wok.

However, prior to my cast iron wok, I did have a carbon steel one but even after seasoning, the wok gave a metallic taste to all the food I would cook in it. Is this normal? I did season it quite a lot and treated it with oil.


Edited by XiaoLing (log)

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      Local Guangxi Tea
       
      The most expensive in the supermarket was this Pu-er Tea (普洱茶 pǔ ěr chá) from Yunnan province. It works out at ¥0.32per gram as opposed to ¥0.08 for the local stuff. However, in the tea houses, prices can go much, much higher!
       

       
       
    • By liuzhou
      Today, I was honoured to be invited to lunch in a relatively nearby Miao village, where they were celebrating their good harvest.
       
      Before we could eat we were entertained by the some of the villagers.


      These women sang to us.


      Some men played their traditional Lusheng instruments.
       

      Then they had a tug-of war between the men and the women. The women won (but there were twice as many women as men!)

      Most people just hung around looking good in their best leisure wear.


       

       

       

       

       

       
      Finally, we were seated at a table, but before we could eat, we had to toast each other.


      These were some of my table companions. Old friends.
       
       

      Each table was furnished with two dips. On the left chilli, coriander/cilantro, Chinese chives in soy and sesame oil. On the right, duck's blood with chilli. 


      Kou Rou - Roasted, then steamed pork belly and taro.
       

      Chicken
       

      If not this chap I had met earlier, then one of his relations.
       

      Chicken and duck giblets stir-fried with vegetables.
       

      Duck - Note beak on left so you are sure what you are eating.
       

      Deep fried carp
       

      Steamed Shrimp
       

      Water Spinach
       

      People watching people eating!
       

      Neighbouring Table
       

      All very amusing
       
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