A little over a year ago, Grace Young gave me a brand new carbon steel wok and lessons in how to use it. While in her kitchen I looked appreciatively over her own collection of woks, burnished deep black from years of stir-fries, slick and nonstick and easy to clean. My new wok was alarmingly bright in comparison, and while it quickly took on some color when we initially seasoned it, over the past year it has made considerable improvement. Want to see how it looks now?
A year and change later, here's how my wok looks. It's deep black around the sides, although one side (the one farthest from me when I am cooking with it) still needs some hot bacon love. The bottom, too, is scratched up by the metal fish spatula that I use when stir-frying. I assume that eventually the seasoning layer will get thick enough so that these scratches don't scrape through.
I've become an avid devotee of cooking with the wok. I think that for a household of two, like mine, it's a great way to make quick and healthy meals that put the emphasis on vegetables. In fact, the wok is my favorite way to cook vegetables. I just dump in whatever I have around — romaine lettuce, cubes of eggplant, or baby bok choy — and stir-fry it as Grace taught me with a little soy sauce, cooking wine, and garlic. It's so fast and so delicious.
I'm pretty proud of my teenage wok — it's getting quite the complexion, and it's easier and easier to clean. I was a wok resister for a long time (Who needs one more pan? Isn't it a little pretentious to use a wok when a skillet works just as well?) but call me a convert now; it's one of the most-used pans in my kitchen.
Do you use a wok? Want to start this fall? A carbon steel wok is cheap and easy to find. Here's how to get started:
(Images: Faith Durand)