The multi-purpose lightweight wok, nowadays make of carbon iron, has a round bottom and either two metal or wooden handles or one long wooden handle. It fits over a brazier or a brick stove with fire holes, as is found in many homes in China.
To adapt the wok to the standard Western kitchen, it is advisable to acquire a wok set, complete with a lid or cover, a ring or stand, and a scoop.
The lid, usually made of aluminum with a wooden knob on top, is sometimes shaped like a round dome and sometimes a plateau dome. The latter, more spacious inside, is preferable, for it covers snugly a whole duck or chicken or a whole fish.
The stand, also metal, often has round holes around it, giving air to the gas flame. For deep-frying, steaming, braising, and making soups, when there is a large amount of boiling liquid or hot oil in the wok, it is essential that it sits securely on the stand. But for stir-frying and even sautéing, when the wok can be steadied by one mittened hand, the cooking is done more effectively without the stand.
The scoop, sometimes iron and sometimes stainless steel, looks like a shovel—indeed, such is the Chinese name for it—and it has a long handle with a wooden end for easy holding. Even though it is adequate to use a metal spatula, the wok scoop is constructed at such an angle as to facilitate the turning and tossing motion around the curved sides of the wok.
Personally, I have always preferred round-bottomed woks with two metal or wooden handles, and I have always used gas in my kitchen. Woks come in different sizes, but the 14-inch size is what I use and would recommend for home cooking, for it is both wide enough and deep enough in which to perform all the wok cooking techniques.
An iron wok with sloping sides and a small flat bottom (about 4 inches across) is available for people who cook with electricity. Needless to say, the flat-bottomed wok makes better contact with an electric coil than its round-bottomed counterpart. There are also electric woks that have their own element and a sensitive control knob, and I am told that they produce a satisfactory result. However, you should stay away from woks made of any metal other than iron, such as aluminum, copper, or stainless steel, because they are either too heavy or don’t transmit heat as effectively.
© 1997 Yan-Kit So estate. All rights reserved.