Nine essential tools, from woks to cleavers.
Enlarge Image Credit: Todd Coleman1. A wok is the central cooking vessel in Chinese kitchens. Many Chinese woks have two round handles, but models with a single, long handle are becoming increasingly common because they are easier to maneuver. Woks are made from a variety of materials, but carbon steel is the best because it heats up quickly and conducts heat evenly, and one that is 14 inches in diameter will work well in most home kitchens. Though round-bottomed woks are typically used in China, flat-bottomed ones work better on most American stoves.
2. For the constant stirring and tossing of ingredients required in stir-frying, Chinese home cooks use a wok spatula, which has a rimmed edge designed for the task.
3. Many cooks in restaurant kitchens use a ladle for the same purpose.
4. Perforated strainers are employed to scoop out boiled foods like dumplings.
5. Wire strainers are used in blanching and velveting to retrieve food quickly before it overcooks.
6. Because ingredients to be stir-fried must be cut into small and uniform pieces, a sharp knife is indispensable. A cleaver is the only knife used in most Chinese kitchens; its combination of heft and sharpness makes it suitable for a wide variety of tasks. Traditional models are made of forged carbon steel, which holds its edge longer than stainless steel.
7. Scissors are used to snip soaked noodles and other soft foods.
8. Another important tool is the wok brush, which can be made out of twigs, bamboo, or plastic; its stiff bristles are used for cleaning the wok's surface without soap, which would damage the wok's seasoned patina.
9. A mortar and pestle is used for crushing everything from garlic to Sichuan peppercorns.