When spring approaches, I find myself less inclined to fire up the oven for slow roasts and braises. All my favorite summer produce—tomatoes, eggplant, stone fruit—still feel a lifetime away from their pick-and-eat peak, so it’s this time of year when I’m most likely to break out a wok and throw together a fresh and flavorful stir fry.
The bulk of prep for stir fry cookery—a bit of meat marinating and noodle soaking, and plenty of mindful knife work—happens in a cool kitchen. Preheat your wok for a few minutes before cooking and you can have a fresh, hot meal off the stove in minutes. Stir frying is one of the easiest and quickest ways to cook, but you'll want a few key pieces of equipment to capture the coveted wok-hei, the faint but distinctively smokey "breath of the wok".
I reached out to Chef Zilong Zhao, the head chef at MáLà Project in Manhattan, a restaurant that specializes in an elaborate stir fried dish called Szechuan dry pot, for some tips on building a home wok station. Here are a few of his—and my—stir-frying favorites.
My favorite Mandarin-style wok comes with a stay-cool wooden handle and its own wok ring, which modifies your gas range to hold the wok closer to the flame; it will not work on electric or induction stoves. Which brings me to:
Our Stir Fry Favorites
The dial offers a broad temperature range. The wok heats far up the sides for a wide, even cook surface, which minimizes the steaming effect that occurs when ingredients are packed too closely together. The bowl snaps out of the heating element for easy cleaning and serving.
I'm not 100% on board with the teflon coating (don't so much as touch it with that lovely metal wok spatula above: This one comes with its own, no-scratch plastic version), but if it gets you cooking more stir fries at home and saves space on your stove top, more power to you. It comes with a metal steamer tray (which I'm wary of using on the teflon surface) and a snug-fitting glass lid. With one of these and a great rice cooker, I could get by without a stove until winter.