The Slowcook at Spydog Farm The Slowcook at Spydog Farm

Our New, Cast-Iron Wok

April 17th, 2009 · 7 Comments · Posted in Blog

Cast-iron wok from Lodge

Cast-iron wok from Lodge

It had been years since my wife and I did any stir-fry cooking.  In fact, other than dim sum and spicy Szechuan, we’re not particular fans of Chinese cooking. But when we saw this cast-iron wok from Lodge–the same Pittsburg, Tennessee, company that makes our cast-iron skillets–we knew we had to have one.

Who every heard of a cast-iron wok?

Most woks are made out of a thin-guage steel. They’re light-weight and heat up in an instant over an open flame. We have one of those. The problem is, we have an electric range. (Hardly ideal, but it came with the house, and the kitchen renovation is still just a glimmer in my wife’s eye.) The only good thing about our ancient electric range is that the burners are the big flat ones, not those silly coils. They actually make a perfect surface for the cast-iron wok, which comes with a short platform base.

We knew we had to have the cast-iron wok. We were thrilled when it arrived. It is heavy and sturdy as a tank. It has two handles on either side. Just holding it is a thrill, like cradling some ancient artifact. From the heft, you just know that it will perform like a precision machine. Quite the investment, we thought, for $65.

For the longest time, we just admired our wok. But lately, with my high-protein diet, I started to imagine ways of making dinner with it. Thus was invented some of the best stir-fry we’ve ever eaten. No cookbook necessary. Just pristine ingredients and a basic knowledge of stir-fry technique.

For a chicken and vegetable stir-fry, I first place the wok over high heat. It takes quite a while for this heavy wok to heat up. But once it does, stand back. Even the handles will be too hot to touch without a pad. Pour two or three tablespoons canola oil into the bottom of the wok. When the oil begins to smoke, toss in 1 small, sweet onion and 1/2 bell pepper, both cut into thin strips, and 3 stalks celery, sliced fairly thinly on an angle. Toss the vegetables occasionally using a slotted spoon or a traditional Chinese wok tool (it looks like a small shovel and works extremely well).

When the vegetables are just cooked through, remove them to a bowl, draining any extra oil back into the wok. Add a bit more oil if necessary. When it is smoking, add 1 pound chicken breast, sliced fairly thinly and seasoned with salt, pepper and perhaps some garlic salt. Stir occasionally until the chicken is lightly browned and cooked through. Drain into the bowl with the vegetables.

Photo by Leila Bruske

Photo by Leila Bruske

Into the remaining oil toss about 1 tablespoon ginger cut into tiny match sticks and two large cloves garlic, thinly sliced. Stir these frequently for a minute or two, or until the garlic has softened and looks like it might begin to brown any second. Ease the cooked vegetables and chicken into the wok and add about 2 cups fresh baby spinach. Toss everything together and cook, stirring and tossing, until the spinach is wilted. Season with soy sauce, maybe some rice vinegar or any of your favorite Chinese seasonings.

Serve hot, as is–no rice necessary–in pre-warmed bowls. Everything about this dish is so fresh and alive and bursting with flavor. Even our picky eating daughter wolfed it down (except for the red pepper). You can tell she liked it from the gorgeous photos she took.

Read more great stories about how we are taking back the food system at Fight Back Fridays.

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  • FoodRenegade

    We used to cook EVERYTHING in the wok when we were kids — even spaghetti sauce. I miss woks! A friend gave me her unused old one earlier this year, but I have yet to scrub the rust out of it & re-season it. Your post has inspired me to give it a shot.

    Thanks for participating in Fight Back Fridays!

    (AKA FoodRenegade)

  • Jean

    This is exactly the kind of stir-fry I make! Is there any other kind? It never occured to me to look for a recipe. The only difference is that I’m extremely lazy, so I just time the ingredients to avoid using a plate. I start with the garlic, then toss in the item that takes the longest amount of time to cook, then the next, and so on until I have all the ingredients finished in the wok.

    Congratulations on the People. How is the Atkins Diet going?

  • keri

    cast iron wok is EXACTLY where it’s at. i’ve had one for about eight years, very similar to yours except it has one long handle and one short one. nothing beats cast iron.

  • Sylvie

    Don’t have a cast-iron wok (no room in the kitchen!) but have a few cast-irons frying pans, and use the largest for stir-frying. Not quite as good as a wok – but pretty good.

    My cast iron pan is the most used – and my favorite – pan.

  • Ed Bruske

    Kristen, I can see where the wok could become addictive. It’s so easy and very convenient. If I had to choose only one pot to cook in, this might be it. Maybe that’s why it’s so popular in China.

    Jean, I think part of the technique is to cook things together that require similar cooking times. Someone who’s particularly adept might be able to time everything just right, but it suits me to cook the various components separately. I like cooking garlic separately near the end because it burns so easily.

    Keri, cast-iron always comes on near the top in cooking tests. And it’s so darn inexpensive compared to other equipment. I don’t know why more people don’t opt for cast-iron.

    Sylvie, I think I have three pans that I use the most of anything and they’re all cast-iron. Even my favorite braising pot–the Le Creuset ware–is enameled iron. Heft means a lot.

  • Duke

    picked up a Lodge wok at an estate sale recently.
    used it last night for veggie stir fry. Used olive oil and it worked GREAT!

  • JS

    great write up. thank you. i’m considering buying a cast iron wok. my thin steel one doesn’t work well because it holds little heat. sounds like cast iron is the ticket.