How To Season A Wok And Stir Fry

11/04/2011 11:00 am ET | Updated Aug 31, 2012

Want to get the most out of your wok? Chef Shirley Cheng of The Culinary Institute of America shows you the basics. First, she makes sure her stainless-steel wok is seasoned. She heats the wok over a burner, and, when she can feel the heat radiating up when she places her palm near the bottom, she adds a dollop of vegetable oil and turns off the heat. Because the wok is very hot, the oil will smoke and sizzle, so use caution. She swirls the oil around the bottom and sides of the pan, then pours it out. Now the surface is lubricated and ready for food. (If you have a brand-new wok, you may need to repeat this process before the wok is properly seasoned.)

The stir-fry technique is all about cooking small batches of food at very high temperatures. First, she adds a small amount of oil to the wok, then adds ingredients that have been cut to maximize their surface area. Shrimp goes in first, then a mixture of minced ginger and garlic. The vegetables are next, followed by a sauce. She stirs and moves the food around the wok as she cooks so nothing sticks. When she's finished, the dish is colorful and full of texture: the perfect stir-fry.

For 60 years, The Culinary Institute of America has been setting the standard for excellence in professional culinary education. In this video series, experienced chefs and educators show you how to tackle essential cooking techniques.

Video Transcript

My name is Shirley Cheng, from the Culinary Institute of America, and today I'm going to show you this kitchen basic: how to season a wok and stir-fry.

Seasoning a wok is very important, because if you don't season a wok, when you stir-fry, all your food is going to stick on the bottom.

How high do you heat up a wok; what is the right temperature? You put your hand above the wok; if it feels warm, it's done. When the wok is hot, you'll put your oil in. You see the oil smoke? now you turn the heat off. This is called seasoning the wok. See how hot that is? Please do not panic. You just turn your heat off right away, swirl the oil around in the wok, and then you pour the oil back off into the bowl, and you've seasoned the wok. You don't put any water in there; it's got to be oil, and it's got to be quick. Sometimes if you have a brand new wok, you might season it a couple of times. So you could let it cool down, put a little oil in there again, you turn this off, dump the oil - and that's how you season a wok.

To stir-fry, the key thing is to use a small amount of oil, and cook in small batches of food. Cut the food bite-sized, like a julienne or dice. If I have a shrimp, I'll butterfly it so I increase the cooking surface area. Many people think a stir fry is just putting everything in a wok, combine it, just toss it in there - they think that's a stir fry, but it's not. Stir fry is a very technical cooking method.

The seasoned wok is hot. You put your oil here, then you put your food in there, You see my shrimp don't stick on the bottom. I add my ginger, my garlic, in there. Now you put your vegetables in there. Stir-fry means that you stir! Now you see why we need a wok, because the food goes all over the surface, and you can flip it. The next thing is the sauce. Now you can see your seasoned wok stays nice and clean; nothing's sticking on the bottom there.

That's it; the stir fry is done. It's very colorful. The cooking time is so short, everything is very tender. Anybody can make a stir fry in the home.

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