have come in and out of my life.
relationship with them has been like one of those dysfunctional high-school
things, where a tacky boyfriend breaks up remotely (phone, email, text) and the
anger lasts long enough to throw out everything he ever so much as touched.
Then he dangles the slightest possibility that things will be different, that
the heavens will open and rain down new delights, and he’s back. And it starts
all over again.
frying pans, I understand. Southern women are practically given them as baby
rattles. I’m in a long-term relationship with mine, and we’re so close that we
don’t really need to discuss much. We know each other’s needs. I want fluffy
cornbread with a crispy exterior, and crunchy fried fish and chicken; and it
requires only a wipe with a bit of kosher salt afterwards.
guy I dated in college threw out a cast-iron frying pan his mother had given
him when he found out that he couldn’t put it in the dishwasher. He proclaimed
it “nasty” because there was no way to “really get it clean.” I should’ve run
from that doomed relationship right then.
encounters with woks began in the early 1980s, when a friend in San Francisco
sent me a Chinese cookbook. At that point, I had rarely even eaten Chinese
food, unless you counted Chun King from the box. And this book had seriously
traditional recipes, including one for Peking Duck that involved using a
bicycle pump to inflate the duck. Obviously, my friend had considerably
overestimated my skills at the time.
book constantly mentioned woks. It appeared to me that the only thing standing
between me and beautiful Chinese food was a wok (leaving the bicycle pump out
wasn’t easy to find a wok where I lived back then, but I did. It was big and deep, made from carbon
steel, and had no explanation on how to use it or the metal ring that came with
it. When I perched it on the ring - which was what I assumed I should do - over
my electric burner, it wouldn’t get hot. Food just sat in it. After a few
tries, I put away the wok, where it became the first in a series to rust in my
the years, other woks have come and gone. There was even a brief fling with a
shallow, nonstick wok that seemed, to me, no better than my frying pans.
stir-frying has become one of my favorite forms of cooking, especially for
greens. The key for good stir-frying is cooking in a really hot pan, which
brought me hesitantly back to the wok.
was wary. I’d been burned so many times. I needed a support group to help me see
what had gone wrong in my previous relationships.
found one on the Internet: A group called Wok Wednesdays. It started as a bunch
of people who wanted to cook their way through “Stir-Frying to the Sky’s Edge:
The Ultimate Guide to Mastery, with Authentic Recipes and Stories” by Grace
Young (Simon & Schuster, 2010). Now it’s a home for off-the-book cooking
and help when things go wrong.
the detailed instructions in the book on seasoning the pan and Young’s
willingness to calmly answer, via Facebook or Twitter, the most idiotic
questions, things are going much better between me and my wok.
the road to true wokking ne’er did run smooth. There was the day I pulled out
the wok after ignoring it for about two weeks. I was convinced it had rusted,
just like the others. Young asked me to send her a photo, and she said it
looked like discoloration due to excellent seasoning. I’d never had a wok long
enough to know what that looked like.
then, my wok and I have begun to understand each other pretty well. I want
meats and tofu with crispy exteriors, vegetables that are crisp-tender, and
greens quick-cooked and not drowning in liquid. It just wants to be used - or I
thought so until the day it caught on fire.
heated the wok as usual, and poured in two tablespoons of vegetable oil which
instantly flamed. I calmly realized that I had a fire extinguisher – in the
back of the locked garden shed dozens of feet away.
the fire quickly died down, with no harm done to the kitchen or the wok. Perhaps
it was the wok’s message that this relationship was really getting hot.
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