Electric and Teflon-coated woks may be all very well but there are certain advantages to the old-fashioned, hand-hammered, carbon steel variety. They are relatively cheap, light-weight and easy to manipulate… you can control the cooking heat very finely, and they last forever if treated properly. Most importantly (for today’s post) when seasoned correctly, a steel wok can form a non-stick finish that is every bit the equal of Teflon. I have had the same hand-hammered wok for about thirty years now but, just recently, I bought a second one and, happily, I can use it to share with you the seasoning process…
New steel woks are almost invariably coated with industrial oil in order to prevent rusting prior to sale and this must be completely removed before use. This can be done under hot running water with a good detergent and an abrasive cloth or pad. Try to use a soap or detergent that does not have much in the way of added scent and scrub well, outside as well as in. Afterwards, rinse well to thoroughly remove any trace of soap and dry well.
You will of course be washing your wok again in the future but … and this is the IMPORTANT part … you should NEVER again use soap on the inside surface. We’ll look at general cleaning and maintenance a little further on…
A final cleansing can be achieved by heating the wok over a low heat and using coarse salt as an abrasive. Rub the salt hard over the inner surface using a cloth or paper towel to remove any lingering moisture and produce a nice shine.
For the actual seasoning, wipe a very thin sheen of oil over the inside surface of your wok and then place it upright on your stove over a high heat. After a few moments, you will see the oil begin to darken. Aside from seasoning, this process will let you see the ‘hot-spot’ or ‘hot-spots’ of your bottom surface. Fortunately, mine is a single spot and though it is very slightly off-center, this will not affect the use of the wok at all.
As the center becomes very dark, you can tilt the pan and then slowly rotate it so as to darken and season the sides as well
You could, if you wanted, continue seasoning right to the rim, but this not really necessary. The seasoning achieved thus far will be sufficient for now and, with time, the upper edged will become naturally seasoned with each use.
To illustrate, the above picture shows my original, now thirty-year old wok. As you can see, almost the entire inner surface is heavily black.
To maintain your seasoning, you should, as I have noted, abstain from using soap when cleaning. Simply scrub with a plain abrasive cloth or pad under running water to remove loose food particles and then dry it well. If you live in a very humid climate, or are not planning to use the wok again for more than a day or so, it is a good practice to wipe the inside surface with a thin veneer of oil to protect it.
Finally, boiling large volume liquids in woks is a bad idea for your seasoned surface. Some cookery books advocating using the wok as the base for a bamboo steamer but allowing water to boil in it for more than a few minutes will totally destroy your seasoning and you will have to do it again. Braising, or very short heating of liquids is no problem but large volume boiling is a killer. I have not ever tried to make soup in my wok (and can’t imagine wanting to) but I expect that this would be a bad idea too. In any event, if you follow the general steps outlined above, any wok thus treated should last your lifetime…