Stir frying is one of the most popular ways to cook Chinese food. Here are a few suggestions for the essential cookware and utensils you will need for Chinese cooking. With these basic utensils and cookware, you should be able to cook any Chinese dish!
The easiest way to stir fry is to use a wok. Woks are versatile not only for stir frying, but also for deep frying and steaming. Unlike other cookware, a good wok is a lifetime investment, so do your research and buy one that will last!
Tips for buying the essential cookware and utensils for Chinese cooking
Stir frying requires high heat and quick searing so the wok is the ideal cookware to do the job. The wok needs to be able to handle the high heat as well as maintain that temperature without drastically dropping whenever another ingredient is added to the wok. Here are 9 things that you need to consider when buying a wok.
Wok sizes range from 8" and up. The 8" wok is not very functional and a very large wok may take up too much space on your cook top.
2. Cooktop surface
There are flat bottomed and round bottomed woks. Flat cooktop surfaces such as electric stoves limit you to a flat bottomed wok. Gas stoves can use either a flat bottomed or round bottomed wok. Round bottomed woks do require a wok ring.
3. Type of metal
There are many woks made of various metals. Traditionally, woks were made of cast iron and carbon steel. Woks made of "untreated" metals require seasoning, treating it with oil occasionally. These woks also have a tendency to rust if water settles at the bottom of the wok for an extended period. However, this can be easily treated by wiping the rust off with a damp towel and seasoning the wok. See video on how to season the wok.
4. Surface coating
Non-stick coating, especially teflon is a no-no. As mentioned earlier, stir frying requires high heat. Some non-stick coatings cannot handle high heat and the coating flakes off and ends up in your food!
5. Wok maintenance
Some metals such as cast iron and carbon steel require special handling such as proper drying to prevent rust as well as occasional seasoning to keep the surface "non-stick"!
When looking at the flat bottomed work, look for a wok with a gradual slope which allows ingredients to be pushed away from the flat bottom to allow you to cook multiple ingredients at once, without removing each ingredient. A wok with a smaller flat surface area will require less oil to cover the entire surface, resulting in less oil being used to stir fry.
Cast iron woks are the heaviest while aluminum woks are the lightest. If you want to toss your ingredients like a pro, weight may be an issue. If you have a heavy wok, you can always toss your ingredients with a spatula!
Loop handles are small loops at opposite ends of a wok. These get very hot and requires a towel or oven mitt to handle.
A wok ring is needed for a round bottom wok to secure it in place. The size of the wok ring should be large enough to ensure that the wok can sit deep in the wok ring so that the flames reach the wok.
When placing the wok ring on the stove, position it so that the wok venting holes are away from the handle to ensure that it doesn't heat or burn the handle / hand.
A wok lid is also useful. The domed lid is preferable to the flat lid as it allows the wok to be multi-functional for steaming.
A stackable bamboo steamer is convenient for steaming dumplings and other dishes. The bamboo absorbs the steam so that the steam condensation on the underside of the lid doesn't drop onto the contents of the steamer.
Spatula and ladle
A spatula without holes and flat ladle for stir frying makes it easier to quickly remove ingredients from the wok.
Another useful, but not mandatory utensil is a pair of cooking chopsticks (about 16 inches / 40 cm). These are longer than normal eating chopsticks and are great for deep frying and picking out individual items. However, if you are not dexterous with chopsticks, these may be challenging to use and tongs may be a better option.
There are probably other utensils not listed but would be nice to have, but these are the essential cookware and utensils for Chinese cooking. If you have discovered other wonderful gadgets that you consider essential, please let me know in the comment section.