As a sustainable design the wok is a very versatile, energy-efficient, durable, cheap and effective design, and arguably a healthier way to fry food.
The wok was developed during the Han dynasty in China and was found to be very effective at cooking on the small kitchen wood stoves of the time. Woks are generally made of carbon steel and were traditionally handmade by hammering the steel into shape. They are now commonly made using the spun steel technique which is also a craft. Nevertheless, they are generally quite cheap and will last a long time.
A key benefit of wok cooking is that it tends to use less oil than other frying techniques and is therefore a healthier alternative. Also, food can be pushed along the sides, so excess oil can be drained off before serving.
Effective and efficient
The wok is very effective at frying and is energy efficient. The high heat retention that it is capable of, and the fact that constantly stirring while you are frying speeds up the cooking process means that less energy is used. Carbon steel heats evenly but there are two distinct cooking ‘zones’ in a wok. At the bottom where the heat source is, is where food is fried, further up the food is steamed. It is partly due to the fact that with constant stirring the food is being fried and steamed at the same time that speeds up the cooking process and also results in an ideal result.
Another benefit of cooking in a wok is that its high, sloping walls allow you to easily move food around the surface without spilling it over the sides.
The wok is not just for stir-fry though, it is a very versatile implement. In eastern Asia woks have traditionally been used for every type of cooking including boiling, braising, deep frying, pan frying, roasting, searing, smoking, steaming, stewing and, of course, stir frying.
Woks are very durable. Carbon steel will rust so it needs to be seasoned which is not a difficult process. The seasoning is layers of polymerised vegetable oil which protects the wok from corrosion and has the additional benefit of making it quite non-stick and easier to clean. A well looked after wok could easily last for a lifetime.