Friday, 13 January 2017

A new and better wok!

Men love their gadgets don't they? Things for their cars, woodworking and gardening tools, and leisure items like snooker cues. Indeed any item of equipment you can think of, from photo stuff to fishing.

And yet surely women are equipment-minded too - though the thing must have a definite practical use, such as a mobile phone has, or a sewing machine has. And of course the things we use in the kitchen. Would I really be exaggerating if I asserted that women who cook have a symbiotic relationship with their fridge and freezer, oven and hob, their favourite blender, and even their nicest-to-use knives, spoons and spatulas? Who doesn't get pleasure when the need arises to bring a certain saucepan, frying pan or serving dish into play?

And you don't need an especially large set of cooking pots and pans: only those you use most. A comprehensive set does look impressive, of course, but it isn't necessary to buy the whole kit unless it's essential for display. Which, considering how 'perfect' the modern kitchen needs to be, might be important. Fortunately my own kitchen is just as Mum and Dad had it back in the year 2000. I can get away with a period twentieth-century look, because the rest of the house is also stuck in the last century so far as decor and style-pretensions are concerned. Which saves me a lot of money, not having to buy the latest trendy things.

Of course, I do replace my kitchen equipment from time to time. But I do it because the item in question has broken, or has become too tatty through wear and tear. Not because the brand is wrong, or the colour isn't right for 2017.

Occasionally a new need arises. Since the autumn of 2016 I've started to have local friends around a little more than usual, so that I'm cooking for three or four more often than I used to. And joining Slimming World last November has made me experiment with home-made soups. With soup, it seems easiest to make a larger quantity than a smaller. If creating a vegetable soup, then a 500ml jug of stock, and a single large tin of chopped tomatoes, will form the basis for three servings - one to be had straight away, and the other two to go in the freezer, to be consumed later.

All of this - cooking for other people, not just myself, and making enough soup for three servings - exposed before Christmas a need for a suitably large multi-purpose cooking pan, in which I could fry and toss things, and then (in the case of soup) add fluid and simmer the part-cooked food on the hob until fully done.

A wok is the ideal kind of pan for this. I already had one, of course. Here it is, in action in the caravan last summer:


As you can see, the three-burner hob in the caravan isn't all that big, and this medium-sized wok (from John Lewis, by the way) is as large as will fit and still allow me to use the other burners. Back home, it seems a lot smaller:


In that shot above I was starting to make my second batch of home-made, Slimming-World-compliant soup. I was still experimenting with the ingredients. It went well, but I noticed how full the John Lewis wok became after adding stock and a tin of tomatoes. Although it coped with the volume, the wok had become rather heavy and could have done with two handles, not just one, just in case my grip weakened and wobbled. Nevertheless, it produced three reasonably-sized portions of soup:


As you can see, I like my soup chunky - as if it were halfway to a stew.

This second batch of home-made soup had lots of extra stuff in it, compared to the first batch, such as shredded cabbage. It had really required 750ml of stock, not just 500ml, and in fact when consuming it later on I did add some water. But 750ml of fluid would have made the wok too brimful for easy and secure handling. I really needed a bigger wok, and one with two handles! A bigger wok would also be much more suitable when cooking for meal guests.

Just before Christmas, I was out for the afternoon with friend Jo. We'd popped into a cookshop in Henfield, opposite my favourite butchers, and I'd noticed that they had an excellent range of woks. A large one with two handles, 14-inches (34cm) wide, caught my eye. And those handles weren't all-metal. All-metal - stainless steel for that 'professional chef' look - is the smart thing just now; but metal just gets terribly hot, and that leads to kitchen accidents if you have heat-sensitive fingers and are somewhat forgetful. You want bakelite, silicone rubber or wooden handles. This particular wok had wooden handles. Excellent.

Hmm, I thought: it definitely reminds me of the 'traditional' Chinese woks you can buy in Chinese grocers (if you can find one, that is - my nearest is in Worthing, some distance away). I say 'traditional', but the extra-large iron woks you see in far-eastern street-market cookeries generally have no handles at all, or mere iron loops, and need to be grasped with a thick rag to avoid burns. They are also the 'proper' wok shape, with a rounded bottom - and not the flattened bottom used on modern Western hobs. The Western wok you see in shops is meant for ceramic and electric hobs, and the hotplates of agas, and not intended for an open charcoal fire, or a fierce gas flame.

Be that as it may, this particular wok in the shop looked the business.

I didn't buy it just then, but a couple of days ago I went back, took a second look, and made up my mind.

Back home, it seemed huge!


But the larger size meant that the aluminium lid I had fitted almost perfectly:


After careful washing, I christened it with a new batch of soup-making:


It was a dream to use. I could do what I liked without anything bouncing out of the wok, or fluid splashing here and there. And the end result was surely better than ever before. Here's a bowl of that very batch of vegetable soup:


Very hearty indeed.

Next day it was put to another test: a veggie stir-fry for four, to go with wholemeal fusili. No problemo.


And of course, cards to follow. I didn't play well. I was still much too thrilled with my new wok to concentrate. And besides, I'd just won an award that had eluded me for three weeks: next post. (Clue: surely that dress is slipping off me?)

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