Friday, January 15, 2016

Chinese Cooking: Taking Your Wood Cookstove for a "Wok"

Nancy and I love Chinese food.  We both savor every bite of crab rangoon, but she prefers cashew or sesame chicken, while I have a deep and abiding affection for sweet and sour.  I had never eaten Chinese food at all until I went to college at Ames, and I don't even remember what prompted me to wander into my first Chinese restaurant there on Welch Avenue in Campustown, but I'm surely glad that I did.

Long ago, before the shopping mall that is closest to our home became a virtual ghost town, there was a fairly decent Chinese restaurant in the food court there.  The restaurant was designed so that you could watch the cooks prepare your food while you waited, and I'll admit to being fascinated by the fast-paced, fiery spectacle that Chinese cooking presented.  Thus, when I saw an out-of-the-ordinary wok on clearance in Atlantic, I snatched it up.

The wok is out of the ordinary because, instead of having a completely rounded base, it has a base that fits down inside the "eye" of the cooktop.

The directions that were attached to the wok at purchase stated that the shelf around the perimeter of the wok is to be used as a place where you can put cooked food to stay hot while other food is cooked down at the center base.
A side view of the wok as it rests on top of the firebox.
It may be kind of weird, but I always associate woodburning cookstoves with distinctly American cooking, but it turns out that they are surprisingly well suited to Chinese cooking.  In the photos below, you can see what I mean.  I'm not going to share any recipe in this post because I'm very new to the homemade-Chinese-cooking experience, and I'm not completely happy with the things that I have created yet--tasty though they were.
The first thing that I did was cook the sauce for our entrée.  As soon as it was finished, it was removed to a trivet at the back of the stove.  Then I made the fried rice.
Fried rice cooking in the wok.
Wok cooking is usually done for a very short time at a very high heat.  Thus, building a hot fire and then putting the wok down in one of the eyes above the firebox creates the ideal wok cooking scenario. 
The wok resting in the eye directly above the firebox with a hot fire
built directly below it.
Once the fried rice is finished, it can be put into the warming oven so that it stays hot while the meat is cooked.
The finished fried rice in the warming oven.
Since the base of the wok is so small, only a little of the meat can be cooked at a time.  As the meat (in this case chicken) cooked, I removed it from the wok to drain on a paper towel-covered plate in the warming oven.

You can see how the versatility of the wood cookstove comes
in handy while cooking Chinese at home.
Once the meat is finished frying and has all had a chance to drain, the oil is discarded from the wok and then the meat and sauce are combined and cooked in it for a very short time.  Everything is then served over the fried rice. 
Of course, one wouldn't have to have a wok as unique as mine to make Chinese on a wood cookstove.  In fact, one wouldn't need a wok at all to make the Chinese dishes that I've been experimenting with, but it certainly goes a long way to making my concoctions feel authentic.  Either way, the wood cookstove is great for cooking Chinese!


  1. You've inspired me again! Thanks for this post.

  2. Just an FYI, woks are very nice for making popcorn. I like to do stir fry in the summer, but popcorn is a nice winter snack. And you can also use it to roast a small turkey.

  3. Hi, could you please tell me the brand name of your wok and any other info about where it came from? It is surprisingly hard to find one with the shelf. My mom had one years ago and it has sadly disappeared!

    1. Shannon,
      Welcome to my blog!

      The wok was made by WearEver in Manitowoc, WI. I purchased it from an Ace Hardware store in the 1990s.

      Hope that helps!