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The Kitchen Cabinet

There's Cookware to Meet the Needs of Chefs From All Woks of Life

August 06, 1987|MINNIE BERNARDINO | Times Staff Writer

To the Chinese cook, a wok is a wok is a wok: round-bottomed, deep, typically made of carbon steel and inexpensive. In early years, Chinese woks were molded from cast iron and designed in a bowl shape so they would nestle into circular fire pits. In the American marketplace today, there are woks galore--shifting in size, shape and make to meet the needs of cooks from all walks of life.

"It's cheaper to change woks than stoves," said Chef Laurence C. C. Chu, owner of Chef Chu's restaurant in Los Altos. "They've made reversible wok rings for traditional round bottom woks, and flat bottom woks were designed to sit directly on either gas or electric stoves. For convenience, some people have chosen the electric wok. You can cook at the table and, most important, you can control the temperature in deep-frying."

A Variety of Metals

Aside from carbon steel and cast iron, woks also come in aluminum, stainless steel, copper and brass, or a combination of metals. "If you like stainless steel and you can afford it, buy only stainless steel with heat-conductive copper, carbon steel or aluminum in between," Chu advises. He explained that stainless steel by itself is inefficient in stir frying where constant heat and quick heat recovery are needed.

In the aluminum, non-stick, non-electric category, an exciting new wok has just appeared on store shelves. Le Cook's-Ware Inc. in San Francisco introduced Circulon Hard Anodized Wok ($75) in addition to a full line of brand new cookware. The shape of Circulon is far from any authentic wok but may very well be the choice of cooks who want to use it for other than stir-frying.

Also available with stainless steel exterior, the wok has a wider, flatter bottom that makes it more versatile for steaks or omelets. The best feature is its non-stick quality, eliminating the chore of seasoning a wok as well as greatly reducing the need for butter and oils. "Circulon is the only non-stick cookware in the world guaranteed to release food for ten years," said Bob Rae, president of Le Cook's-Ware.

Backed by many years of experience in the cookware industry, Rae designed the unique "Hi-Low" system in each pan. Coated with SilverStone (Rae claims this is the toughest non-stick protection in the market), the inner surface of the wok has concentric grooves. The high areas or peaks protect the low areas or valleys against the abrasive action of food, cooking utensils and cleaning agents.

Circulon was the choice of Martin Yan, celebrity television chef and cooking teacher from Northern California, during his stir-fry demonstration at the Times Test Kitchen recently. Despite factory recommendations to use plastic or wooden cooking utensils in the non-stick wok, Yan had been using a metal spatula with the wok. "I want to really give it an intensive test," he said. "So far, it still looks good." Rae provided an explanation: "You can only wear out 10% of the peaked surface. Minor scratching will not reduce its non-stick capability."

Although crafted in heavy gauge aluminum with harder-than-steel anodized gray surface, the 4 3/4-quart capacity Circulon is lightweight. "Great for show," Yan said while agitating the wok, tossing ingredients in the air. He liked the comfortable grip he got from the wok's stay-cool phenolic handles.

A stainless steel dome lid, self basting to hold in heat so that food cooks faster, is helpful for steaming; it also prevents spattering in frying. For those who do a lot of deep frying in the wok, the shallower Circulon wok may not be the solution, even though its low silhouette makes it a rather stable pan.

Several Electric Models

Consider the electric woks for this purpose. If cost is a factor, there's a choice among the popular red aluminum West Bend, Wearever or Meyer electric woks with non-stick interiors. All have thermostats for controlled frying. In its upgraded line, West Bend now has a seven-quart wok that goes up to 1,500 watts which is completely immersible and dishwasher safe when the control is removed. The newer coating is made of Supra ($79.95) which is more resistant to abrasion or scratching than SilverStone ($58.75) but not necessarily more non-stick.

Chu's best choice for an electric wok is the Maxim wok ($90) from the Maxim Company in New York. He likes the grayish black wok for its 1,600-watt heating capacity, which ranges from "keep warm" to 400 degrees, as well as its die-cast aluminum body for fast heat recovery. "You need that intense heat to bring back the desired temperature when stir-frying. Using a slow-heating electric wok is like climbing a hill when you have a Volkswagen. You don't go up as fast as a car with a V-8 engine."

The non-stick Maxim Electric Wok has a heat probe that is removable for immersible cleaning. Equipped with a heavy gauge aluminum dome cover, the 6 1/2-quart capacity wok comes with a long wooden handle and shorter handle on the opposite side.

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