Meet the new "chop suey bowls." The modern woks are clean looking, shiny, long-lasting and some like them that way. They are crafted from stainless steel, joining the hot line of carbon steel and lightweight aluminum woks. However, the new generation is "mixed breed" stainless steel. Made of high-grade stainless, some woks are interspersed with carbon steel and others with aluminum, to achieve the high heat conductivity and recovery of these metals.
The traditional Chinese cook could easily abhor a wok made solely of stainless steel because of poor, uneven heating, scorching and sticking. His true friend is a well-seasoned carbon steel pan that conducts heat beautifully as it ages and blackens. Cookware manufacturers have found that the average home chef, however, dislikes cleaning a carbon steel wok that rusts when not seasoned well or when hardly used. They also found that people favor stainless steel because it doesn't cause any chemical reaction with any food and is impervious to oxidation.
Tailored for those concerned about aluminum reaction and getting all the other benefits of stainless are these recently introduced woks.
An All-Time Favorite
When it comes to the perfect size for family cooking, versatility and quick, even cooking the black carbon steel Peking Pan from Joyce Chen Products in Waltham, Me., has always been my favorite. The new version is the Tri-Ply Stainless Steel Peking Pan ($70), which has taken on a very attractive look with its mirror-polished high gloss surface. The 12-inch pan has retained the same popular depth and width of the original. It has the same flat-bottom surface that was designed not just for safe usage on gas, electric or induction ranges, but also to assure fast, uniform heating.
The tri-ply metal construction sandwiches a layer of carbon steel between two layers of 18/10 stainless steel. The carbon steel eliminates hot spots as well as intensifies the heat from the bottom surface to the side walls. The Joyce Chen pan offers an ideal weight, is well balanced and the stay-cool Bakelite plastic handle that is fully riveted to the pan is comfortable to hold.
Attractive enough to serve at the table with its highly polished dome lid is the Chef's Pan ($135) from All-Clad Metalcrafters, Inc., in Canonsburg, Pa. The flat-bottomed wok is the latest addition to the Professional All-Clad LTD Cookware, recognized for its durability and performance. Although constructed from high grade metal, the 18/10 stainless steel cooking layer is very thin to minimize its poor heat conductivity as well as to prevent sticking. Consequently it brings out the quick heating benefits of pure aluminum which is layered at the inner core. The shiny smooth gray exterior is made of hard-coat tri-anodized heavy aluminum that's resistant to abrasion and warping.
Made of stainless steel, the stay-cool handles consist of a long tapered one and a short one opposite the other. Although the handle is designed with a groove for thumb leverage, it can sometimes be inconvenient to maneuver the wok about, heavy enough as it is. However, it's easy to like the Chef's Pan for its size capacity, sturdiness, even heating and convenience in cleaning.
The success of Atlas in its Mini-Wok that's made of carbon steel and its large Tri-Metal Stainless Steel Wok has made them produce a Tri-Metal Stainless Steel Mini Wok ($30). The evolution is a small wok that features external layers of durable steel bonded with an inner core of carbon steel for quick, uniform heat. The long-lasting sidewood handle has a good grip and is cool to the touch. The mini-wok is a good size for cooking for one or two and takes up little space. It's even great for deep-frying small quantities of tempura or French fries.
Caring for the multilayer stainless steel wok is a cinch. If sticking occurs, it may be soaked in warm soapy water. For stubborn stains, add cold water to fine cleansing powder to form a paste, then after immersing the wok in warm water, apply the paste in a circular motion with a soft cloth. To prevent glued-on grease streaks on the exterior, avoid getting oil drips or splashes on the outside while frying and do not heat it on a greasy stove element. The streaks may be removed by soaking for a couple of hours in hot water mixed with dishwasher detergent.
To avoid sticking when stir-frying, simply spray the stainless steel interior with a non-stick spray. The saving grace is that these woks do not have to be preseasoned.
The Joyce Chen Tri-Ply Stainless Steel Peking Pan will be available at Bullock's. (Chen will be doing cooking demonstrations at Bullock's South Coast Plaza, Wednesday from 1 to 3 p.m.; Santa Ana, next Thursday from 1 to 3 p.m.; Pasadena, May 13 from noon to 2 p.m.; Sherman Oaks, May 13 from 4 to 6 p.m.; Westwood, May 14 from noon to 2 p.m.; and Beverly Center, May 14 from 4 to 6 p.m. )
The Atlas Mini Tri-Metal Stainless Steel Wok is available at Cindy's Kitchen, Glendale, and Kitchen World, Santa Monica.
The All Clad Chef's Pan is currently available exclusively at Williams-Sonoma, and will be available at other department stores at later dates.