Friday, January 13, 2006

New Wok: The Dramatic Conclusion

Well, the continuing story of the wok has come to its shocking conclusion.

After having ordered the new wok (Episode 1) and after having waited in a spirit of great anticipation (Episode 2), the new wok finally arrived (Episode 3).

I pulled it from the box. There she was. In my arms at last. Gorgeous, shiny, flat-bottomed, newly-pressed, carbon-steel. A new, better wok to replace the old, lacking one. Or, at least, so I thought.

I washed my new baby with an SOS pad to remove the slick greasy oil, dried it with paper towels and then began the process of seasoning it, following the directions laid out in my book The Breath of a Wok by Grace Young to the letter:

I heated the wok over high heat while cutting up the Chinese chives we'd bought at Ranch 99 in anticipation of seasoning our new wok. When the wok seemed hot enough I swirled in a bit of oil, let it get good and hot and then threw in the chives.

I knew right away something was wrong. Grace Young describes exactly what a properly heated wok should sound like. Ingredients should "sing" when they hit the pan. This wasn't singing. Not like Renee Fleming. More like Sinead O'Connor on her last few albums doing that wierd half-whisper, half-talking thing. It simply wasn't getting nearly hot enough.

I looked closely at the pan and noticed a slight wobble when I stirred it. I bent down to take a closer look and could see that the bottom of the pan wasn't exactly flat. Only a small bit of the wok was actually coming into contact with the heating element. The bottom looked flat enough, but there was a small but crucial, fatal curve there.

I soon emailed Tane Chan of the Wok Shop, explaining the problem, and she wrote back (totally nice and professional as always) that I could return the new wok to the shop if I wasn't satisfied. The new carbon-steel wok I'd ordered should be flat on the bottom, she said, but many people who have ceramic stove tops prefer a cast-iron wok which keeps better contact with the heating element.

Hey, I thought, a cast-iron wok. That's what I have already. My old wok.

It finally dawned on me that it wasn't the old wok that was the problem. It was ME. I hadn't been treating it right.

A little back story: You see, when we first got the old wok, Jeff insisted on seasoning it with his own original method which he discovered (cough, cough) on the internet. This involved pouring salt into it and leaving it on a hot barbecue grill for several hours.

In the end, food stuck to it like there was no tomorrow. Stir-frying involved more scraping than stirring. A scrape-fry. It remained a sore spot in our cooking lives ever since.

So of course we thought a new wok would be the answer. Hoo-boy, were we ever wrong.

When Jeff got home from work, we took another look at the old wok. We cleaned her up real good. Then seasoned her right according to Breath of a Wok's directions for an iron wok, coating her good with saturated oil and letting her sit in a hot oven. We even did it twice just to be sure.

That night, Jeff cut up some Napa cabbage and sliced some tofu and minced some ginger and garlic. I made a sauce and heated the old wok over highest heat for a long time.

And then came the moment of truth. We swirled a bit of oil into the old wok. Then, cautiously, holding or breath, we threw in the minced ginger and garlic.

Success! They positively floated on top of the hot wok, not sticking in the least. When we threw in the Napa cabbage, that sweet baby sang like Maria Callas on opening night of Traviata at La Scala.

Happiness at last... and it had been sitting in our own kitchen cabinet the whole time!

The whole wok story is so dramatic, so epic, so moving and filled with life's little ironies, you can easily imagine the whole wok story as a classic movie, can't you? I know I can. Joan Crawford stars as the new wok, a manipulative, gold-digging shop-girl. Norma Shearer is the old wok, the long-suffering, faithful wife.

Or maybe girl-next-door Judy Garland as the old wok, sweater-girl-deb-seductress Lana Turner as the new wok. Which, I suppose, would make me Mickey Rooney (shudder).

Anyway, the new wok is back in the box and is being shipped back to San Francisco. (Back to the gutter with you, manipulative, gold-digging wok.)

I still feel a little bit of lingering guilt for how I treated the old wok....

Old wok, I don't deserve you. I've done nothing to earn your love again. But if you'll have me, I'll work hard to build up trust between us. I won't let Jeff pour salt in you and leave you on a barbecue grill for three hours. I won't consider new woks anymore. I won't even go near the wok section at Ranch 99 ever again. If you can forgive me, old wok, if you can accept me again--and I know you have no reason to--but if you can find that tiny piece of forgiveness in that big, wonderful heart of yours, I know we can fix the old problems, we can make it right. We'll make beautiful stir-fry's together again.



Blogger OORANOS said...

Have a good time

9:54 AM  
Blogger FilmStocker said...

Thanks for the cool link to the digimotion version of my site! Very creative.

10:02 AM  
Blogger Dan said...

I always enjoy your posts -- you write extremely well and almost always make me laugh out loud (when I'm not laughing out loud it's because I laughed so hard I gave myself a coughing fit).

This one and the one about Goofus and Gallant are my favorites.

10:15 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with Dan. This hard me laughing out loud!!

3:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Boy you better be good to that wok. Hands off, Jeffrey!!

4:02 PM  
Anonymous Jenny said...

I'm glad it all worked out for the cheapest and best!! Your take on it is sooo funny. Now I feel a strange affection for the underdog wok and distain for the new one. Ha, she got what SHE deserved-back in the box with you Miss!!

9:41 AM  
Anonymous mark said...

Bravo! I can't wait for the wok movie.

8:37 AM  

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