Wok this Way! (Part 2 of 5) Selecting a wokWritten by Helen Fan
As mentioned in Part 1 of series, woks come in different sizes ranging from 10 to 32 inches in diameter, but a wok that's 11 to 14 inches in diameter should suffice for use in a household kitchen.
Woks come in 2 different bottoms, traditional round-bottomed woks, and “westernized” flat-bottomed woks. Both have their advantages, but there're reasons that traditional wok lasted thousands of years in Chinese kitchens. The flat-bottomed woks do not heat as evenly. The flattened area creates a little angle around bottom that makes it harder to manipulate your cooking utensil. Food may get caught in this area, becoming overcooked or even burnt due to lack of movement. This also could present a problem when you clean it afterwards. That little angle also increases likelihood that you will accidentally scratch wok while stir frying. The flat-bottomed woks were designed for better balance on flat American stovetops, especially electric stove. But there is a simple solution for that. You can purchase a “wok ring” that you put on stovetop, and sit wok over it for balance. We will go through that in more detail in Part 5, “Wok accessories”.
A wok is generally made of iron, copper, carbon steel, or aluminum. Carbon steel and aluminum are better ones because of their superior heat conductivity, but general consensus is that carbon steel is, by far, best material for a wok. C arbon steel is most porous, and when exposed to high heat, pores open up to absorb cooking oil, contributing to developing "patina", and then elusive "wok hay" (covered in Part 3). If you go around Chinese restaurants and ask their chefs kind of woks they use, an overwhelming majority will swear by carbon steel woks. The best part is that carbon steel woks are relatively inexpensive to buy. There is an old adage that says “you get what you pay for”. This is definitely not case for woks.
The regional cuisines of Chinese cooking (Part 1 of 4)Written by Helen Fan
With China covering immense land within its boundaries, it is no surprise that there are many regional variations in Chinese cuisine. Traditionally, Chinese cooking is divided into five styles of regional cuisines. It is headed by 3 great schools of Peking to north, Szechuan to west, and Chekiang-Kiangsu to east. Fukien and Canton, of lesser importance cover southern region.
Peking: northern cuisine
The northern China presents a great contrast to rest of country. The North China Plain, edged by mountains to north, stretches away in west to borders of Inner Mongolia, and is crossed by infamous Yellow River . Due to its location, climate is harsh for much of year. The spring is dry and dusty, summer is hot and wet, and fall is calm, dry, and sunny, while winter is long and freezing cold. It is dramatically subject to drought from failure of late spring rains and to flood when Yellow River, for centuries unstable in its bed, floods over into low-lying countryside. Thus, lives and diets of people living in this region are dictated by these seasons.
Wheat is staple food, as opposed to rice in rest of China, due to harsh climate making it unsuitable to grow rice. Wheat flour is used to make dumplings, breads, steamed buns, noodles and large Chinese biscuits/pancakes. Meat is much more of a luxury up here, mostly eaten during festival times. Mutton and lamb are popular, most likely due to influence of neighboring Mongolians. Most northern family meals are dominated by vegetable dishes for economical reasons. Chinese cabbage is most popular vegetable, as it is most suited to be stored over winter. Dishes in general are much more plain, solid and nourishing. Soy sauce is used very generously. The use of leeks, onions, garlic, salted and pickled vegetables such as turnips, white radish and cabbages are important items in a rather monotonous diet.