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Wok This Way — Not Nancy Leson's Way, Says Stein

Nancy leson
Still life with curry paste

Nancy Leson keeps a lot of stuff on hand to do what she characterizes as stir-frying. These techniques include first searing meat on the grill rather than in the wok. Tut-tut.

She also uses "stir-fry" as a noun, as in "my favorite stir-fry." I am left with no choice but to remonstrate.

"We don't say, ‘Let's have bake. We don't say, ‘Let's have boil.’ It's a technique, not a thing," I told her. Ms. Leson remains blithely unconcerned.  The apocalypse looms.

I suspect that the reason Nance resorts to cooking the meat part on a grill rather than in the wok is that she's not getting it hot enough.  My tips are to use a cast-iron wok rather than a steel wok.  Heat passes through steel much faster than through cast iron, which will store heat the way a battery stores electricity. 

Credit Stein
A gambler cannot live by Jacks and Queens alone.

If you heat up a cast-iron wok for a while with nothing in it, it will stay hotter when you add the food. Speaking of electricity, if your stove is electric, get a wok with a flat bottom so more of it is in contact with the heating element. Electric woks? Fuggeddaboutit. They just don't get hot enough.

And by preheating the wok before you add the oil, you'll get a temperature differential that helps keep things a bit more slippery and prevents sticking.

Give all that a try next time you stir-fry something.  Like this recipe for chicken with cabbage and peanutsfrom one of my favorite old cookbooks, Robert Delf's “The Good Food of Szechuan,” which is now out of print. As you can see, I've given it a lot of use.

"Oh Lord, please don't burn us, don't grill or toast your flock.  Don't put us on the barbecue or simmer us in stock.  Don't bake or baste or boil us or stir fry us in a wok."

– Monty Python's Flying Circus

Dick Stein joined KNKX in January 1992. He retired in 2020 after three decades on air. During his storied radio career, he hosted the morning jazz show, co-hosted and produced "Food for Thought" with Nancy Leson and wrote and directed the Jimmy Jazzoid live radio musical comedies and 100 episodes of Jazz Kitchen.