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How to Season a Wok

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Inspired by conversations on the Food52 Hotline, we're sharing tips and tricks that make navigating all of our kitchens easier and more fun.

Today: Grace Young made her case for why a wok is the one pan you must have. Here, she tells us how to season one for a lifetime of good stir-frys.

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As with a cast iron skillet, you’ll need to season the pan before cooking so that the pan ages well and develops a patina, giving it a natural nonstick surface that seals it from rust. Luckily, seasoning is a snap. 

To get wokking, you obviously need a wok: Treat yourself to a good quality wok. I recommend a 14-inch flat-bottomed, carbon-steel wok from the WokShop.com, in business for over 40 years in San Francisco’s Chinatown. This American-made pan is a small but worthwhile investment that will last a lifetime. 

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In addition to your wok, you’ll need:

2 to 4 tablespoons peanut or vegetable oil
1/2 cup sliced, unpeeled ginger
1 bunch scallions, washed, dried and cut into 2-inch pieces 

Here’s what you do:

Scour the inside and outside of the wok with a stainless-steel scouring pad and dish soap using lots of elbow grease. Rinse with hot tap water, but don't dry with towels.

Open your kitchen windows and turn on your exhaust fan. Put your wok on a burner and heat over low heat until all of the water evaporates, about 1 minute. There may be a faint smell of the residue from the factory coating. Do not be alarmed if the metal changes color, darkens or even turns black. This is normal. 

Increase the heat to high and heat the wok until a drop of water vaporizes within a second or two of contact. (Sometimes, with a new wok, the water will roll around and not evaporate, in which case you’ll have to judge the heat based on the next step and whether the oil smokes and the ingredients sizzle. If oil smokes wildly, your wok is too hot. When you add the scallions and ginger and there's no sizzle, there's not enough heat.) Swirl in 2 tablespoons of the peanut oil, add the ginger and scallions, and reduce the temperature to medium heat. Stir-fry 15 to 20 minutes, using a metal spatula to press the mixture along the entire interior surface, from top to bottom, as you stir-fry. As you stir-fry the mixture, the pores of the metal will open and absorb the oil, which seals the surface from rust and creates the patina. If the mixture becomes dry, add another tablespoon or two of oil. Remove the wok from the heat and allow to cool.

More: Does seasoning with scallions make you want to eat them too? Try one of these recipes

Discard the ginger and scallions. Let the wok cool for 5 minutes before washing. Use a soft sponge to wash the interior of the wok with hot water and no soap. Rinse the wok and place it back on the burner and heat over low heat until there is no longer any water visible in the wok, about 1 minute. Remove from heat. This is how you will wash the wok from now on. The wok is seasoned and ready for cooking. Do not be alarmed if the wok looks mottled or has blackened areas. The patina will gradually darken the more you cook with the wok, giving you a natural nonstick surface. A newly seasoned wok (left, below) looks mottled and some think they've ruined the pan (but they haven't). After cooking with it for 3 or 4 months, it will acquire a copper or light golden hue (middle, below). Most woks take 1 to 2 years and lots of cooking to acquire an ebony-black patina (right, below).

More: Watch Grace season a wok.

Tags: seasoning a wok, how to, wok, stir fry