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I like fried rice. When I try to make it myself, though, it never turns out the way restaurants make it. Restaurant fried rice almost has this sort of "smell-you-can-taste" that's not directly part of the rice. It's like part of the steam. I'm probably not making sense, but I remember being told that fried rice tastes best when friend on a really hot pan.

Why is this so? What happens when foods are cooked on something less hot? (e.g. friend rice, steak)

A link: http://www.shiokfood.com/notes/archives/000018.html

One of the reasons that restaurant-made fried rice has that smoky flavour is the high temperatures and the seasoned carbon steel woks that we use.

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2 Answers 2

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http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wok_hei has very good explanations about it. Let me sum of it up:

The geometry of the wok is very important:

  • better use of the surface area
  • ability to shallow fry big items and deep fry small items with small amounts of oil.
  • intense heat for low amount of fuel

The temperature is also very important:

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As Kenji Alt explains in his comprehensive article on stir frying from Serious Eats (emphasis added):

One more reason to use a wok instead of a stainless steel skillet: wok hei is not developed in stainless steel, as it largely comes from the burning of the patina of fats and polymers that have embedded themselves in a well-used carbon steel or cast iron wok. For this reason, if you have a cast iron skillet, it's preferably to use it over stainless steel.

This wok hei, developed only at high heat in a seasoned wok or cast iron (or similar) pan is almost certainly the flavor you are looking for--the "smell you can taste" as you phrased it.

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Is it possible to use this at the heat intended in a standard electric stove in the U.S? –  Jason Mar 15 '13 at 4:10
    
My guess is that it is unlikely--there is a reason Kenji Alt recommends using a grill to generate more heat than home burners are usually capable of. Still, you can get as close as possible by preheating a cast iron skillet for a fairly long time so it absorbs as much heat as possible. –  SAJ14SAJ Mar 15 '13 at 4:29
    
Electric burners, especially those in glass top stoves, cannot generate and transfer the high heat. The only electric way to get the heat for cooking at these high temperatures is with an "induction wok" at high wattage (3000 watts and up). A traditional carbon steel wok pan should then work (still need to season it like any other wok). –  Skaperen Mar 15 '13 at 6:20

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