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I have an electric stove. Many of the recipes from my Asian cuisine book call for a Wok to be used rather than a typical flat based pan. Why is there so much stress on the type of pan when the purpose is to heat the ingredients? What different effect to the food is brought by the fact that the Wok has less surface area contact with the stove surface and that it has a cone like shape? I could understand the reason if it is because someone works with a fire / gas stove.

I can imagine a type of layering of ingredients where the amount of ingredients differs in quantity eg. meat and carrots at the bottom and cabbage on top and that these must cook at different temperatures. Are there recipes such as this? or are there different reasons for this?

Since I am a bit confused I offer anyone to edit this question to be more concise to inspire answers describing why a wok may be better for certain recipes

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1 Answer 1

up vote 10 down vote accepted

There are a couple of reasons, traditional and some functional:

  • The home cultures where these recipes are indigenous use a wok, so many recipe authors go the same way

  • Woks are usually made out of carbon steel, and are poor conductors of heat. This means that the strongest heat from the concentrated heat source is in the center/bottom of the wok. As you go up the sides, the level of heat decreases.

    This permits staging ingredients up the sides of the wok to stay warm or cook slowly, while the ingredients at the center of the wok are being cooked intensely.

In practice, the real issue with woks is that they are properly used over a very intense heat source. This permits the stir fry technique, and its unique wok hei flavor to develop in the food. Note that it is this intense heat (and the carbonization of the seasoning layer on the wok) that actually create wok hei, not the shape of the wok itself.

Western home cooking equipment usually cannot get hot enough to do this, whether you use a wok or a flat bottomed skillet. Still, over a standard electric burner or even a home style gas burner, using a flat bottom skillet may in fact let you get better heat transfer into the food, and come closer to genuine stir frying than you could with a round-bottomed wok.

Even for dishes that suggest you push food up the sides of the walk, you can use a skillet if you choose: you cook the food in stages, removing it from the pan instead of pushing it up the sides. Combine the ingredients the end to marry and finish cooking, much as when they are tossed together in wok-based cooking.

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@SAJ12SAJ, so for example with sweet and sour chicken, I could cook the chicken in the wok and then push up the chicken to the sides while I make the sauce in the bottom? –  Vass Aug 29 '13 at 16:18
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@Vass Classically, yes. –  SAJ14SAJ Aug 29 '13 at 16:21
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