You don't need specialist equipment to produce a Chinese or Asian meal - you can even use a heavy-based frying pan instead of a wok in many instances. However, the items listed below will make your oriental dishes easier and more pleasant to prepare.
There are many different varieties of wok available. All are bowl-shaped with gently sloping sides that allow the heat to spread rapidly and evenly over the surface. One that is about 35cm/14in in diameter is a useful size for most families, allowing adequate room for deep-frying, steaming and braising, as well as stir-frying.
Originally always made from cast iron, woks are now manufactured in a number of different metals. Cast iron remains very popular as it is an excellent conductor of heat and develops a patina over a period of time that makes it virually non-stick. Carbon steel is also a good choice, but stainless steel tends to scorch. Non-stick works are available but are not really very efficient because they cannot withstand the high heat required for wok cooking. They are also very expensive.
Woks may have an ear-shaped handle or two made from metal or wood, a single long handle or both. Wooden handles are safer.
New woks, apart from those with a non-stick lining, must be seasoned. Many needs to be scrubbed first with a cream cleanser to remove the manufacturer's protective coating of oil. Once the oil has been removed, place the wok over a low heat and add about 30ml/2 tbsp vegetable oil. Rub the oil over the entire inside surface of the wok with a pad of kitchen paper. Heat the wok slowly for 10-15 minutes, then wipe off the oil with more kitchen paper. The paper will become black. Repeat this process of coating, heating and wiping several times until the paper is clean. Once the wok has been seasoned, it should not be scrubbed again. After use, just wash it in hot water without using any detergent, then wipe ot completely dry before storage.
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Lid: This is a useful addition, particularly if you want to use the wok for steaming and braising, as well as frying. Usually made of aluminium, it is a close-fitting, dome-shaped cover. Some woks are sold already supplied with matching lids. However, any snug-fitting, dome-shaped saucepan lid is a adequate substitude.
Stand: This provides a secure base for the wok when it is used for steaming, braising or deep-frying and is a particularly useful accessory. Stands are always made of metal but vary in form, usually either a simple open-sided frame or a solid metal ring with holes punched around the sides.
Trivet: This is essential for steaming to support the plate above the water level. Trivets are made of wood or metal.
Scoop: This is a long, often wooden-handled, metal spatula with a wooden end used to toss ingredients during stir-frying. Any good, long-handled spoon can be used instead, although it does not have quite the same action.
Bamboo Steamer: This fits inside the wok where it should rest safely perched on the sloping sides. Bamboo steamers range in size from small for dumplings and dim sum to those large enough to hold a whole fish.
Bamboo Strainer: This wide, flat, metal strainer with a long bamboo handle makes lifting foods from steam or hot oil easier. A slotted metal spoon can also be used.
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Cleaver: No Chinese cook would be without one. This is an all-purpose cutting tool, available in various weights and sizes. It is easy to use and serves many purposes from chopping up bones to precision cutting, such as deveining prawns. It is a superb instrument for slicing vegetables thinly. it must be kept very sharp.
Pestle & Mortar: Usually made of earthenware or stone, this is extremely useful for grinding small amounts of spices and for pounding ingredients together to make pastes.
Food Processor: This is a quick and easy alternative to the pestle and mortar for grinding spices and making pastes. It can also be used for chopping and slicing vegetables.
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