* Prices may differ from that shown
When I left home to go to university my Mum gave me something very special. It was her Le Creuset Volcanic (orange/red) cast iron casserole. She wanted me to have it for when I left home because it was given to her by her parents when she left home ie as part of her wedding present. I had always loved that casserole and hadn't realised (although I should have done as I can always remember it being around) that at that point it was 23 years old. So why the touching story? Well because this then started my love affair with all things Le Creuset.
Unfortunately in my student days Le Creuset was out of my price range, in my singleton days there seemed little point in having anything other than my trusty casserole and when we got married we were bought a set of saucepans and pans and casserole dishes. There seemed little point in buying anything else and frankly we didn't have the room for anything else in our little kitchen. However that didn't stop me from drooling over the ever expanding range of Le Creuset products and picking up the odd bargain along the way. All of this changed though in October last year when we moved!
Welcome to our larger kitchen with its lovely new gas hob and large double ringed wok burner. There was only product that was going to sit on that ring and that was the Le Creuset Wok with Glass Lid. However there was a plot afoot and every time I went to buy one in John Lewis or House of Fraser my husband would drag me away. I was getting annoyed at this because I hated using my tired old large frying pan to do stir fries in. But it became apparent why at Christmas when my Mum and Dad produced this huge box containing my lovely new granite coloured wok (they come in a range of colours though). I was over the moon!
So what can I tell you about my lovely wok? Well it is heavy! It is made from cast iron and is 36cm in diameter so you would expect it to be heavy. Boxed it is 8kg (so if you buy one do some weights first!) but not entirely sure how heavy it actually is as it nearly broke my scales trying to weigh it. I do know that the glass lid alone is 1.25kg and packaging isn't that heavy. Once you have one of these you'll never have to do weight training again! Needless to say you cannot pick this wok up with one hand easily but not only because of the weight but also because it doesn't have a single handle as you would normally expect from traditional wok. Instead it has two cast iron handles either side which allow you to easily pick it up comfortably and securely. These handles are also great when you want to tilt the wok whilst cooking or turn it around. However you must be very careful and use a cloth or gloves to move it when it is hot otherwise you will get very badly burnt hands. The lid itself has a black plastic central handle and has a lip which sits on top of the wok perfectly.
And it does get very hot - cast iron is a great medium for conducting and retaining heat. The wok is quite deep and rounded so you only have to heat the bottom and then let the heat conduct up the sides of the wok. This is quite efficient as it means you can put it on a smaller ring or you can put it on a larger ring at a lower setting. In fact I usually end up setting the gas at medium flame and then I turn it down once I know it is up to temperature. What makes this wok different from normal ones is that it has a flat cast iron base rather than a rounded base. Not only does it make it look quite funky but the design also allows it to be used on any heat source. I think I would be wary of using it on ceramic or halogen hobs simply because I know I would probably drop the thing on there! But for those of you with ceramic or halogen hobs you can offically use this product on them. One thing to note is that is does retain heat so well that you have to be careful even if you leave it for a few minutes off the heat before you attempt to handle it.
The beauty of a wok is that it can actually be quite a healthy way to cook food because it cooks the food quickly due to the heat build up in the cooking surface and because any fat/oil drains into the small centre of the wok so food doesn't sit in the oil. And also because of the heat you don't need much oil to stop the food from sticking. The surface of this wok isn't non stick but you can make it stick resistant by "seasoning" the wok. This is quite an easy procedure but annoying when you are raring to try out your new toy. All you need to do is clean the wok, heat it and add 2 tablespoons of oil. Then wipe this oil all over the inside surface. I used a folded piece of kitchen towel which I moved around with a chopstick (I do alot of oriental cooking!) so I didn't burn myself. Once this is done continue to heat the wok for 10 to 15 minutes and then soak up any excess oil with kitchen towel and wipe the surface. Then repeat. The wok is now ready to cook with and shouldn't need to be reseasoned too often (as long as you follow the washing instructions carefully). Once it has been seasoned water and oil are easily repelled and this is great for healthy cooking because I only need to use a few squirts of oil to successfully stir fry meat, fish, seafood and vegetables as well as rice and noodles.
But that isn't all that this wok is capable of. It is so easy to braise/stew, boil and steam food in it. You can also deep fry in it but due to health issues (ie low fat diet) I haven't tried this method of cooking out. But I have prepared many a braised meat and vegetable dish, boiled lentils, made stock, boiled rice, steamed fish and vegetable (you need to get a bamboo steamer or other steamer trays/racks to do this - and they recommend a 10 inch steamer for this wok). I don't just cook chinese food in my work but I have cooked indian, thai, spanish, british, french, mexican and italian food in it. It is great for one pot dishes especially if you want to add in rice or pasta so that they absorb the sauce. The expanded repetoire of this wok is down to the wok lid. It fits snuggly and because of the weight it doesn't allow steam or liquid to leave the cooking area which again facilitates quicker cooking but ensures the meal remains moist and tender. In fact this is now my weapon of choice in the kitchen for most meals - it might not always be used for the main part of the cooking but it is used in some way most of the time. And because it looks stylish I often carry it and its contents to the table and serve directly from it when we have guests.
But what I really love about it is that in the time it takes for the wok to heat up to full cooking temperature I can prepare the food and then throw in the meat and get it nicely browned before I put the veg in and to stop the meat from over cooking I can move it up the sides of the wok to keep it warm but not in the cooking heat. I can then either serve with noodles or rice as it is or I can put in liquid/tomatoes to create a sauce and then add rice or pasta for an all in one dish but I have generally saved myself cooking time. A quick stir fry can take 15 minutes from turning the gas on to serving and that is ideal for me.
The 36cm wok is designed for 4 to 6 people. There are only 2 of us but if I'm doing a stir fry it doesn't matter. But when it comes to braising or stewing you will need to be careful (although you can get a 28cm wok seemingly - I've just never seen one anywhere). However as I batch cook alot of our dinners it doesn't matter as the left overs go into the freezer.
Now as with any wonderful kitchen product they inevitably get dirty. But with this wok that isn't a problem. You can put it in the dishwasher. However I would advise caution for a number of reasons. First of all remember the time it takes to season your wok? Well all that hard work will be undone if you clean it with soapy water. Secondly it is big and it takes up alot of room - in fact it takes up most of one level in the dishwasher. So if you use it regularly you will be doing extra loads in the dishwasher just because you can't get much else in. And thirdly because it is so heavy it can bend the wire racks in the dishwasher making future dishwashing not as easy as it once was! To clean it though couldn't be easier. You should avoid warm soapy water as this will remove the "seasoning" and mean that you have to repeat so you should clean it when it is still warm with hot water and any residue should easily come away from the surface. Should you need to scrub it then a soft washing up brush is fine but the best product is a bamboo wok brush. You can get these in oriental supermarkets for around £1.50 and they are strips of bamboo which are tied at the end. This brush can clear a wok of hard to remove residues incredibly easily and quickly and it means that you don't need to soak the wok. If you can get one (apart from making you feel the part) then you should. However a word of warning - never pour cold water into directly onto the wok when it is at cooking temperature as it may crack.
I know when I tell you that this wok is normally £95* you will probably think "how much?" but I refer you to my opening story. That little casserole was used last night and is now 39 years old. The majority of Le Creuset cast iron products come with a life time guarantee and I am expecting the same level of service from this wok - I would like to be able to pass this on to any children I may have or to my nephew. This is by far the best piece of cooking equipment that I own and I would thoroughly recommend it to anyone who is looking for a wok or even just a good versatile pan.
* you can get the granite coloured wok on Amazon for £78 at the moment and in some colours it is as low as £65.50.
I have always been of the opinion that when cooking with a Wok it pays to ensure you have a quality product and this Le Creuset Wok was not cheap as it cost me £79.99 from John Lewis however I have had it three years now and it will last a lifetime and it comes with a guarantee to that effect.
Currently Amazon have the blue one pictured for £66.93 however mine is the black one which looks more stylish I think.
This is a cast iron enammelled wok so it is rather heavy to lift and you will need to use both of the handles, it is hard to lift one handed, however the weight gives it strenght and also from a cooking point of view it retains the heat really well. The most common mistake when cooking with a wok is to not get it hot enough, this wojk does take a few minutes to eat up fullly and at the right etmperature you will need oven gloves before touching the handles, however at the right heat it cooks food really well. It has a big capacity with a 36cm diameter and would easily be able to prepare a stir fry for four people in one go however I would probably slpit the portion in two to ensure faster cooking which will leave the food crisper.
Before using it for the first time you should follow the instructions for ensuring that it will be non stick and cleaning is really easy as you just use warm water and a non abrasive sponge. Having said that even if it does become a little blackened this is not a problem.
In addition to stir frying I have used mine to boil vegetables in and also to allow sauce based meals to bubble and cook.
The wok is very stable on all surfaces as it has a wide base so does not move about when stir frying. The only slight criticism I have is that the smoked glass lid does seem to show marks a bit and never looks as clean as it should despite lots of cleaning.
I do love this wok, it is expensive but really is worth the money as it will last so long unlike the cheap light weight one I used to own which expired after a couple of years use. The wok does not come with any implements these are sold seperately and the only assembly is to screw in the black plastic top of the lid.
36cm / Superb for oriental style cookery / Elegant design and flat base for maximum heat efficiency / Also perfect for braising, steaming and poaching.