Wok the hei!?
‘Wok hei’ – literally translated as ‘breath of a wok’ – results from a complex interplay of factors that is part science, part art, part magic. – The Michelin Guide
It is the chef’s secret. A clandestine code to embedding the deep, aromatic flavour of smoke into signature dishes.
Flavours that have made wok-hei an artisan skill, with singed, smoky dishes sought by gourmands around the globe.
For many, it is the measure of the authenticity of a dish and skill of the creator. An ‘X factor’ that separates cook from chef.
WHAT IS WOK HEI?
Simply, wok-hei is the process of infusing a charred, smoky flavour via cooking in a wok, heated over a gas range operated at extremely high temperature.
Less simply, wok-hei is where smoking oil, caramelising sugars and a process called the ‘Malliard reaction’ combine in sizzling dishes, as chefs toss intense flames ‘into’ their wok.
As spectacular flames dance around the well-seasoned cast iron of a furiously tossed wok, humble ingredients are elevated to gastronomic experiences.
A signature of many Asian dishes, the practice has found a home in the hearts and on the stoves of restaurants around the world. It is often considered the measure of a chef’s skill, with many spending their entire careers perfecting the art.
HOW DO THEY DO IT?
Two primary pieces of equipment are needed. The first is a well-seasoned wok. The second, is a gas-fired stove, capable of operating at elevated temperatures.
The wok is heated gradually until it reaches a very high temperature. Once the wok is extremely hot, to the point of slightly smoking, the oil and ingredients are added.
It is critical that the correct amount of oil is added and only after the wok is hot.
WHY DOES GAS MATTER?
High, instant heat and controllable and accurate temperature are what makes wok-hei possible. Only natural gas can create the furious lick of blue and orange flame needed to create the depth and deliciousness of these sensational cuisines.
Next time you take a bite of that deeply satisfying Pad-See-Eew, Char Kway Teow or are stopped mid-bite by the rich flavour of a hot and smoky stir-fry, think natural gas, and think wok-hei.
Want to learn more secrets closely guarded by culinary icons? Click the links below.
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