Drawn together: the wok

Categories: Behind the stalls

In a new series, award-winning blogger and Borough Market regular Ed Smith displays a talent for illustration as well as the written word, as he talks to stallholders about the tools of their trade. This month: the wok

Words and illustration: Ed Smith

Richard Martin, Wokit

We opened Wokit on Stoney Street towards the end of 2014, just opposite the Ted’s Veg and Chegworth Valley greengrocer stalls.

We serve healthy stir fries to eat in or take away, using high quality, fresh, seasonal ingredients sourced from the Market—vegetables from Ted’s Veg, fish from Furness Fish & Game and so on. Those ingredients are stir fried with your choice of rice or noodles, aromatics and homemade sauces, again made from Market produce. It’s quick, cooked to order, good for you, fun and, most importantly, delicious.

Given our name, it’s pretty obvious that woks are central to our kitchen and the food we serve! We literally wouldn’t exist without them.

Wok illustration

Clean and efficient
We use induction stoves to heat our woks. Unlike gas, this form of cooking is really clean and efficient. It doesn’t create massively hot and ultimately wasted ambient heat, yet still provides a really quick, powerful way for us to stir fry our food.

Induction works by magnetic resonance, which means that instead of a pan—or, in our case, a wok—being thermally heated by an electric hob or gas flame, energy created by a magnetic coil causes the cooking vessel itself to heat up. Only pans and woks that are made from cast iron, steel, or have a special layer or magnetic bottom to them work on induction.

Technically, our induction hobs need a special, modern wok to go with them. We tried those, but actually our chefs preferred the classic £13, no-nonsense, uncoated carbon steel woks with wooden handles that you can get from Chinatown. They’re sturdy and do the job that we need them to do better than the other options.

A no-brainer
The stoves are curved to fit round-bottomed woks. You see some flat bottomed ‘woks’, but they just don’t transfer heat and cook food in the same way. It was a no-brainer to keep things authentic with the shape of the woks, even though the way we heat them isn’t traditional.

The woks are only heated when directly in contact with the induction stove, but our chefs still pick them up and shake and shuffle them as you would a wok at home. It’s intuitive to them as they’re so used to cooking this way—all our chefs are from Mongolia, and they’ve always used the traditionally-shaped, simple, steel woks we use now.

Cooking with the classic carbon steel woks seems to create the best result, which is the ultimate aim, isn’t it? They get so hot that it’s super quick, with all that Market produce cooked in just 60 to 90 seconds. Come and try it!