Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Switching from Teflon-coated woks to traditional kwali

Not a pretty sight, but it gets the job done.
About two years ago, I bought a carbon steel wok for approximately $7 from ToTT in an attempt to replicate zi char cooking conditions. And also because my Tefal®  flat-bottomed non-stick wok was a little small for those occasions we had guests over for dinner.

Having seasoned the wok more or less according to those instructions - another useful guide here - I realised that I had exactly 50% of the tools needed to generate wok hei, aka 'the breath of the wok' (the other 50% being a huge ass zi char-style gas hob to generate that kind of instantaneous heat often accompanied by shooting flames round the edges of their woks).

Nevertheless, I had managed to create a semi non-stick cooking surface in my first attempt at seasoning two years ago. "Semi" because enough food stuck to the surface to make me scrub moderately hard with a soft sponge and dishwashing liquid. Gradually, it deteriorated to scrub-hard-with-scouring pad (think Scotch-brite green wool types). One fine day (yesterday), I managed to transform some food into a nice layer of carbon at the bottom of my wok, which necessitated removal with steel wool. Then I realised the surface felt quite different after the scrubbing. It felt bare. Naked as the day I first bought it.

A Facebook friend had waxed lyrical about the magical non-stick properties of properly-seasoned woks. It was something I also vaguely remembered from reading about these things two years back, and didn't think too much about, because I had our Tefal®  to fall back on when I didn't need the capacity of the steel wok, or when I felt lazy about washing a larger, 'stickier' wok. I had never really seen the steel wok as a proper non-stick alternative to teflon-coated cookware. But I was so wrong.

I decided to do it better this time. I can't say I did it right, because I used Duck (refined palm oil) instead of flax seed oil recommended in the first link. But I decided to be patient and repeat the process multiple times to get a 'thicker' coating of non-stick goodness.

Somehow, the oil wouldn't form a perfectly uniform layer over the entire surface and thicker 'droplets' could be seen, even after about four applications of oil. I gave up at four or five layers because I realised I was also seasoning the interior of our kitchen with Duck vapour condensate during the process. The end result can be seen in the picture above. On closer inspection, the appearance of 'droplets' remained, suggesting somewhat uneven seasoning layers. The surface also felt slightly sticky to touch, even after a rinse and pat down with a paper towel. Nothing like a teflon wok.

That was last night. The moment of truth came today when it was time to cook dinner.

Business as usual. The way I usually fry veggies - not necessarily the correct way:

1. Heat the wok. Notice the surface start to smoke slightly as residual oil burnt off. Probably didn't really season it 100% correctly, again.

2. Add oil and continue on full flame, which isn't much for my average HDB gas burner. Oil starts to smoke slightly and becomes less viscous.

3. Toss in the garlic. Being unevenly chopped by the Ikea garlic and onion dicer, the smaller pieces start to turn golden brown rapidly. I expect them to stick like they did.

4. Stir with spatula...


It was at that moment I realised that I had probably gotten the seasoning process right, the second round. The spatula glided so smoothly on the inner surface of the wok that I almost squealed like a girl in delight! Actually, if you ask A, she would probably claim that I did.

Those golden brown garlic fragments, seemingly slightly burnt by now, should have stuck somewhat to the surface like in the past. Instead, they were carried away smoothly by the spatula, and I almost did a double take when not a single scrap stuck or hesitated. It was literally as smooth as the Tefal®.  

To cut to the chase, just get a steel kwali, season it, and use it like you would any teflon product. That means no scouring or harsh detergents. Today, I used a cellulose sponge and gave it a quick wipe with detergent and water for about two seconds, then rinsed and patted dry. It's possible to get it clean this way, provided it was properly seasoned in the first place. 

It sure doesn't look as 'clean' as sterile teflon-lined cookware, but likely releases less harmful chemicals during cooking. It's also 'repairable' if you've abused it like I did and the seasoned layer comes off. Not to mention, it's obviously MUCH cheaper than a comparable teflon product.

I am not sure how long the seasoned coating will last this time, but when the time comes, about one hour of elbow grease and some LPG flames should get my $7 investment up and running just as well as it did tonight. =)

- S


  1. I did a complete round trying out pans and pots and went back to using the wok, the most versatile equipment at its price range. Nothing beats it.

  2. Nix, I've got two questions:

    1. Do you use a gas hob or electric one over there? I heard from a friend working in Melbourne that the places with gas hobs tend to be older. This might pose a challenge if we were to buy a new place (unless can specify or $$$ to swop out later on)

    2. How does one become a member of your blog? I've tried to comment on some occasions, even before I started this blog...

    Really love your blog and it was one of the 'Bibles' we studied when going through the PR application process. Of course, we are still following it! :)

  3. Hi Ramblers,

    My hob runs on electric. If you are building a house, it is not a major issue. You can pretty much customise most elements these days. If you are going for a old house instead, you may want to narrow down to the specs that you prefer. Even for Perth there are plenty of choices if you are not adamant in buying houses in a certain few suburbs. If you keep options open, you will always have more choices. The rule works everywhere.

    The blog is closed for comments because most of the migration discussions were pretty much ironed out during my first year in Perth (and blogging). I figured that if anyone wants to look for me, they will find their way to, which you just proved it right.

    I love your blog too. I don't like the pictures/vids all over the posts. Makes reading the good stuff (your actual writings) difficult. But that's just me, just ignore the random grumbles.

    1. Ic.. Then you must be using flat-bottom wok. I want to use the round-bottom one. See how lah. Maybe bring over first, at most sell on ebay if I kena electric hob.

      Thanks for the compliments on our blog. The pictures/videos is because we prefer the LIFT style and we sort of adopted it in our blog. Nevertheless, I would not ask for you to put photos, AND I also acknowledge that it may detract from the text as you have pointed out.

      Your posts are more succinct. I think no need pictures to hold attention. ;)


  4. Hmm. My bad. I got it wrong. I thought it was the hood. My hob is gas. I prefer that any day over any other ways. Yes my wok is round too, that's why it rocks. Don't sell your wok. It'll work out somehow, don't worry about it. There is a kind of holding attachment you can get to use over flat cooking mediums.