Wok-Fried Chicken

With my new wok properly seasoned, I needed an inaugural dish, something to continue the newly christened wok on its patina-ed journey to non-stick bliss.

wok chicken

Fried chicken in the wok. (Kim O'Donnel)

For ideas and some preliminary wok dos and don'ts, I called my friend and wok guru Grace Young, whose "The Breath of a Wok" is a must-have for anyone considering a wok.

DON'T "make a dish with sweet and sour sauce. The acid is going to strip the seasoning off the wok, and that's exactly what you don't want to do." That means no tomatoes, vinegar, wine, citrus of any kind - anything acidic.

Young further explains that "a new pan is dying to drink oil. Deep fry something or cook bacon."

Hmm...I had never thought about using a wok as a deep-fryer, but the idea makes sense. A wok gets really hot very quickly, and that's exactly what you want when making tempura or French fries...or fried chicken (which includes recipe details).

Yes, of course, I would make wok-fried chicken! Not only would I be giving my wok a deep conditioning, I would be satisfying one of my life-long favorite indulgences that I allow myself only about once a year.

As always, I soaked chicken parts in a spiced buttermilk bath for several hours before dredging in seasoned flour. I also preheated the oven for final cooking, as over the years I've learned that finishing fried chicken in the oven helps to minimize burning from the cast-iron skillet fry session.

Lo and behold, the wok needed no such back-up plan. Not only did it heat the oil quickly, it cooked the chicken efficiently, using about 1/3 less oil than I typically use in a cast-iron skillet. Because of its wide girth, allowing even distribution of oil, the chicken merrily fried on medium-high heat, without any signs of burning. In fact, the only reason I transferred the chicken to the oven was to keep it warm. On process alone, the wok had done the job beautifully, and was perhaps my new favorite way to fry stuff.

As for end results and taste test, I was blown away. The crust was crunchy, and was not oversaturated with oil. The interior was cooked through. The kitchen was also not overrun with grease.

Since I was on a wokking roll, I placed a bunch of kale leaves (sans stems) for a quick oil dip, and they cooked in about 15 seconds. After paper towel blotting, the kale begged for a spritz of hot sauce, and then was thrown over rice.

I'm a sucker for fried chicken, but now it's the wokked variety for me. Got a favorite way to make fried chicken? Or maybe you've got a trick up your wok sleeve to share...Do so in the comments area, please!

P.S. Wanna know how to clean the wok? Check this space tomorrow for details. Also later this week, I'll share a report on a wokky thing that's free of meat.

By Kim ODonnel |  September 11, 2006; 10:29 AM ET Chicken/Poultry , Wok Cookery
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Back in the day (and that is waaaay back), I worked in a restaurant that served Japanese cuisine, especially tempura. We used woks to deep fry just about everything. There were three of them, two to deep fry, one to stir fry. These were the best seasoned cast-iron I've _ever_ seen - one could fry rice without additional oil and nothing would stick.

I still sigh over those woks.

Posted by: LisaJulie | September 13, 2006 2:04 PM

9/19/06. Had to hunt down your write-up on the cast-iron wok while in SF last week! Bought two and Thane(sic) insisted on printing out your write-up.
The wok's inside appears to have a black "coating" that is not removed with a nylon scrub pad, detergent and firm scrubbing. One of my woks had a little spot near the rim without the black coating and I had to scrape fairly hard with a knife tip to remove a bit of the coating. Did you remove the black "coating" with a stainless steel pad to get down to bare metal (with pretty serious scrubbing?).

Posted by: swarthmore | September 19, 2006 9:39 PM

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