Professional chefs know that the best way to prepare stir fry is in the traditional style: in a round-bottomed wok. The shape of a wok makes it impossible to use on a traditional range - that's why these specialty units exist. The one you ultimately choose will depend on which type of wok you want to cook in, how many you want to use at once, and whether you want a range with a water-cooled top and flue. More
These ranges are made with a series of raised cast iron rings, each above a firepot containing a gas burner. Your wok is placed on top of the ring, so the bottom is down inside the well and the edge rests on the ring. This allows most of the wok's surface to get heated by the burner. When it's time to order your range, you'll have many choices when it comes to the size of each wok compartment. It is good to plan in advance and decide what size woks you will be using and how many of each, so you will be able to specify the setup of your range. Available wok sizes are between 13 and 22 inches in diameter. There are two different types of rings, one for each kind of wok.
Cantonese and Mandarin Woks
Cantonese and Mandarin aren't just Chinese languages; they're distinct styles of cooking, as well. Owing their names to the two regions in China where they developed, each has its own wok design and cooking methods associated with it. Mandarin is influenced by the traditions of the north, in the region around the capital of Beijing. Cantonese developed in the south - in and around Hong Kong. There is a specially-designed ring for each type of wok, and each type of ring is often paired with a burner that distributes heat in a way that enables each type of cooking. More about burners shortly.
- Mandarin wok cooking involves the use of intense heat to quickly stir fry foods. A mandarin wok has a long, straight handle that can be used by cooks to flip and sear food in the pan. The hallmarks of Mandarin cooking are speed and intensity, and wells designed for these feature intense, concentrated burners with mounded rings that accommodate picking up and moving the pan around.
- A Cantonese wok stays put during the cooking process. Shovels and ladles are used to move the food around to get it cooked evenly. Cantonese woks have loop handles, one on each side, and they're usually heated with burners that create moderate heat that is spread out evenly along the cooking area. Cantonese wok rings are lower, creating a more shallow well, letting the wok sit securely and close to the flame.
Woks are used for more than cooking stir fry. Boiling noodles, cooking soup, and frying tempura can be done in a Cantonese wok with a burner that spreads the heat out. Often, a range will be fitted with a Cantonese ring in the center for boiling water and blanching vegetables, which are then thrown into a Mandarin wok to be cooked with meat and other vegetables to create a complete dish.
As we've already mentioned, different burner types are available to complement different cooking styles. The primary difference between the types of burners is the way that they distribute heat. Some will focus the heat on the bottom of the wok. These are for stir-fry styles of cooking and are typically paired with a Mandarin wok ring.
Other types of burner spread the heat out more evenly; these are ideal for Cantonese-style cooking, where you would want heat evenly distributed across the cookware. These would also be used in holes that will hold woks for boiling water, heating stock, blanching vegetables, or simmering sauces.
As they can become clogged, some manufacturers offer special no-clog burners that won't trap food that falls down into the firepot. These usually come at an extra cost, but they can cut down on the time you spend cleaning your range and reduce the amount of downtime due to clogged burners.
You'll find that most of these ranges are fitted with faucets along the back riser, with one for each ring or one for every two rings. These models are sometimes called water-cooled because the water is used to cool down the surface of the range, which can become very hot after you've been cooking for a while. The water can also be used to quickly rinse woks between batches or at the end of the day, saving time and making life easier for your cooks. Water-cooled woks are not allowed in some areas with restrictions on water usage, so be sure to check local regulations to see if your restaurant is allowed to have one.
To Vent or Not to Vent
This equipment can be ordered with or without flues. A flue's purpose is to vent ambient heat, and since a wok range can have some serious firepower, this can make a big difference in warmer climates where temperatures in the kitchen can become unbearable during the summer months. You might hear ranges with flues called ”east-coast” versions and ranges without them called ”west coast”.