The work is the most important utensil in the Chinese kitchen. Traditionally made of heavy iron or steel and equipped with two handles, this versatile, concave-shaped pan is used for stir-frying, deep-frying, pan-frying, steaming, and stewing. Its ancient design has been adapted for modern use with a metal ring, which the pan sits in on the burner. Even more contemporary are the stainless-steel woks with flat copper bottoms that rest directly on the burner. These usually have a single long handle similar to that on a skillet and are lighter and easier to use than the classic two-handled pan.
The Chinese spatula is specially designed for stir-frying in the wok. The edge of the spatula bowl is rounded to fit the shape of the pan, and the utensil itself is sturdier overall than the usual American one, to allow stirring and tossing of large quantities of food.
The Chinese cook does many things with a cleaver: minces a garlic, cuts vegetables into delicate, fanciful shapes, peels fresh water chestnuts. In the absence of the modern meat grinder, a pair a cleavers put to work simultaneously will achieve the same results. Cleavers are available in various grades of steel. The best all-purpose tool is made of high carbon steel, which takes a good edge and is heavy enough to cut through bones. Stainless-steel cleavers are fine for cutting vegetables but are too thin for heavy-duty chopping.
You may prefer to buy a traditional bamboo steamer, which is attractive enough to double as a serving tray for the steamed foods. It is especially fun to own one if you regularly serve dim sum (either homemade or purchased). The bamboo steamer has the additional asset of allowing more than one layer of food to be steamed simultaneously – just stack a second basket on top of the first. These steamers are placed above hot water in a wok.
|Chinese Wire Strainer|
This wide, flat wire strainer with a long bamboo handle is very useful for removing deep-fried foods from hot oil or noodles from boiling water. The most common size for home use is 6″ diameter.
|The Sizzling Platter|
Sizzling-platter dishes, also called “iron-plate” dishes, have recently become popular menu items in Chinese restaurants. These dishes are named for the heavy iron platter that is used for serving. The platter is heated to a high temperature, placed on its wooden tray, and delivered to the table. When hot stir-fried food is spooned onto the platter, the sizzle is very dramatic.
|The Clay Pot|
Clay-pot dishes are the Oriental version of the American casserole. The main difference is that they are cooked on top of the stove rather than in the oven. The design of the clay-pot assures good retention of heat, so that even if dinner is delayed, the food stays piping hot.