A Must-have in Thai Cooking: the Wok
Like most Asian cuisines, the wok is central to Thai cooking. Woks are used for everything from stir-fries to curries, and even noodle dishes; they're also used for deep-frying and steaming. This Asian version of the frying pan has steep sides and either a rounded or flat bottom. Woks with rounded bottoms are best for gas stoves, allowing the flames to travel up the sides and thereby distributing the heat. A steel ring accompanies this type of wok, allowing the pan to “sit” over the flames. If your stove is electric, a flat-bottom wok is preferable.
Types of Woks
In today’s marketplace, there are many types of woks to choose from, and they come at varying prices, depending on the type of material used and whether or not the wok is “seasoned” (see below). The preferable size for a wok is 14 inches. Look for woks with sturdy handles and a lid. Some woks also comes with small steaming racks (but this is not a necessity in Thai cooking).
Cast iron and carbon steel woks are highly recommended; however, try to purchase one that is seasoned. This means the wok has been put through a process of warming, cooling down, and oiling to prevent it from gathering rust and other toxic substances. It is possible to season a wok yourself, but to do so successfully requires patience and reliable instructions. It is much more convenient (and possibly safer) to trust this process to the manufacturer.
Avoid purchasing an aluminium wok, as this metal tends to heat up too quickly and stay hot too long (also, aluminium may be an unhealthy choice).
I prefer to use a stainless steel wok. Though they are a little more expensive, a good one will last forever! When shopping, look for a thick base at the bottom of the wok, as thin steel will encourage sticking.
If you prefer a wok with a non-stick coating, be sure only to use soft spatulas when cooking, and never clean it with anything abrasive. The danger of non-stick coatings is that it can flake off and be ingested; also, most non-stick coatings are environmentally toxic. In general, non-stick coatings are over-rated and unnecessary. Instead, purchase cookware made out of traditional materials (such as iron or steel) and be willing to pay a little more for excellent cooking results.