"This is a teenage wok," declared Grace Young, glancing up from the mottled surface of the pan cradled in her hands. The wok's splotchy complexion -- not the shiny cast iron of infancy or the mocha-colored sheen of adulthood -- sent a clear message: A "facial" was needed. Fast.
"This wok is at the awkward stage. It's adolescent," said Young, author of the new cookbook, "Stir-Frying to the Sky's Edge" (Simon & Schuster, $35). "A wok facial will rejuvenate it."
Helping a wok achieve the proper hue is important to her because a well-seasoned wok makes for tastier food. You use fewer tablespoons of oil; food sticks less frequently. And a wok with a satiny patina looks so, so sexy. Young is so insistent on the benefits of a properly seasoned wok that she braves airport security to fly around the country with her own wok in her carry-on luggage.
The self-styled "Wok Doctor" is always willing to take time to help others get their neglected, rusty or food-stained woks in shape with a simple, quick treatment that oils and seasons the pan for cooking.
"So many people seem to have a wok like that," she said. "They bought it eons ago, and when they dig it out from the closet, they discover it's a little sticky, rusty, and they assume it's beyond repair. A carbon-steel wok cannot be destroyed. It will last a lifetime."
A wok facial will do more than make your pan look good.
"You will be inspired to stir-fry," Young predicted. And, as she pointed out, the more you use your wok the more quickly that sought-after patina develops.
"Keep cooking, you'll reach the promised land," she added.
> Steps to resurrect a wok
Here's how author and Chinese food expert Grace Young gives a wok facial:
Place the wok on a burner over high heat. The wok is hot enough when a bead of water vaporizes in 1 or 2 seconds. (Sometimes, the water bead doesn't disappear but bounces around inside the pan. Instead, hold your open palm several inches above the bottom of the pan. When your skin begins to feel hot, the pan is ready.
Remove pan from the heat. Pour in 1 tablespoon kosher salt and 2 teaspoons vegetable oil. Don't worry about exact proportions but keep the salt-oil ratio at roughly 2 to 1.
Wad several paper towels together to create a thick pad that will protect your fingers from the hot wok metal. Use the paper towel pad to gently "massage" the oil and salt into the wok's surface, taking care to rub the pan's entire interior with the salt-oil mixture. Depending on how dirty/rusty your wok is, the salt grains and pad of paper towels will darken as you go.
Wipe the wok clean; rinse with hot water. Young uses a sponge with a textured surface (Scotch-Brite is her favorite type/brand) to remove any salt crystals sticking to the wok.
Place cleaned wok on a stove burner set at low heat. Leave wok there for 1 to 2 minutes to make sure the pan is completely dry. Cool before storing.