Fire in the Wok


I succeeded at getting a good shot of flames rising from the wok while cooking.

And, I thought that since this photograph looked cool enough to share, I should probably write a bit about how and why to safely set fire to food in your wok.

First, let’s talk about why you’d want to set your food on fire in the first place.

Well, because it makes it taste good, of course. It flash caramelizes sugars and sears any ingredient that is in the wok. It also burns off the alcohol in the liquor or wine and leaves behind just the flavoring essence.

It also looks really cool.

But, it can be dangerous.

So, let’s look at a few simple rules to follow when using distilled liquor to flame a dish in a wok.

1. Never pour liquor directly from the bottle into the wok or pan while it is on the fire. Distilled liquors have too much alcohol in them for this to be safe–the alcohol vapors can ignite while you are pouring from the bottle. The flames can then follow the stream of liquor up into the bottle and ignite the rest of the alcohol. Which can cause an explosion. No, really, it can. It happened at the culinary school I attended. So, just don’t do it. Always pour the amount you are going to use into a pitcher or small container with a wide mouth.

2. When you pour the alcohol, do it quickly, and don’t lean close to the wok while you do it. You would think this would be a self-evident bit of common sense, but no–plenty of folks when they ignite something in their wok the first time lean in to see what will happen next. Well, if you lean in, what happens next is your eyebrows get singed. Oh, and if you have long hair like I do, tie it back before playing arsonist in the kitchen. The reasons for this should be obvious.

3. If your flame isn’t high enough to ignite the alcohol directly, you can gently tip one edge of the wok away from yourself and toward the burner slightly so that the flame catches and tongues of fire leap up. At this point, set the wok back level on the burner and gently stir the contents of the wok with your wok shovel in order to spread abut the flavor enhancing effects of the liquor.

4. Always have your exhaust fan on before you set things on fire in your wok. If you don’t have an exhaust fan or vent hood, consider NOT setting stuff on fire in the wok. Also, have your wok lid handy to smother the flames if necessary, and keep a box of baking soda nearby to use to smother flames. Also, please know exactly where your fire extinguisher is, you know, just in case. Do NOT use water to douse any flames.

5. Finally, keep all wayward children, animals, boisterous family members and naturally nervous people far from the stove when you go to set fire to anything in your wok. In fact, I highly suggest you send all such folk out of the kitchen before you do it, otherwise, you will have to listen to the nervous ones kvetch about your “reckless cooking” for hours, and it will just might ruin whatever dish you cooked so beautifully.


RSS feed for comments on this post.

  1. fire made it good!

    Comment by Mia — December 12, 2010 #

  2. Can one do this if one is cursed with only electric appliances?

    Comment by Heather — March 22, 2011 #

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.

Powered by WordPress. Graphics by Zak Kramer.
Design update by Daniel Trout.
Entries and comments feeds.