Why do some foods have to be cooked only when the pan is really hot?

  • Why do some foods have to be cooked only when the pan is really hot? Jason

    I like fried rice. When I try to make it myself, though, it never turns out the way restaurants make it. Restaurant fried rice almost has this sort of "smell-you-can-taste" that's not directly part of the rice. It's like part of the steam. I'm probably not making sense, but I remember being told that fried rice tastes best when friend on a really hot pan.

    Why is this so? What happens when foods are cooked on something less hot? (e.g. friend rice, steak)

    A link: http://www.shiokfood.com/notes/archives/000018.html

    One of the reasons that restaurant-made fried rice has that smoky flavour is the high temperatures and the seasoned carbon steel woks that we use.

  • As Kenji Alt explains in his comprehensive article on stir frying from Serious Eats (emphasis added):

    One more reason to use a wok instead of a stainless steel skillet: wok hei is not developed in stainless steel, as it largely comes from the burning of the patina of fats and polymers that have embedded themselves in a well-used carbon steel or cast iron wok. For this reason, if you have a cast iron skillet, it's preferably to use it over stainless steel.

    This wok hei, developed only at high heat in a seasoned wok or cast iron (or similar) pan is almost certainly the flavor you are looking for--the "smell you can taste" as you phrased it.

  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wok_hei has very good explanations about it. Let me sum of it up:

    The geometry of the wok is very important:

    • better use of the surface area
    • ability to shallow fry big items and deep fry small items with small amounts of oil.
    • intense heat for low amount of fuel

    The temperature is also very important:

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