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January 23, 2006

The Triumphant Return of Morton

Dominic Armato (click to enlarge)
Just when I thought I'd finally banished Morton's Iodized Salt from my kitchen.

Forgotten in the shadow of the Kosher salt, Baleine sea salt and three forms of Fleur du Sel, I hadn't touched Morton in months. When I dug him out this week, he was hiding deep in the recesses of a corner cupboard that's hardly ever opened. If he pours when it rains, then my kitchen has evidently been bone dry for the better part of 2005. I thought I'd finally kicked Morton to the curb, but this week I had to press him into service to rescue me from a former nemesis:

The dreaded sticky wok.

My last wok died an unfortunate death. First, it got kind of sticky in places. Then, as I tried to tell myself that it would eventually fix itself with use, these sticky spots slowly became encrusted with shallow raised humps of charred stir-fry matter. Nothing would remove them, and they'd only continue to grow. I tried everything short of steel wool, knowing that to resort to this nuclear option would be to chop off my wok's proverbial nose to spite its proverbial face. When I moved back to Chicago, it sat in a box for a long, long time, unused due to its suboptimal condition. Said condition worsened, of course, and when I finally pulled it out a couple of years ago, it was horribly rusted. I felt shame... the profound shame of a samurai whose blade has been so neglected that it can now scarcely split a reed, much less the skulls of his enemies. A true Wok Fu warrior would have worked tirelessly to try to resurrect his sacred instrument. Or at the very least, would have maintained his honor by throwing himself on his chef's knife. But I took the coward's way out, pitching my former wok and replacing it with a brand new one. This time, I was determined to own my wok for at least 20 years, over which time I would slowly and patiently mold it into a deadly culinary instrument of Wok Fu. So after carefully seasoning my new wok, and starting it off with a healthy regimen of deep-frying, imagine my shock when I recently prepared a stir-fry with a honey-based sauce, only to find, after washing, that my new instrument had started to develop the same sticky, crusty spots that doomed my previous love.

It was Morton who came to my rescue.

Well, Morton and Grace Young, anyway. I've already expounded upon the myriad virtues of Young's new book, The Breath of a Wok, but I am also now convinced that it performs miracles. In truth, saving my wok was not such a mystical process, but it was one with which I had previously been unfamilar. Per Young's suggestion, I cleaned my wok with hot salt. The process goes something like this:

You heat a bunch of salt (I used about 1/3 of a cup) in the wok over high heat, then turn the heat to low. You spread the salt around the wok, and it sticks to the trouble spots, as you can see in the photo above. You continue heating the wok over low for about five minutes, then turn off the heat and let it sit until it is cool enough to work with. You then take a folded rag and scrub the salt into the sticky and crusty spots. Somehow, the salt breaks up the grease and the crud without significantly harming the wok's patina. You wipe out the wok, heat it again, give it a good wipedown with some oil, and gently wash it with a sponge.

That's that. And it worked. Morton has restored both my wok and my Wok Fu, and for that, he has been welcomed back from exile and placed in my day-to-day pantry. I don't deserve him, but Morton's forgiving that way. When it rains, he pours.


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