Do I Need A Wok? What Can I Make With Chicken?

My friend remarked that I tend to favor the wok for most of my cooking (at least in this blog!), and wanted to know if there is any advantage to using a wok over something like a round-bottomed sauté pan.

I find that the design of a wok is more versatile for different styles of cooking. For example, all the finely slivered vegetables of a stir-fry dish come into contact with heat at almost the same time, rendering them crisp and perfectly cooked. The round bowl-like base of a wok  heats up quickly, and all that is required is deft movements of the spatula to lift and mix the ingredients to distribute the heat evenly through them. By the same token, sautéing vegetables or cubes of chicken are similarly effective, with an added advantage. The spacious rim of the wok acts like a warming tray, allowing you to pile almost-cooked vegetables on the side as you wait for ingredients that need a little longer time (chicken) to finish cooking. Once the chicken is cooked, slide down the vegetables from the rim and mix – easy! The shape of the wok’s base also allows one to use less oil, and cooking healthy flavorful meals is something I strive for daily.

Tools and equipment are only as good as how often you use them. Use what you have, and if it works, don’t swap it out. N. went off to her summer job with last year’s grab bag of basic kitchen equipment (see: Outfitting A Student Kitchen). Experience has taught her that she could save money and remain healthy if she cooked most of her week’s meals over the weekend. (I totally approve, of course). Her question for this summer was: What are some ways to use the ubiquitous chicken breast?

The following are versions of recipes that I have used over the years. I adapted them here to use the four chicken breasts that come in a packet. All the recipes use just a few fresh ingredients (as it is wasteful to buy many types of spices/sauces for a short-term summer stint), with fresh aromatic herbs highlighting the simple flavors. Additionally, they can be all prepped, cooked, and frozen on the same day.


Chicken with Red Peppers

Chicken breast – 1, cubed

Red pepper- 1, chopped

Onion – 1, chopped

Garlic – 3, peeled and sliced

Basil or parsley – ½ the bunch

Oil – 2 tbsp

Salt and pepper – to taste


Heat the oil in a wok or pan.

Add the onion and cook until soft.

Add the garlic and cook until lightly browned.

Add the red peppers and chicken and stir-fry until the chicken is browned. Lower the heat and cook for about 15-20 minutes, turning and checking that the pieces are uniformly browned.

Add the herbs and season to taste.

Serve with pasta.



Baked Chicken with Parsley

Chicken breast – 2

Egg – 1

Garlic – 3 cloves, minced

Breadcrumbs – 2 tbsp (can use stale bread that has been toasted/baked and crushed)

Parmesan cheese – 2 tbsp

Parsley – 2 tbsp, chopped

Oil – 3 tbsp

Salt and pepper – to taste


Whisk the egg and add in the minced garlic.

Add the whole chicken breasts to the egg and garlic mixture. Cover with saran wrap and leave it in the refrigerator for about three hours.


Heat the oven to 350°F.

Place a foil-covered pan with the oil in the oven.

Mix the parsley with the breadcrumbs, and season with salt and pepper.

Lift the chicken gently from the egg mix, keeping as much of the egg and garlic coating on it as possible.

Place it on the breadcrumb mixture. Cover generously.

Put in the heated foil-lined pan. Cook for 25 minutes each side.

Serve with vegetables.




Grilled/Broiled Chicken

Coat the last chicken breast lightly with oil. Season both sides with salt and pepper.

Broil in an oven for 20 minutes on each side.

Serve with broiled whole tomatoes (topped with Parmesan cheese and basil) cooked alongside the chicken (20 minutes).

Alternatively, cut the broiled chicken into strips and add to a Caesar salad.

A Student’s Kitchen

When N. started an internship this summer, she was sharing a kitchen with three other students. She wanted to start cooking; we needed to buy her some inexpensive cooking tools as I didn’t want her to borrow and lose any of my favorites! For her summer rental, we bought two non-stick pans: a frying pan for omelets and frittatas and an 8-inch deep pan for boiling noodles/pasta/soup. She also needed a sharp medium-sized knife (for fruits/vegetables/meat). She did, however, borrow a colander, a baking sheet, and some Tupperware from home.

I would suggest buying a wok as a first addition to these basics – I love using a wok. Its shape has three main benefits: 1) heat is evenly distributed; 2) you can use less oil as a little goes a long way in terms of sautéing or stir-frying; and 3) the curved sides hold in food as you toss it. Less cleanup is always a plus!

Woks can be bought inexpensively at kitchen supply stores. Pick the shape and size first. Choose a wok that fits right above the heat source on your cooktop as the food should cook evenly. I like the round-bottomed ones because I have a gas range, but the flat-bottom steel woks work best for an electric range. Material is usually carbon steel, aluminum, or stainless steel.
I prefer non-stick carbon steel as it cleans up easily.

Note that a wok needs to be seasoned (seasoning and care directions follow) before use because manufacturers coat them with a protective layer. After that, a seasoned wok becomes a lifelong friend. Happy cooking!

As always, feel free to ask question or post comments below.


Wash the new wok in hot water. Scrub with a non-abrasive sponge and a little liquid soap.

  • Rinse and dry.
  • Heat over high heat for about two minutes. Remove from heat.
  • Smear the inside of the wok with oil, wiping it evenly with paper towel. Heat for another five minutes. Wipe off any residue.
  • Repeat the process, a few more times, until the paper towel has no black residue.
  • The wok is ready to be used.


  • Clean after every use with warm water and a non-abrasive sponge.
  • You might want to brush the surface with oil for a few more times to prevent food from sticking.