Last night, after an arduous ordeal of giving an in-class presentation on the environmental impact of certain laptops, I came home and made myself dinner in the wok. I love this wok, as it’s a beautiful finished steel piece. It’s not stainless, and it’s not nonstick, so it takes some taking care of, and between the fried rice i made Sunday and the egg drop ramen last night, my darling kitchen tool from heaven was feeling down and dirty. (Actually, it’s not from heaven, it’s trash picked, but close enough!)
When my wok has worked hard for me in my cooking endeavors, I treat it well, wash and scrub, dry over a fire, and season with a little olive oil (this involves putting a small quantity in, spreading around the surface, and rubbing in with a paper towel). It helps keep the pan from rusting and it’s ready to go next time I want to use it in a manner that doesn’t singe most vegetables to the bottom. There are some materials that just make the poor pot feel not-so-fresh, and that’s usually rice or anything starchy that starts to fall apart (I’m talking about you potatoes!), most meats, and eggs.
A few months ago I ran into a similar situation where my own inability to stir meant a bad burn on the bottom of a pot of Portuguese chicken stew. Thankfully, a friend mentioned a great trick to remove the crud, and it’s one I should have thought of before. Vinegar is my kitchen savior. Take the poor offended cookingware, fill it with water, and add vinegar in varying strength depending on the problem. The best is to use white vinegar as it won’t stain your pots (red wine vinegar will start to turn colors). If it’s really stuck in there, then let it sit overnight, and put a cover over it if you don’t like the smell. It will smell like vinegar, so if you’re not a salt and vinegar chips fan, beware!
Last night, noticing the difficulty of scraping the bits of egg out of the wok, I decided to let the vinegar do the cleaning while I ate my dinner. I filled it up about half way because there wasn’t anything stuck beyond that, and added about ¼ cup of vinegar. Mind you, I didn’t mean to add that much, but my hand slipped when i started pouring. Regardless, when I started washing it was awesome, everything came right off, my elbows didn’t hurt from being overworked, and the wok dried out superfast so I could season it in oil. Simple quick and easy home domesticity bliss.
Vinegar is an acid, acetic acid to be specific, so for certain surfaces and cleaning jobs it’s a great material to send in to do the job. Bradley recommends using it so cut grease, remove mildew, odors, some stains, and wax buildup. (He has many other natural home cleaning tips well worth reading) I’d sum up the best vinegar uses, but honestly 131 Uses For Vinegar does a better job listing items and categorizing them. Some highlights I’ll give you are using vinegar to remove food stains, using vinegar to clean glass, salt and vinegar will get out tea and coffee stains in china, disinfect cutting boards, and vinegar can be used for bathroom cleaning and disinfecting. While vinegar is an acid and has its own ecosystem effect in the waste stream, I promise it is not nearly as bad as the chemical impact of most supermarket off-the-shelf cleaners.
Personally, while I love cooking with vinegar, I’m even more excited to get to know it as a tool with a whole series of uses. It’s a great idea to use as a cleaner because, to be honest, I’m willing to eat it. That is an excellent benchmark for something I’m willing to use on surfaces in the places where I live. Besides, it smells infinitely better than bleach!
If you want to be even more industrious, and you can cough up a cup of leftover wine or beer, you can even invest in some mother of vinegar and make your own vinegar. If that’s a little too hardcore, there is still the option of making interesting herbed vinegars.