Most helpful positive review
38 of 39 people found the following review helpful
My favorite cookbook
on August 17, 2002
The China Moon Cookbook introduced me to high end cooking ten years ago and I've never looked back. Barbara Tropp manages to draw in complete novices with detailed step-by-step instructions of what to do and what not to do, dosed out with a good humored, you-can-do-it-too manner. This cookbook would be a worthwhile addition to anyone's set just for its instructions on how to buy and prepare fish or poultry, or for its instructions on making double chicken stock.
Barbara Tropp's recipes are Chinese influenced in the way of ingredients, so make sure you have a supply of good sesame oil, rice vinegar, soy sauce, sichuan peppers, red chilis and ginger. In case you don't, the sidebars provide an introductory course in how to find, buy and store such ingredients, with brand recommendations. The main emphasis in each case is the notion of extracting a pure flavor in each dish. Rather than producing the kind of heavy, integrated sauces more typically associated with the Chinese kitchen, China Moon cranked out light, spicy, and brightly acidic dishes like my all time favorites, clear-steamed salmon with corriander pesto and gold coin salmon cakes.
The real strength of this book lies not in its excellent recipes, which can be adapted in numerous ways once you understand their principles. It's in the preparation of a pantry full of such goodies as ma-la oil ("ma" for the numbing spiciness of sichuan peppercorns, and "la" for the traditional burn of red pepper), and pickled ginger that takes 10 minutes to make and leaves you forever wondering why you hadn't done this sooner. There are recipes for stocks, sweet and sour dipping sauces, mustards, and other staples of the Chinese kitchen, that once created, allow the preparation of amazingly flavorful dishes in short order. Each dish has excellent instructions on what can be done in advance and held, and what needs to be done last minute.
Even if you just make the pickled ginger and hot chili oils on pages 8 and 10, you may share Barbara Tropp's sentiment, "The day I made my own hot chili oil, I swear I grew a foot as a cook!". Along with these recipes, you get the first two of her passionate sidebars, the first on selecting and peeling ginger, the last step of which she was shamed into by her Chinese-Vietnamese prep staff and grandmotherly Chinese-American pastry chef. As a historian by original training, her text is salted with quotes backing up her obsessions about 1/16 vs. 1/4 inch dice for stir-frying timing, and quotes "a character in an official history of first-century China: 'When my mother cuts the meat, the chunks are invariably in perfect squares, and when she chops the scallions, they are always in nuggests exactly 1 inch long.' What can I say? History centuries-old supports me in my obsessions!"