For so many of us, Asian cuisine beckons like a beautiful tropical pool. And yet, the most we ever do is test the water with a tremulous toe or two. But now Corinne Trang, award-winning author of Authentic Vietnamese Cooking, has taken on the prodigious task of being both swimming teacher and siren, lifeguard and fearless mariner, to lure us into the deep water with her Essentials of Asian Cuisine.
At 590-plus pages, this is a big book. It is beautifully illustrated, for those who need to see where they are headed, and just as beautifully thought out, for those who want to get where they are going. The destination is the food of Asia, with China as the wellspring. The territory Ms. Trang has mapped includes Indonesia and the Philippines, Thailand and Cambodia, Vietnam, Japan and Korea--as well as greater China. She does not pretend to be definitive--that would take an encyclopedia. Rather, Ms. Trang assures the reader that much of what they know of western cooking applies to the east. She begins with familiarity then builds in self confidence, chapter by chapter, recipe by recipe.
There are detailed sections on the Asian pantry, the basics of tools and techniques, an overview of the working fundamentals of building a dish or a meal. Then the book breaks out into chapters on "Condiments, Stocks and Starter Soups," "Rice, Noodles, Dumplings, and Bread," "Vegetables and Herbs," "Fish and Seafood," "Meat and Poultry," and "Sweets and Drinks." She ends her book with notes about Asian food rituals and sample menus and sources. The recipes are refreshingly short, concise, and to the point. A reader could begin by cooking what is already familiar, then expand into the many delicious alternatives Essentials of Asian Cuisine has to offer. Before you know it you'll be swimming like a natural without a second look back. --Schuyler Ingle
From Publishers Weekly
There are some books you never knew you needed until they appear, and then you can't imagine how you did without them. Trang's newest (after Authentic Vietnamese Cooking) is an encyclopedic summation of the history, techniques, ingredients and recipes of the major Asian nations (China, Japan, Korea, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, Cambodia and the Philippines). It's an ambitious undertaking, but Trang delivers and shows an astonishing mastery of the often subtle differences among the cuisines. (For example, she clearly differentiates between three kinds of hot pots-Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese.) In this vast catalogue, some recipes are relatively familiar, like Bibimbap, Tempura, Hot and Sour Soup, Chicken Adobo; Curried Conch Shells, Fish and Coconut Custard and Oxtail braised in Peanut Sauce are more exotic. While some staples have not been included (such as Kungpao Chicken), the book can hardly be accused of brevity. A true instructor, Trang spends 60 pages on fundamentals before offering any cooking instruction. She fills out each chapter of recipes with an extensive essay on the different permutations taken by shared ingredients-there are 140 pages on "Rice, Noodles, Dumplings, and Breads" alone. The protein chapters are somewhat less impressive; still, this volume should be a first port of call for home cooks eager to undertake a serious study of Asian cooking.
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