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The Breath of a Wok Hardcover – September 2, 2004

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Among Chinese cookbooks, this one is unusual. It doesn't strive for comprehensiveness or focus on a regional cuisine. Instead, it analyzes that sacred object of the Chinese kitchen: the wok. The wok's "breath" is the heat rising from the sizzling instrument as a dish is finished, but also much more, according to Young (The Wisdom of the Chinese Kitchen). She offers a profound meditation on the wok's spiritual place, as well as its history and uses. As such, the book may be appreciated as a work of food scholarship as well as a cookbook. Nearly half of it concerns wok arcana, from an assessment of the best wok for a home kitchen to half a dozen "recipes" for seasoning a new wok (like Mr. Wen's Chinese Chive Rub). Naturally, the majority of the recipes are for stir-fries, such as the familiar Kung Pao Chicken. Usually, Young takes great care to attribute her recipes to her sources (e.g., Mary Chau's Shanghai-Style Snow Cabbage and Edamame). Those sources are refreshingly varied, including home cooks, like the author's many female relations, and well-known names like Martin Yan and writer Amy Tan. Although this is by no means a definitive Chinese cookbook, its elegance and meditative outlook make it a welcome gift. Photos.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

In the 1970s the wok burst into the American consciousness, along with the flurry of interest in all things Chinese inaugurated by Nixon's memorable trip to Beijing. Today, plenty of American kitchens have a wok of some sort, but cooks may not know how to use the implement properly. Young and Richardson set out to remedy that with this comprehensive treatise on wok cookery. More than 50 pages of text cover the manufacture, selection, and the seasoning of a new wok, a process for which Chinese chives turn out to be indispensable. Once technical concerns are overcome, the wok can finally be put to use to create "wok hay," the special, unique flavor achieved by the truly practiced cook. Young's recipes reflect a very personal repertoire that originates from dishes cooked within her extended family. Recipes, sorted into groups by cooking style, use generally available staple Chinese ingredients and a wide spectrum of fresh meats and vegetables. This practical, smart, and savory collection of lore and recipes promises to set off a rebirth of Chinese cooking in American kitchens. Mark Knoblauch
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; First Edition first Printing edition (September 2, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743238273
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743238274
  • Product Dimensions: 7.8 x 0.9 x 10 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (113 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #24,915 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

155 of 160 people found the following review helpful By Rich Fong on February 8, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
...this might just be it. This book was clearly a labor of love for Grace. It was written with the home cook in mind. From reading this book, along with her earlier volume, "Wisdom of the Chinese Kitchen," it is clear that Grace's family and mine have a lot in common--namely a love and reverence for traditional, home-style Chinese cooking. The recipes are clear, simple, and easy to follow. I love the fact that so many of them are gleaned from her aunties and uncles--just as they are in my family. And it's so much fun reading about the history and production of the wok--I'll never look at the 30-year old specimen handed down to me from my mom the same way again!

I have a good collection of Chinese cookbooks, including volumes by Barbara Tropp, Ken Hom, Yan Kit, and my own family (I come from a family of restauranteurs and chefs), and over the years gleaned pearls of wisdom from each, but like I said, if I had to choose only one, "Breath" might just be it. But please, don't ask me to actually do it...
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69 of 73 people found the following review helpful By S. Smith on December 22, 2004
Format: Hardcover
I have taken this book out of the library so many times that I finally broke down and bought the book. I am an avid stir-fry cook and this book has some great wok stir-fry recipes, but it has so much more. It is a comprehensive guide to wok history, culture, maintenance and cooking techniques-- and demonstrates how a wok can be used for so much more than stir-fry. The recipes are great and pretty foolproof. I also own The Chinese Kitchen, by Eileen Yin-Fei Lo. I like that book and use it often, but especially on busy weeknights, I appreciate that the recipes in Breath of a Wok generally call for far fewer ingredients and taste just as good.
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79 of 85 people found the following review helpful By rodboomboom HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICE on August 21, 2004
Format: Hardcover
We've all likely experienced the sizzle and vapors coming off wok prepared food, and that's one essential of proper wok cooking. Here renowned Chinese cookbook auhtority Young gives us the insight into the wok in Chinese lore and life, its seasoning and its history of developing recipes.

What I found captivating was the history and exploration she takes us through of actual construction of woks, the hammering and shaping blacksmith approach and different ways of seasoning.

There is some chapters which are so unique, e.g. The Master Lesson in smoking from an experienced wok expert with then three recipes. This is delightful approach which continues with other experts offering techniques and recipes, e.g. Susanna Foo's Mango Chicken, a succulent dish with marinated vodkaed chicken and richen broth with asparagus, mango and candied walnuts. Yum!

The steamed portion really interests me, especially prep of dumplings, such as "Shrimp Dumplings Spring Moon".

The book is delightfully completed with an "Essentials" section replete with menus, glossary (usually with photos) metric equivalencies, sources.

One will want to spend much time savoring in all the wonders and info in this jam-packed inspiration about wok cooking and history. It will aid all who have or desire to enter this rich historical cuisine. The color photography and writing are superb and add to its richness and captivating presentation. A masterpiece!
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256 of 304 people found the following review helpful By Darby on October 1, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I purchased this book with high hopes - I'd read the glowing reviews on Amazon, plunked down my hard earned money, and shortly after it arrived I dove in head first.

As did the author of "American Pie" (who travelled extensively in a search for sublime pizza), the authoress of this book traveled to culinary destinations in San Francisco, New York, Hong Kong, and Mainland China, in search of Wok stores, wok makers, and elite Chinese chefs - in search of wok lore, and recipes.

The authoress then provides the reader with a helpful overview of the 3 basic types of wok (twin loop-handle Cantonese, northern-style with one handle, and the ubiquitous western-style flat-bottom wok), the best materials to buy them in (cast iron, or hand-hammered high-carbon steel), the various ways they're commonly seasoned, and how to maintain and care for them. Then she moves on to her recipe section.

Strengths ? In no particular order:

a) FRONT: The first 56 pages of this book, covering wok manufacture, selection, seasoning, and care, are very helpful and interesting. That was the material I actually purchased the book for.

b) RECIPES: Some of the recipes included appear well crafted and very tasty - I'm actually looking forward to trying several.

c) HEADNOTES: To me, a recipe is a participatory story, followed by a meal ... it's an act of communion with both the author, the more distant sources of the recipe, and with life itself. Depending on your introspectiveness and philosophical outlook, cooking can be a very deep experience. Accordingly, I'm always grateful when authors go to the trouble to include head notes for their recipes.
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41 of 47 people found the following review helpful By Edward R. Allison on January 21, 2005
Format: Hardcover
After reading this book I think that the stuff we get in most Asian restaurants is really just the prefab grocery store stuff they sell at Asian markets. So now I have been left asking a lot of questions. So I purchased a cast iron wok from China like the books suggests and have come up with wonderful results. I followed the seasoning techniques and now have a wok that is better than any I could purchase. One has to remember anyone can assemble the ingredients for a dish and measure to perfect portions. It's really the technique that makes the dish. This is probably the first Chinese cookbook to do so. From that point you can really understand the cuisine start to create real Chinese Cuisine.
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