Grace Young is a culinary sister to novelist Amy Tan. In The Wisdom of the Chinese Kitchen, along with sharing recipes from her family, Young immerses the reader in Chinese culture and the Chinese American experience of San Francisco's Chinatown, where she grew up. This personal book began with Young's wish to preserve the Cantonese dishes prepared by her parents and extended family. Since they cooked by instinct, the only way to record their recipes was by observing her mother, father, and aunties while they cooked, and by asking endless questions. These kitchen conversations also became a way to elicit untold family history from her deeply traditional and reticent parents.
Each chapter opens with an essay intertwining biographical stories with information about Chinese food and healing. The blending of culinary information and cultural observations is powerfully realized, perhaps because Young shows old-fashioned respect along with a contemporary perspective. The result is both affectionate and enthralling. You can vividly picture the meticulous choreography as her parents make dinner in their tiny kitchen, reaching over steaming pots and rushing the steaming food to the table.
Young delves into the hows and whys of Cantonese home cooking, with particular attention to technique and ingredients: Chinese broccoli with flowers should be avoided because the bright yellow blossoms indicate the stalks are too old. Steaming is valued because it draws out the intense flavors near the bone in chicken, fish, and meat, leaving them tender and moist.
Many dishes are elementally simple. Hot-and-Sour Soup is fired solely by aromatic white pepper. White Chicken is perfumed just with ginger and garlic. Some choices are quick and easy, as in stir-fried Bean Sprouts, while others require long and elaborate preparation, like savory Rice Tamales stuffed with pork, Chinese sausage, and duck egg yolks and wrapped in bamboo leaves. Anyone who enjoys eating Chinese food or has experienced the generational differences in immigrant families will get lost in The Wisdom of the Chinese Kitchen. --Dana Jacobi
From Publishers Weekly
San Francisco native and recipe developer Young (The Best of China; The Best of Thailand) recalls the classic Cantonese meals of her youth, sharing family anecdotes and the basic tenets of Chinese cooking. In Part I, "Mastering the Fundamentals," she introduces essential techniques of the Chinese kitchen: selecting produce, chopping, slicing, steaming, stir-frying, even correctly preparing rice. Aiming to preserve the integrity of traditional dishes, Young instructs with Cantonese de rigueur, eschewing substitutes for such exotic ingredients and shortcuts as food processors. Although labor-intensive steps often precede the cooking process, this 140-recipe collection provides clear, straightforward instruction largely accessible to home cooks. Recognizable favorites such as Eggplant in Garlic Sauce and Pepper and Salt Shrimp, as well as less familiar preparations such as Rock Sugar Ginger Chicken, offer broad palate appeal. Part II, "The Art of Celebration," explores the symbolism of special occasion and Chinese New Year dishes, including Turnip Cake, the glutinous rice flour New Year's Cake, and fried Sesame Balls, all considered harbingers of prosperity for the New Year. Young ends her collection on a holistic note; the last section, "Achieving Yin-Yang Harmony," elaborates the Chinese belief of the yin (cooling) and yang (warming) characteristics of foods as well as their purported remedial and restorative properties. "Tonic soups" include Almond SoupAfor moistening the lungs and clearing the skin. Probing her rich culinary heritage with passion and fortitude, Young expertly reveals ancient secrets encouraging readers to experience the joy of authentic Chinese cooking.
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