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The Breath of a Wok Hardcover – September 2, 2004
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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.
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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The first 50 or so pages focus on the history of the wok, the different types of woks, etc. and it's all interesting reading; the book also provides very useful context for selecting/buying a wok. Grace Young offers many tips on how to cure/season a wok, how to maintain a wok, and how to bring a dead wok "back to life". The book then explains the principles of stir-frying, and there are a few really critical techniques that explained very clearly, e.g. hot wok/cold oil, "swirling-in" liquids, the importance of using ingredients that are dry, how much protein/veggies you can put into a wok, etc. - all these principles work together to provide that wonderful "sear" that comes from proper wok technique. Once you have these principles down, it's easy to experiment and make your own creations in the kitchen. The techniques make all the difference between wok dishes that are just "okay" and "wow!"
While this book isn't chock-full of recipes, it has some real gems, such as Chicken with Sichuan Peppercorns and Uncle Lang's Pan-Fried Sea Bass (which I've made with Salmon as well as Halibut). I've served the Chicken with Sichuan Peppercorns to guests several times, and it consistently gets RAVE reviews. A few ingredients in the book can be hard to find, especially if you're not in an urban area, but most can be found in Asian markets.
This is the first of Grace Young's cookbooks that I bought, and it's had a big impact on what goes on in my kitchen. Before I got this book, my wok was something I used a few times a year, now I find myself using the wok for things well beyond Asian cooking; a properly-seasoned wok makes for quick cooking and easy clean-up, it's a very handy tool once you know how it "works".
If you're a newcomer to the sport of stir-frying, and you'd like to dive in and learn how to cook with a wok so that you get really tasty dishes, I highly recommend this book.
Long story short, I bought this book on a whim and WOW, what a book. It has instructions on how to purchase a wok, how to care for one, and numerous authentic Chinese recipes for cooking with one (and some even without). The book also has great pictures and details about the history of the wok and how it ties into Chinese culture. I have really enjoyed reading the book and cooking some of the recipes. If you are looking for an informative look into the history of the wok along with modern practical advice on how to cook with a wok (it even has pictures of condiments so you can find them at your local Asian grocery mart!!) - you cannot go wrong with this book.
This will be one of the books I'll be using for the rest of my life.