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Chris Hennes

Cooking with "Stir-frying to the Sky's Edge" (Grace Young)

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I just got a copy of Grace Young's "Stir-Frying to the Sky's Edge"—I enjoyed cooking from "Breath of a Wok" and wanted to continue on that path. Does anyone else have this book? Have you cooked anything from it?

Here was dinner tonight:

Spicy Dry-Fried Beef (p. 70)

I undercooked the beef just a bit due to a waning propane supply (I use an outdoor propane-powered wok burner), but there's nothing to complain about here. It's a relatively mild dish that lets the flavors of the ingredients (and the wok) speak. Overall I liked it, at will probably make it again (hopefully with a full tank of gas).

Spicy Dry-Fried Beef.jpg

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I love Grace Young's books and have all of them...I think. I have cooked one thing out of Sky's Edge and I know I liked it but I made it when the book first came out and I don't remember which one it is. Right now the book is on loan to my Podiatrist and I'll have it back in a couple of weeks.

Her recipes are understated as they probably are in China but they are excellent. I don't think there was one I didn't like in Breath of a Wok.

BTW - Ming Tsais new book Ming's One Pot Meals looks very good.

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Does the book only contain recipes for stir-fried dishes?

That looks like some fine cleaver work on the carrots and peppers.

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Rookie.

It's not a good night in my kitchen unless I've almost taken off a fingertip, I imagine a mandoline would make that even more likely to happen.

What's the green veg in with the carrot?

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Celery—the recipe is 2 cups carrots, 1 cup celery, and 10 oz beef, plus garlic, ginger, scallions, etc. I love celery, I think next time I might actually include more.

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Stir-Fried Cucumber and Pork with Golden Garlic (p. 73)

This dish was surprisingly bland, at least to my palate. Despite having three tablespoons of garlic to two servings, the way the garlic is cooked tones its flavor down to nearly imperceptible levels. The cucumbers faded into the background, and I was left with basically soy sauce and salt. It wasn't bad, per se, but it wasn't exactly good either. Just sort of... OK. Maybe my cucumbers were too bland?

Stir-Fried Cucumber and Pork with Golden Garlic.jpg

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Celery—the recipe is 2 cups carrots, 1 cup celery, and 10 oz beef, plus garlic, ginger, scallions, etc. I love celery, I think next time I might actually include more.

Did you use Chinese celery or western celery? I can't stand most celery in supermarkets in Canada, but the thin kind sold here is lovely. It's not thready at all, and it has a concentrated celery flavour.

This dish was surprisingly bland, at least to my palate. Despite having three tablespoons of garlic to two servings, the way the garlic is cooked tones its flavor down to nearly imperceptible levels. The cucumbers faded into the background, and I was left with basically soy sauce and salt. It wasn't bad, per se, but it wasn't exactly good either. Just sort of... OK. Maybe my cucumbers were too bland?

What kind of cucumbers did you use? Japanese or Kirby cucumbers would provide better flavour than "English" cucumbers, if you have access to them this time of year.

To be honest, not a lot of Grace Young's recipes look that inspiring to me.

BUT, that being said, are you only serving these dishes alone with rice? Because a dish like that might shine in a meal where you're serving a soup, a spicy dish, a braise, and maybe a pickle alongside. It's more of a counterpoint dish, isn't it? For two people, that's too much, but when I stir-fry dinner I always have a separate green or other veg and a pickle on the table as well, so I can take advantage of the contrasts. A plainer dish like that I'd pair with a spicy daikon pickle and maybe a soft vegetable? Braised pumpkin, say.

There are always leftovers, but they get bunged into a Lock n' lock for lunch.

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Did you use Chinese celery or western celery? I can't stand most celery in supermarkets in Canada, but the thin kind sold here is lovely. It's not thready at all, and it has a concentrated celery flavour.

I used Western celery: I didn't even think to pick up Chinese celery for this dish, I always have Western on hand. Maybe I'll try that, too.

What kind of cucumbers did you use? Japanese or Kirby cucumbers would provide better flavour than "English" cucumbers, if you have access to them this time of year.

The recipe specifically calls for English, so that's what I used. I guess I didn't communicate my criticism very well in that last post: when I said it was "bland" I didn't just mean "mildly flavored" I really meant "devoid of the flavors of its components." If I'm going to put pork, garlic, and cucumber in a dish, I want that dish to taste like pork, cucumber, and garlic. This one tasted like soy sauce. I don't mind "mildly-flavored" dishes, though I agree that sometimes they are best as a counterpoint. I still have not figured out how to add a third or fourth component to these meals without generating mounds of leftovers (or eating too much!).

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Stir-Fried Beef and Broccoli (p. 89)

This was much better than last night's dish: the flavors were bold but not overpowering, with several layers going on. The predominant taste is dark soy sauce, but the fermented black beans, broccoli, and beef all come through separately, giving variety to each bite.

Stir-Fried Beef and Broccoli.jpg

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Stir-Fried Chicken with Black Bean Sauce (p. 137)

This dish was another very good one: not perfect, perhaps (I would have liked a bit more heat), but reasonably well-balanced with a good range of flavors. And no sesame oil! I was starting to wonder if all Young's recipes had sesame oil in them to finish. Is that technique really that common in China?

Stir-Fried Chicken with Black Bean Sauce.jpg

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I rarely taste sesame oil at all in Jiangsu, outside of my own kitchen - I can't speak for other provinces, though. I think I've had it drizzled over the odd cold dish here and there, but most things seem to use peanut oil. However, that could be a cost factor. Home kitchens might feel free to use it, where restaurants may find it too expensive to be, uh, splashing out on.

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I think Grace is Cantonese therefore her recipes will be on the mild side. I will usually add heat to Cantonese dishes myself.

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I was starting to wonder if all Young's recipes had sesame oil in them to finish. Is that technique really that common in China?

Nope. That may be a diaspora Chinese thing.

And carrots are rarely seen in black bean sauce dishes.

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I hardly ever see carrots at all in Jiangsu. Are they common in Cantonese cooking, or is their use another diaspora thing?

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Stir-Fried Cumin-Scented Beef with Vegetables (p. 74)

Well, nakji, here is another recipe with carrots in it (though no black beans this time). I was quite surprised to see cumin in the dish as this is the first time I've seen it used in Chinese (Chinese-style?) cooking: it was really good, definitely a nice change of pace. The beef is cooked using a technique Young calls "jau yau" (she doesn't provide the Chinese characters, but says it translates to "passing through oil"). It amounts to deep-frying the beef at low temp for a few seconds before preparing the rest of the stir fry as normal. I was worried that the dish would wind up oily as a result, but fortunately it didn't. The beef wound up wonderfully succulent, although I think that Young has you add the tomatoes too early, mine basically disintegrated.

Stir-Fried Cumin-Scented Beef with Vegetables.jpg

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Chris- that oil technique sounds like "velveting"- does someone know if it is the same?

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According to the book, it's just like velveting, except without using any egg white.

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Velveting is not always with egg white. I have never used egg white or "passing through oil". For me, velveting is marinating meat with a little oil and cornstarch after seasoning. The effect is the same and less labour involved.

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The effect definitely isn't the same: several of the above recipes marinate the meat with cornstarch and oil and then stir fry. Tonight's technique resulted in a dramatically different texture.

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The beef is cooked using a technique Young calls "jau yau" (she doesn't provide the Chinese characters, but says it translates to "passing through oil"). It amounts to deep-frying the beef at low temp for a few seconds before preparing the rest of the stir fry as normal.

The Chinese characters for "jau yau" is: 走油

The purpose is to cook (slightly undercook) the meat, typically beef, chicken or pork, in hot oil before stir-frying with other vegetables and seasoning. I don't believe it is "low temperature" though. How low? It is not going to be simmer. The oil needs to be hot enough to cook (undercook) the meat within a minute or so.

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Stir-Fried Cumin-Scented Beef with Vegetables (p. 74)

Well, nakji, here is another recipe with carrots in it (though no black beans this time). I was quite surprised to see cumin in the dish as this is the first time I've seen it used in Chinese (Chinese-style?) cooking: it was really good, definitely a nice change of pace. The beef is cooked using a technique Young calls "jau yau" (she doesn't provide the Chinese characters, but says it translates to "passing through oil"). It amounts to deep-frying the beef at low temp for a few seconds before preparing the rest of the stir fry as normal. I was worried that the dish would wind up oily as a result, but fortunately it didn't. The beef wound up wonderfully succulent, although I think that Young has you add the tomatoes too early, mine basically disintegrated.

Stir-Fried Cumin-Scented Beef with Vegetables.jpg

Cumin seems to be a lot more common ingredient than carrots in Suzhou. It's often used with beef or lamb in Chinese cooking, am I right? My favourite Xinjiang place here uses it liberally on all its lamb dishes; I've also had an excellent beef with cumin in a Dongbei restaurant in Beijing. Ms. Dunlop provides a recipe for beef with cumin in Revolutionary Cuisine.

Further to hzrt8w's explanation on jau yau/zou you, from Yan Kit-so's "Classic Chinese Cookbook":

In Chinese cooking, there are two types of deep-frying. In one, the ingredients are deep-fried crisp and cooked through; in the other they are deep fried just long enough to seal in their juices. This is know as "going through the oil," and is a preparatory step to the sophisticated stir-frying invariably used in Chinese restaurants. Although it produces a more refined result in certain dishes, it is not essential for everyday cooking.

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The Chinese characters for "jau yau" is: 走油

The purpose is to cook (slightly undercook) the meat, typically beef, chicken or pork, in hot oil before stir-frying with other vegetables and seasoning. I don't believe it is "low temperature" though. How low? It is not going to be simmer. The oil needs to be hot enough to cook (undercook) the meat within a minute or so.

Sorry, when I said "low temperature" was thinking of it in comparison to a conventional deep fry (which I would consider to be circa 350°F oil) whereas the oil here was only 280°F. Obviously, "low temp" is not quite right! I cooked the beef maybe 20-30 seconds in the oil: it was not cooked through, but had mostly turned from pink to gray on the outside.

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Cantonese-Style Stir-Fried Pork with Chinese Broccoli (p. 77)

This recipe is attributed to Chef Danny Chan, and as Young points out, the professional chef's style shows. It felt like nearly every liquid ingredient was divided into two or three parts and formed into various mixtures to be added at different times along the way. In theory that is all well and good, but in reality, I just didn't find this dish to be worth the trouble. The flavor was no better than the half dozen other recipes in the book with the same basic seasonings. Part of the problem was my broccoli, though: it was almost completely flavorless... very disappointing. I also wished for more water chestnuts, but that's mostly just my love of water chestnuts talking, no real culinary insight.

Cantonese-Style Stir-Fried Pork with Chinese Broccoli.jpg

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I was quite surprised to see cumin in the dish as this is the first time I've seen it used in Chinese (Chinese-style?) cooking

Cumin is one of the few spices I can buy in the local supermarkets here in China. It is quite common. Hunan Cumin Beef is well known.

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