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Chinese cookbooks


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I agree that the recipes in Young's first opus is somewhat narrowly limited to the Cantonese school, more importantly the Cantonese style of home cooking. But I think that "Wisdom....." is much more than a cookbook, for even though I already know how to make the majority of the dishes in the book, I still enjoyed the book immensely. There is a "feel" for the culture, heritage and family history and family idiosyncrasies that the author conveys which should be, and is, enlightening and edifying, even to the "round eyes". Not your "tsp. this and tbsp. that" type of cookbook, thank gawd.

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I may be selling the average round-eye home cook short (especially since this is eG, afterall), but while I absolutely love "Wisdom of the Chinese Kitchen" it's not something I'd recommend to someone who was just learning to cook "Chinese" food from an outsider's perspective.  For starters, it's range is very narrow, it's nearly all Cantonese recipes, and has a good deal of tonic/soup recipes I'm guessing the beginning cook wouldn't want to mess around with, since they're cooked more for health then good taste (not that they all taste bad).  I've given tons (ok, at least 5) copies of this book as a gift, but in all but one case, I've given it to ABCs/2nd gen people who grew up with a Cantonese granny but didn't learn enough of her tricks. 

regards,

trillium

I agree that the recipes in Young's first opus is somewhat narrowly limited to the Cantonese school, more importantly the Cantonese style of home cooking. But I think that "Wisdom....." is much more than a cookbook, for even though I already  know how to make the majority of the dishes in the book, I still enjoyed the book immensely. There is a "feel" for the culture, heritage and family history and family idiosyncrasies that the author conveys which should be, and is, enlightening and edifying, even to the "round eyes". Not your "tsp. this and tbsp. that" type of cookbook, thank gawd.

I agree with both of you about Wisdom. I just wanted to add, before you get in a bidding war on ebay for wisdom; you may want to check out Amazons price under the used ones. Most of their books are like new and they have wisdom for 8.95. I paid 10 on an ebay auction.

I'm also a cookbook junkie. My copy of Breath of a Wok arrived yesterday and even though

I've just skimmed it I can see that this is going to be dog-eared in no time. I have a crazy number of Chinese cookbooks. But there are few that I can actually say that I've constantly come back to- or used except for a recipe or two -not even Grace Youngs first book. That will not be the case with this one. It has

the best qualities of the wei chuan books, beautiful pictures of how the completed dishes should look; pictures and explanations of the ingredients themselves; wonderful photography as well as terrific recipes, mainstream as well as unusual. As with her 1st book it is filled with tips and techniques. I think this, along with Barbara Tropp's Modern Art of Chinese Cooking (which I have had for over 2 decades) will wind up being another classic. I can't wait till I have more time on this weekend, to immerse myself in all the stories, and history behind the dishes and people.

I recieved my copy of The Breath of a Wok from Amazon. They are selling from about 22 dollars and even in their used they have copies new. Also, Jessica's biscuit (ecookbooks.com) has it for $21.

I normally buy used from Ebay but this is the kind of book it is too hard to wait for. Have Christmas early! :biggrin:

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This is not actually a cookbook, but in looking through my shelf this weekend, I was reminded of a fabulous book Jo-Mel gave to me that is now out of print: The Scrutable Feast by Dorothy Farris Lapidus. This book, from 1977, provides information, translations and transliterations to permit the non-Chinese speaker to order authentic meals in Chinese restaurants. No photographs, but a lot of interesting information. I have stolen the back cover art for my avatar and the phrase from the back cover for my signature. Love this book; wish I could find it to give to others.

"Life is Too Short to Not Play With Your Food" 

My blog: Fun Playing With Food

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Has anyone else read Madhur Jaffrey's review of "Breath" in the most recent Saveur? Very interesting. The impression I got was that Madhur really liked most of the recipes, but she found wok hay elusive, and ends with a question for Grace Young about whether or not it can really be accomplished at home on a normal stove. I'd really like to take a look at the book... like saluki I usually wait to buy mine as remainders or used, but this one is very tempting to buy right away!

regards,

trillium

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Wok hei is that ephemeral, elusive will o' the wisp that a lot of cooks strive for (those who can't ever make the achievement say that it's an old wive's tale :rolleyes: ) It is achievable on home ranges, providing that the (gas) burner can give you at least 14,000 btus. With an electric range let the large burner get red hot and use a flat bottomed wok, or better still, use a fry or saute' pan . Regardless of stove type, let the pan or wok get to the smoke stage before adding oil and aromatics.

The secrets to getting wok hei are:

... to cook enough food to match the size of the pan/wok. The goal here is to

maintain a high heat level. A dish should be no more than 10-12ounces, ie:

Chinese family meal portions. Food must be cut properly.

... Cook ingredients in stages; meat, then veg., then combine and thicken

lightly. Blanch ingredients in oil or water, and use a little more oil than

customary. The oil should be of the highest quality and aromatic, eg:

peanut oil.

...keep moisture to an absolute minimum.

...to enjoy the breath of the wok, eat the food asap out of the wok/pan.

Oh, the heat that you are trying to get and maintain should be a little "scary". :shock:

Edited by Ben Hong (log)
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Wok hei is that ephemeral, elusive will o' the wisp that a lot of cooks strive for (those who can't ever make the achievement say that it's an old wive's tale  :rolleyes: ) It is achievable on home ranges, providing that the (gas) burner can give you at least 14,000 btus. With an electric range let the large burner get red hot and use a flat bottomed wok, or better still, use a fry or saute' pan . Regardless of stove type, let the pan or wok get to the smoke stage before adding oil and aromatics. ...

Oh, the heat that you are trying to get and maintain should be a little "scary". :shock:

I wanted to add that there is another way to get wok hei at home: check out the Patio Wok.

I bought one a year or so ago (for, I should say, about $100 less than the current price) and it has made it clear why I could never get wok hei before. Turned on low, I produce a heat that is perfect for most wok dishes -- and it's far hotter than anything I've ever gotten on any gas or electric stove inside. All you need is a propane tank and space out of doors, and you can not only get wok hei as a matter of course -- you can also get "burned-the-bejeezus-out-of-dinner" hei without too much trouble. :blink:

The patio wok is a good idea if you want the heat but can't stand to put it in your kitchen. Also, if you lack real hooded exhaust (as I do), it's a lot less of a pain to cook with a wok outside, even if it's a bit chilly.

Chris Amirault

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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You don't have spend almost three hundred dollars for something called a "Patio Wok Burner". Go to any hardware store or Wally World and you should be able to pick up a burner for turkey fryers for about $60. Canadian. The model I have been using for the past 5 years (on my deck) puts out an eyelash singeing 90,000 BTUs.

Be aware though, that cooking on that dragon requires that you have all your sh*t together and that you have your procedures down pat. There is no time for checking recipes or cutting up missing ingredients.

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You don't have spend almost three hundred dollars for something called a "Patio Wok Burner". Go to any hardware store or Wally World and you should be able to pick up a burner for turkey fryers for about $60. Canadian. The model I have been using for the past 5 years (on my deck) puts out an eyelash singeing 90,000 BTUs.

Well, there you go! I should say that when I shopped around for one of these, they were far too low for my height (and cost quite a bit more), and the PW made more sense. But Ben's is a frugal tip.

Be aware though, that cooking on that dragon requires that you have all your sh*t together and that you have your procedures down pat. There is no time for checking recipes or cutting up missing ingredients.

Yeah, it is a machine that requires Martha- (or Barbara-Tropp-) like obsessiveness about mise en place. It's best to practice using such high heat on a bunch of sliced onions or other relatively cheap vegetables. I've had to go back inside and mince more garlic because I burned my first three or four batches to bitter black.

Chris Amirault

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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To attain Wok Hei in your cooking, in addition to getting a fast burner and Ben's points, let me add (from a timing perspective):

- Burn the wok to read hot

- Scoop in cooking oil, heat til fuming

- Add aromatic as the recipe calls for, usually garlic, onion, ginger, shallot, etc.

- Add the sauces as the recipe calls for, e.g. chili bean sauce, brown bean sauce, black bean sauce, etc. You really need to cook the sauce for a few seconds.

- Quickly dash in 1-2 tsp of white vinegar or cooking wine. Tilt and toss the wok, let the flame from the burner to propage on to the surface of the wok and flame the sauces mix. Be careful as the flame may go up to 2 feet high or more especially if you add large quantity of vinegar or wine. It is not for the faint of heart. And sure it is advisable to do this outdoor as most of our home kitchen fans are not designed to extract this kind of fume.

- Quickly add your stir-fry vegetables or meat (pre-velveted) to finish the dish.

Most of the stir-fry dishes in restaurants are done this way.

W.K. Leung ("Ah Leung") aka "hzrt8w"
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To attain Wok Hei in your cooking, in addition to getting a fast burner and Ben's points, let me add (from a timing perspective):

- Burn the wok to read hot

- Scoop in cooking oil, heat til fuming

- Add aromatic as the recipe calls for, usually garlic, onion, ginger, shallot, etc.

- Add the sauces as the recipe calls for, e.g. chili bean sauce, brown bean sauce, black bean sauce, etc.  You really need to cook the sauce for a few seconds.

- Quickly dash in 1-2 tsp of white vinegar or cooking wine.  Tilt and toss the wok, let the flame from the burner to propage on to the surface of the wok and flame the sauces mix.  Be careful as the flame may go up to 2 feet high or more especially if you add large quantity of vinegar or wine.  It is not for the faint of heart.  And sure it is advisable to do this outdoor as most of our home kitchen fans are not designed to extract this kind of fume.

- Quickly add your stir-fry vegetables or meat (pre-velveted) to finish the dish.

Most of the stir-fry dishes in restaurants are done this way.

The cover picture on "Chinese Cooking" - (Zhaohua Publishing House, Beijing 1983) depicts that wonderful flare-up. When people in my classes ask about that special Wok Qi -- I show them that picture and tell them that if they can do that -- they've got it!

The chef in the picture is very nonchalant looking, and it appears as tho he is holding the wok with his hand and a rag! I don't see any handle! The flame is so high and full, that is shines on his face. Cool!

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Wow, you guys are making Wok Hey sound mysterious and dangerous, like only James Bond could do it, and maybe only if Q gave him a special piece of equipment that might cost hundreds of dollars!

It doesn't need to be this intimidating. You can do it on the gas burner of a conventional stove. If you have one power burner that boils water faster than the others, that is the obvious choice--this is typically 14-15KBTU. A regular burner can also work, but you may find it helps a lot to take the burner grate off and cradle the wok in the metal collar, with the collar INVERTED (WIDE SIDE UP) so that the wok can get closer to the flame.

Wok cooking needs a hotter pan than most Western cooks are used to. The major obstacle here is learning to have the patience to let the pan get hot enough before you start. The actual time for this depends on your stove, your pan, etc. but the temptation to start prematurely is always there, in part because you have probably put all the ingredients next to the stove, mise-en-place, and psychologically you're just to eager to get the show on the road. Force yourself to use a timer if you have a hard time with this.

Barara Tropp describes the sensory clues to look for to know your pan is hot enough, in Modern Art of Chinese Cooking. The main thing to look for is oil vapor just beginning to smoke from your still-completely-empty wok. You have not added any oil yet--the wisps come from some of the residual oil on there from when you seasoned it/re-seasoned it the last time you used it. (Seasoning is not difficult, see excellent instructions at www.wokshop.com.).

Not sure if there was a typo upthread, but the wok does not need to be "red hot". This is not blacksmithing.

Only when the pan is hot enough do you add the oil--hot pan cold oil food won't stick. After swirling around wok, immediately add salt and aromatics. You may want to chop garlic, ginger, etc into larger-than usual pieces when you first start out--less likely to burn, and a nice precaution until you get the hang of how quick you have to move to cook this way.

Getting the flame to leap into the pan is very theatrical, but totally unnecessary to get authentic tasting Chinese food.

One thing you should know. Frying at this temperature produces a lot of airborne oil particles. Wok Hey=Wok Air. An oily film will quickly build up on everything if precautions are not taken. Open a door or window while cooking if you do not have a hood that exhausts to the outside. Cover the wall behind your stove with foil, and use disposable foil liners for your burners. While cooking, do what you can to keep the oil-laden air from the kitchen from circulating to other parts of the house.

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Gee, thanks for rephrasing what hzrt8w, chrisamirault and I posted on the procedure.  :blink:     Durian, you are one perspicacious dude. :wacko:

Maybe true... but for wok-learners, all your comments; said in slightly different ways are helpful. :smile:

I read Jaffrey's "Breath" review in the October Saveur as well. Along with this thread, it has really piqued my interest to check it out.

Thanks all-- and welcome Durian.

Edited by ludja (log)

"Under the dusty almond trees, ... stalls were set up which sold banana liquor, rolls, blood puddings, chopped fried meat, meat pies, sausage, yucca breads, crullers, buns, corn breads, puff pastes, longanizas, tripes, coconut nougats, rum toddies, along with all sorts of trifles, gewgaws, trinkets, and knickknacks, and cockfights and lottery tickets."

-- Gabriel Garcia Marquez, 1962 "Big Mama's Funeral"

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Durian was right in pointing out that you don't really need macho-sized burners. My wife gets good results from the standard-issue gas range that's been in our flat since long before I moved in 27 years ago. She does pretty much what Durian described, using a cheapo cold-rolled steel wok. It takes it a little longer to get the wok hot enough, and you have to limit portion sizes to keep from cooling down the wok. (She typically cooks 5 dishes to feed three, with a little left over.)

We did install a hood vent with a fan (highly recommended!)

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Not sure if there was a typo upthread, but the wok does not need to be "red hot".  This is not blacksmithing.

.....

Getting the flame to leap into the pan is very theatrical, but totally unnecessary to get authentic tasting Chinese food.

Saying it's "red hot" was just a figure of speech, not to be taken too literally. We all know that even the strongest burner cannot heat the wok to such temperature.

I agree that you can achieve similar result with gas burners at home (not sure about electric ones) if you heat the wok/pan patiently enough. However, I do believe the flame, large or small, theatrical or symbolic, does make a difference in producing that elusive "wok hei". I think the reason is the flame caramelizes the aromatics along with the sauces and captures such "smokey" flavor, if you will, in the food. The way to light up such a flame is by dashing in the vinegar or cooking wine or similar alcohol or acid fluid onto a hot surface. It instantly evaporates and splashes many small oil droplets in the air, which catch on fire. This may seem an insignificant step, which I did not see other posters mentioned in pursuit of "wok hei", but it makes a world of difference. You can experiment with your cooking, one with a dash of vinegar/wine to catch a small flame, one without, and compare the difference in taste on the final product.

Edited by hzrt8w (log)
W.K. Leung ("Ah Leung") aka "hzrt8w"
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  • 3 weeks later...

I don't have a really good favourite Chinese cookbook, though that may change as I took browniebaker's advice and placed an order for a couple books off her recommended list, I would like to share a worst cookbook of all-time Chinese or otherwise.

Someone, as a gift, gave me the Australian Woman's Weekly Oriental Cookbook. It is mainly Chinese, and I use that term loosly inconjuntion with this book, and the other half is an assortment of Japanese, Thai, Malay, and Vietnamese. The final chapter outlines on how to throw a "very traditional and very special Chinese buffet in your own home" featuring the most westernized dishes that vaguely resemble their original Chinese dish.

I should post a couple of the recipes to illustrate how bad it is but that might infringe on copyright laws.

EDIT: Here is a link to it on Amazon

http://www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos/ASIN/0...4032589-9592613

Edited by itch22 (log)

-- Jason

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I have an awful lot of Chinese cookbooks and often people in my cooking classes ask me to recommend one or two. But one time -- someone mentioned her favorite ----- Betty Crocker's Chinese cookbook and asked me what I thought about it. I had no answer! The snob in me probably wouldn't give it a fair review!

What are the recipes like in that Australian book?

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Some thinks that if you put sesame oil and soya sauce to your cooking, it automatically makes it Chinese food. How silly.

Olive oil, garlic and basil makes it Italian?

Cumin, onion and pepper makes it Mexican?

Some puts in sliced chicken breasts on top of a bed of romaine lettuce, drip in some sesame oil, soy sauce and vinegar, sprinkle on some fried mung bean threads and call it a "Chinese Chicken Salad". The poor general public thinks that this is a dish from China... isn't it? [Answer: Chinese (traditionally) don't eat salad.]

W.K. Leung ("Ah Leung") aka "hzrt8w"
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Someone, as a gift, gave me the Australian Woman's Weekly Oriental Cookbook.  It is mainly Chinese, and I use that term loosly inconjuntion with this book, and the other half is an assortment of Japanese, Thai, Malay, and Vietnamese

I should post a couple of the recipes to illustrate how bad it is but that might infringe on copyright laws.

I have several Australian Womens Weekly mags and have used recipes from them. I don't have the Oriental one but I do have the Chinese Cookbook #2. Have never used the recipes. It was just for my collection to use ...sometime.

After this post, I looked through some of the recipes. There are ones that seemed traditional, but also some "adjusted" ones. The photos are very colourful. There are step by step photos on how to, and a glossary at the end.

The AWW one I use the most is the Finger Foods one.

Dejah

www.hillmanweb.com

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After this post, I looked through some of the recipes. There are ones that seemed traditional, but also some "adjusted" ones. The photos are very colourful.  There are step by step photos on how to, and a glossary at the end.

Do you mean in the one I linked to on Amazon, or the Chinese Cookbook #2? May have been different authors.

-- Jason

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My order for "Chinese Cuisine" published by Wei-Chuan Publishing (bi-lingual edition) came today. I read it cover to cover and thoroughly enjoyed it and have already put it into use. The only dissatisfying thing is it makes references to other recipes from other books from the line. I guess I'll have to buy all of them now! :biggrin:

-- Jason

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  • 8 months later...

I've been looking for some good cookbooks with authentic regional Chinese recipes.

I picked up "Land of Plenty" by Fuschia Dunlop some time ago for Szechuan recipes and it's been pretty good. But it's been tough finding cookbooks of other regional cuisines, especially the more obscure ones.

I'm particularly interested in Shanghai, Hunan, and Chiuchow recipes.

Any suggestions as to where to look?

Also, Wikipedia lists the following as Chinese cuisines:

* Chinese Buddhist cuisine

* Northwestern Chinese cuisine

* Jiang-Huai cuisine

* Yunnan cuisine

* Northeastern Chinese cuisine

* Cantonese cuisine

* Chiuchow cuisine

* Hakka cuisine

* Hunan cuisine

* Chinese Islamic cuisine

* Mandarin cuisine should be Northern Chinese cuisine

* Shanghai cuisine

* Szechuan cuisine

* Taiwanese cuisine

* Fujian cuisine

* Hainan cuisine

* Nanyang Chinese cuisine

* Historical Chinese cuisine

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_cuisine

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You might want to see if you can find a copy of "Chinese Regional Cooking" by Kenneth Lo. It is probably out of print since My copy was published in 1979.

Martin Yan has one too, "A Culinary Journey Through China". You should be able to find it more easily.

Edited by BarbaraY (log)
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