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Stir-Frying to the Sky’s Edge

Between Santa and sales, I always wind up with new cookbooks at Christmas. This year, having met the lovely Grace Young, author of The Wisdom of the Chinese Kitchen: Classic Family Recipes for Celebration and Healing and The Breath of a Wok: Unlocking the Spirit of Chinese Wok Cooking Through Recipes and Lore, at the IACP conference in June, Stir-Frying to the Sky’s Edge: The Ultimate Guide to Mastery, with Authentic Recipes and Stories was on my list.

Winner of the 2011 James Beard Foundation Award for International Cooking, Stir-Frying to the Sky’s Edge contains over 100 classic stir-fry recipes from the great Cantonese stir-fry masters to the culinary customs of Sichuan, Hunan, Shanghai, Beijing, Fujian, Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, Singapore, and Malaysia, as well as other countries around the world.

Its title comes from the old expression, “one wok runs to the sky’s edge”, meaning “one who uses the wok becomes master of the cooking world.” And as the wok user becomes master of the cooking world, so does he become master of the stir-fry, one of the greatest techniques of Chinese cookery.

With dishes such as Kung Pao Chicken, Stir-Fried Beef and Broccoli, Chicken Lo Mein with Ginger Mushrooms, and Dry-Fried Sichuan Beans, the book is perfectly suited for my new years’ resolution to eat healthier, with more veggies, less bread and dairy. Stir-fries are traditionally lean and fresh, with complex flavors, and yet are quickly made — perfect for weeknight meals. This January, our menus will include Grace’s Chinese Jamaican Jerk Chicken Fried Rice, Chinese Trinidadian Stir-Fried Shrimp with Rum, Chinese Burmese Chili Chicken, and Chinese American Shrimp with Lobster Sauce.

Besides the recipes (and delicious images), the book offers techniques—everything from how to choose, season, and care for a wok (and the best skillet alternative); meat slicing techniques, how to select and handle Asian vegetables, the basics of marinades and shortcuts for otherwise labor-intensive preparations. Fascinating personal stories illustrate how stir-frying is not just a cooking technique but a vital element of China’s rich culture. I’ll be enjoying Stir-Frying to the Sky’s Edge not only in the kitchen, but on my bedside table for nighttime reading.

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