In the introduction to the spectacular "Breath of a Wok," author Grace Young writes that the wok "is the iron thread that connects two thousand years of Chinese culinary history." On a mission to give readers a written and visual document of the old-world culture built solidly on the wok, Grace Young and award-winning photographer Alan Richardson set off to explore the by-roads of China in search of wok hay, the mysterious breath of the wok. Her text is so respectful of the traditions and people who preceded her, so full of true understanding of the subtleties of Chinese cuisine that she illuminates the breath of the wok with clarity and ease, with her own poetic sensibility. Young's work is so inspirational that memories of bad takeout Chinese food are banished, replaced by a desire to rush into the kitchen with one of her authentic recipes to make one's own wok breathe as well. Combined with Alan Richardson's beautiful photography, of food and of people, The Breath of a Wok is a true evocation of the Chinese spirit, and a beautifully guided journey into China's food, past and present. Simply said, Grace Young is the poet of Chinese food, and her pen is magical.
Young divides the book into four sections: Selection, Seasoning, and Care; The Art of Stir-Frying; Eight Treasured Tastes; Essentials. The recipes are incorporated into these chapters. Though the information she gives is solid and practical, these are not arbitrary how-to sections. Young speaks of reverence for the wok, of the 'virtuous' wok, so steady and utilitarian, of the wok as a musical instrument, singing and sizzling, of wok hay, the breath of a wok. Within are stories, musings, instructions, and recipes that represent the best of Chinese cooking. Subtle yet simple, they reveal the true spirit of Chinese cooking.
In the pages of book, Young recalls asking a chef why he cooked with a wok and not a skillet. He answered, "imagine if you were asked to write Chinese calligraphy with a pen rather than a calligraphy brush. Certainly every character can be written with a pen, but the writing lacks grace and beauty. A calligraphy brush allows artistic expression that isn't possible with a pen." We suspect that Young has written this book with a calligraphy brush.
The recipes are gleaned from friends, from family, from chefs and experts such as Cecilia Chiang, Florence Lin, and Ken Hom. The author Amy Tan makes a spectacular appearance preparing New Year's Dumplings with her own family. Learning from Young's expertise, we discover that the wok is not only for stir-frying, but also for smoking, pan-frying, braising, boiling, poaching, steaming, and deep-frying. Among the recipes are such dishes as Kung Pao Chicken and Moo Shoo Pork, Scallop Siu Mai Spring Moon Dumplings, Sweet and Sour Chicken, Sizzling Pepper and Salt Shrimp, Three Teacup Chicken, and Scallion and Ginger Lo Mein.
The photography by Alan Richardson speaks to the poetry of Chinese cooking as well. Young and Richardson are exceptional collaborators.
Also included are menus for family-style meals and for Chinese New Year festivities, an illustrated glossary and a source guide to purchasing ingredients, woks, and accessories
About the author: Grace Young is a three-time IACP winning writer and the recipient of the Jane Grigson Award for distinguished scholarship and the World Food Media Award. Her work has appeared in Gastronomica, Gourmet, and Saveur, where she is also a contributing editor. A native of California, she now lives in New York City.
Awards for Breath of a Wok:
IACP Le Cordon Bleu International Cookbook Award
IACP Jane Grigson Cookbook Award for Distinguished Scholarship
World Food Media Awards’ Best Food Book
Please also read review of Stir-Frying to the Sky's Edge.