No matter how many cookbooks you own, there are certain ones that you repeatedly reach for. They are your ‘go-to’ books written by your ‘go-to’ authors. These are women and men that you’ve relied upon for recipes that work, technical guidance, and/or compelling stories.
Such writers comprise your culinary brain trust. When you have a cooking quandary, you ask, “What does X have say about that?”
Grace Young is part of my culinary brain trust. Her first cookbook, The Wisdom of the Chinese Kitchen (1999), was a wonderful work on her upbringing in San Francisco’s Chinatown, her family stories and rich heritage. The spot-on recipe collection reflected her Cantonese background, spanning traditional and modern preparations.
My Wok Conversion
What struck me most about Wisdom was Grace’s intense focus on woks. She recounted her surprise discovery that many contemporary Chinese cooks use skillets instead of woks – an act of convenience that she questioned with more than just a hint of disdain. I was so taken by her passion (she was downright uppity!) for wok cooking that I went out and bought a carbon steel wok.
By the time Grace’s second book came out in 2004, I was hooked on Grace’s kitchen wisdom. I got a copy of The Breath of a Wok and took in all the different ways you can cook with a wok, stir-frying, deep-frying, steaming, poaching, you name it.
Grace had firmly set her foot on a path to inform the public on the usefulness of Chinese wok cookery. She traveled with a set of woks and digital photos of traditional techniques collected from her research. She collected recipes from Chinese cooks all over for The Breadth of a Wok , a beautifully photographed book. Grace's cookbooks have received numerous award recognition for stellar research and writing.
Wok Woman Warrior
Grace is calm yet feisty when she speaks of wok cooking. She’s a determined woman warrior of the wok. She writes because she has something to say.
A few weeks ago, I received Grace’s new book, Stir-Frying to the Sky’s Edge. It was obvious that her journey was multipurpose. Consider the lyrical title that inspires you to energetically stir-fry to the heavens.
But don't be fooled by the poetic title. Stir-Frying to The Sky’s Edge is full of practical and social purpose. Grace wants to inform. She wants you to cook. Within the 300 plus pages you’ll find:
Handy tips and helpful photographs: For the first time, I understood that my beat-up looking Joyce Chen wok had developed the proper patina. Page 23 offers images of a wok in different stages – as if to say, "You are not alone. Persist and it will pay off!” I struggle with rice and noodles sticking to my wok but Stir-Frying to the Sky’s Edge has pointers on how to wok those ingredients the smart way. (Hint: Listen for constant sizzling!)
Humor: Grace pulls you into her stir-frying obsession with levity. Opening sections like “Wok Facial Scrub” and “Wok Envy” grab your attention and frame the discussion on how to wash a wok and the fact that “hippest pan is the one that has been around for two thousand years.”
Global recipes: Chinese people reside all over the world. Stir-Frying to the Sky’s Edge is also about the Chinese diaspora. There are hyphenated Chinese recipes that reflect stir-frying from Peru, Burma, and Trinidad. Regional Chinese cooking is included, with little known Hakka dishes mixed in with preparations from Shanghai and Hunan. There are also plenty of stir-frying recipes familiar to Americans, including classic cashew chicken and beef with tomatoes – ubiquitous items on Chinese restaurants in the U.S.
History and social commentary: Grace attacks the history of chop suey with fervor. Her discussion of how chop suey became associated with the American concept of a stir-fry (and hence, Chinese food itself) is a mini-lesson on the Chinese experience in America. She flashes attitude, as she should for someone waging a small war to get people cooking and eating well.
Grace spent 3 1/2 years on this book and it shows. She wants you to understand, appreciate and master the ancient art of Chinese wok cooking. Stir-Frying to the Sky’s Edge will help you achieve all of that and more. It will become a go-to cookbook in your kitchen.
Cooking the book: I have prepared a number of recipes from Grace’s book, including . . .