Grace Young wants you to cook with a wok. Through travels and interviews, Young (who has a few cookbooks under her belt and is a contributing editor at Saveur magazine) witnessed home cooks in China and Taiwan abandoning woks for nonstick pans. Meanwhile most Asian Americans don’t even know how to use the woks that have been passed down from their parents and grandparents. (Guilty as charged—I am Chinese American and didn’t own or use a wok until recently.)
But as Young explains, woks are so versatile: They can steam, smoke, poach, boil, deep-fry, pan-fry, and stir-fry food. A wok’s wide, carbon-steel bowl can cook food in minutes, requires less oil than most pans, and is a safer alternative to nonstick Teflon pans. Young’s latest cookbook, Stir-Frying to the Sky’s Edge, touts the benefits of wok cooking, with comprehensive details on purchasing, seasoning, and using a wok. Nuggets of good advice pop up throughout the book, such as to never crowd your wok and to dry vegetables properly if you want them to stir-fry instead of steam. Substitutes are given for some of the harder-to-find Asian ingredients (there is also is an excellent pantry section in the beginning with descriptions and pictures). And Young gives useful timing tips and descriptions throughout the cooking process to guide a wok novice.
The accompanying recipes show a global influence: Malaysian-style stir-fried turmeric shrimp uses fresh curry leaves, and Chinese Burmese chili chicken incorporates sweet paprika and ground cumin—spices not often seen in the Chinese kitchen. The stir-fried ginger tomato beef recipe leapt out at me immediately: It sounded just like one of my favorite recipes from my grandmother. Plus Young’s tip to use canned tomatoes instead of out-of-season ones means I can make this dish after tomatoes’ summer peak. I prepared it, adding scrambled eggs to the finished product just like my grandmother did. Not as good as Grandma’s, but still quite good.
The other recipe I tried, Hoisin Explosion Chicken, incorporates a unique Chinese technique called velveting (watch a video about it), which helps keep the meat moist during the cooking process. As for the recipe’s name, it is a taste explosion: Sweet, salty, and spicy flavors come together with a quick flip in a raging-hot wok. Young has me convinced: It’s time to rock the wok.