Media, Tools

Can One Cookbook Author have Two Magnum Opus’s?

In 2015, Kenji Lopez-Alt published The Food Lab, arguably the best and most comprehensive science-heavy cookbook since the five-volume Modernist Cuisine came out in 2005. I’ve read both tomes cover-to-cover and they have confirmed most but changed some of my cooking techniques. Now Kenji has done it again with The Wok. I love cooking with the wok and have written about it often and as recently as last month when I gifted a hand-forged carbon steel wok to a nephew as a wedding present.

My rack of Japanese hand-forged knives has never been used to make Suchi, there are no recipes here from The Netherlands to cook in my three or four Dutch ovens and I have never drained tofu in my China cap. I use these tools because they’re good at their tasks. So too the Chinese wok. Really good. If this book were just a collection of tested Asian recipes, I’d pass it by, as I prefer and am trained on French/Mediterranean/Western fare. The wok works well there.

Buy this cookbook if only for Kenji’s page-marked tabs, labeled Sidebar, Knife Skills, Experiments and Charts. Sidebars address ‘how to’ matters and tutorials such as what to buy, wok cooking on electric stoves and the use of MSG; Knife Skills address and picture how to prep product for the wok; Experiments include product and technique tests and comparisons; and Charts are charts. All good tutorials for the home cook and aspiring wok master. The first 70 pages are loaded with this “must know” stuff. I spent over an hour reading and marking the goodies therein. I’ll read these pages again before setting the book aside.

The recipes, well presented, thought out and described, are worthy of more of my time. But for my conceit that I don’t read recipes, I write them (or at least I used to).

A most influential book of my youth was “How to Read a Book” by Mortimore Adler. In it he says if you find one good idea in a book, it’s a great book. By that measure, The Wok, Recipes and Techniques qualifies. Here are the top five: 1. I took home his idea to use my kitchen torch to compensate in part for wok cooking on electric; 2. the author’s rationale to add soy sauce and other liquids to the hot perimeter of the wok while cooking and not to the center over product makes good culinary sense and I’ll do it that way henceforth; 3. Use two side-by-side electric burners. one hot the other less hot to cook on electric; 4. Cover your smoke alarm with a shower cap while wok cooking; 5. As the first step, wash and squeeze dry raw pork and chicken before marinating and cooking it.

I have no idea what Kenji will write next, but his Food Lab and The Wok are all you need . . .

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