March 2022: The Wok! And All the Ingredients To Cook From It

March 17, 2022

March 2022: The Wok! And All the Ingredients To Cook From It

An Instant Classic

Greetings, Friends of The Mala Market!

We're guessing that many of you are as excited as we are that The Wok has finally arrived. But even if you're not yet a wok convert, you will be after reading J. Kenji Lopez-Alt's new masterwork. It looks at the techniques of wok cooking from every approach and angle and offers up rigorously tested, science-based recipes from several Asian cuisines.

The majority of those recipes (at least 60%) are from China, the birthplace of the wok, and—much to our delight—the majority of those are Sichuan, since Kenji has the same weakness for ma and la that you and I do. (Though I'd say a close second are recipes from Chinatown, as the author pays tribute to the American Chinese food he grew up on.)

To celebrate the release, we are offering a 10% discount on all ingredients purchased at the same time you purchase The Wok. Use discount code THEWOK at checkout to receive the 10% discount when you purchase the book. Remember that you must purchase The Wok to receive the discount on other products. 

Just so you know, the Mala Market products he recommends by name in the book are our Sichuan pepper and Sichuan/Guizhou chilies. He also raves about our roasted rapeseed cooking oil (caiziyou)—though I'm sorry to report that it is currently out of stock until our latest shipment is freed from its long stay at the Long Beach port. Sign up on the product page to be the first to hear when it is back in stock.

But the shop is mostly full, and since Kenji cites The Mala Market as a top online resource for Chinese ingredients in general, you'll find just about everything you need to make the book's Chinese recipes. 

We've been cooking from the 658-page The Wok nonstop since it arrived, so read on to hear about our own experiences and recommendations. 

Wok On! (As Kenji says now that he's a Dad),

🌶Taylor & Fongchong 🌶

The Wok (Cookbook by J. Kenji Lopez-Alt)
The Wok (Cookbook by J. Kenji Lopez-Alt)

J. Kenji Lopez-Alt, author of 2015's blockbuster, science-forward cookbook The Food Lab, is known for focussing on the "how"—recipes that have been tested from every conceivable angle and method—and the "why"—scientific explanations for why this method or ingredient or pan works best. For pan, the answer is very often a wok, which is why he has written this cookbook.

Kenji strives to walk a line between authenticity and accessibility. In practice this means that if you have an authentic Asian pantry—and we can certainly help you with the Chinese ingredients!—then you can open this book to almost any page and make the recipe that very night. 

Premium brands of the sauces he notes as essential for wok cooking in the book:

Dry aromatics he recommends:

Yes, you can purchase this book from any number of outlets, from Amazon to Costco to local bookstores, but only at The Mala Market can you get the premium Chinese ingredients needed to cook from it at a celebratory 10% discount when you purchase the book from us. 

Simply add this book to your cart and use discount code THEWOK at checkout. 

Stir-fried rice cakes

Go Ahead and Improvise!

Forgive the bad lighting and messy plating of this dish—it was just dinner, not a photo shoot—but I can't help sharing the photo because it illustrates so well one of the major points of Kenji's book: Once you understand the technique for wok-cooking a particular dish or ingredient, you are free to riff! 

I made the first couple recipes I tried from this book just as written. The easy Shanghai scallion noodles were superb, and the gong bao shrimp with cashews taught me a new method for brining shrimp to insure a moist and snappy texture. 

Stir-fried rice cakes, chao nian gao, is a dish from Shanghai that I have never made. The recipe in The Wok is actually for the Korean version of stir-fried rice cakes, but I decided to tackle it, because I had never stir-fried rice cakes of any kind and needed to learn the basic techniques for prepping and cooking them. 

I purchased Korean rice cakes—the thin, oval disks used in tteokguk—which are very similar to Chinese nian gao, but I did not have all the other ingredients his recipe called for. So I improvised! 

I had the main veg components of cabbage and snap peas; I substituted our dried shiitake mushroom (aka premium flower mushroom) for his fresh ones; substituted a small bit of Sichuan sausage for his ground pork and shrimp; and omitted the pine nuts (though I would certainly have included them if I had them). 

So this is not his recipe, but it is his technique. And it was absolutely delicious. Those rice cakes were perfectly moist and chewy and charred—I accomplished what Kenji describes as "cooking down rice cakes in soy sauce until their edges crisp and the soy sauce forms a lightly charred glaze." Next time, I might take them even further into Sichuan territory, perhaps adding a bit of Pixian douban and fermented black beans. And whatever veg I have in the fridge. Because now I know the technique!

And there's one other point this photo makes. That is my Shanghai-made, hand-hammered, super-seasoned Cen wok in the background, but as Kenji points out in the book, you don't need a wok by a famous maker, you just need a 14-inch, flat-bottom, carbon-steel wok that you can get for a small investment at Asian grocers or from The Wok Shop, and you are on your way. You don't need a fancy wok, but you do need a wok, because it's the only pan for real stir-fries (read why in the book), and is also ideal for deep-frying, braising and steaming.

And, yes, you can stir-fry in a wok on electric or induction burners, and the book tells you how.
Soup Base for Mala Hot Pot (Sichuan Hot Pot, Mala Huo Guo, Mala Tang, Chuan Chuan Xiang)
Soup Base for Mala Hot Pot (Sichuan Hot Pot, Mala Huo Guo, Mala Tang, Chuan Chuan Xiang)

Our popular Chongqing hot pot base is back in stock! Hot pot is a year-round affair in Sichuan, and there's no reason it shouldn't be here too. We like to set it up and feast outside on spring and summer nights. (The best hot pots and butane burners are cord-free and can be set up anywhere.) No kitchen cooking required!

And don't forget to add some Chongqing sweet potato noodles to the pot toward the end of your dining—they are the perfect hot pot noodle since they don't throw off starch and don't get soggy. 

FC gets take-out in Chinatown

"I’m still hoping for a Chinatown miracle"

Kenji's wok opus follows in the giant footsteps of Grace Young and her definitive cookbooks The Breath of a Wok (2004) and Stir-Frying to the Sky's Edge (2010), which have taught generations of Americans to stir-fry. 

Recently, though, Grace has dropped everything to spearhead the effort to save America's Chinatowns. Her beloved Manhattan Chinatown, in particular, has been hit by one tragedy after another: the brunt of Covid-19; an epidemic of Anti-Asian Hate; and now the construction of what activists call "the tallest jail in the world," a 40-story monstrosity about to break ground in the middle of Chinatown's beleaguered businesses and struggling residents. 

A lawsuit and demonstrations have delayed the project, but the community needs support to continue the fight and file a federal lawsuit. Grace says she is "still hoping for a Chinatown miracle."

Here's how you can help now:
  • Go here to get more info about the mega jail from Welcome to Chinatown and donate to that org's efforts to support the community's small businesses
  • Go here to email NYC Mayor Adams asking for a halt to the jail construction. (You don't have to live in NYC; Chinatown is an AMERICAN treasure)
  • Go here to help fund the lawsuits that are the last best hope for stopping the project
  • Go here to give to the Chinatown Community Fridge, which 16-year-old high schooler Marilyn Shi started to serve Chinatown seniors and those dealing with food insecurity
  • Go to (any) Chinatown to eat and shop!
Photo above: Fongchong gets world-class takeout from Wu's Wonton King, Manhattan Chinatown, 2019