The Wok (Cookbook by J. Kenji Lopez-Alt)
The Wok: Recipes and Techniques, the newest masterwork from J. Kenji Lopez-Alt, is, as the name suggests, dedicated not to a specific cuisine but to a specific pan—the all-day, everyday, all-purpose wok. It includes recipes from Japan, Korea, Thailand and Southeast Asia, and—primarily—from China, the birthplace of the wok. And within China, it has a heavy emphasis on Sichuan dishes, much to our delight.
Kenji, 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.
But in The Wok, he also dips into the "where," embracing the American Chinese dishes of his youth along with global inspiration from his travels, and the "who," paying tribute to everyone from Joyce Chen, "The godmother of Chinese American cuisine," to Grace Young, the wok guru whose books have taught the past couple generations to stir-fry.
Kenji strives to walk a line between authenticity and accessibility, he writes. 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. Then, even better, the next night you can cook something similar without a recipe at all, using the techniques and understanding you gained.
The book has plenty not just for newbies but also for wok and Chinese cooking aficionados: See the extended and up-to-date discussions on wok hei and MSG; the particulars of various kinds of deep-frying; a two-page chart of congee ingredients and how to prepare them; and recipes for decadent superior stock and several unique and intriguing noodle sauces.
This 658-page book—about twice the length of your typical cookbook—is absolutely packed with ideas and information, but it doesn't feel overwhelming in either content or weight. Sleek, lightweight paper; a well-organized, easy-to-follow layout; plentiful photos; and Kenji's engaging conversational style all make it highly approachable and inviting.
We would sing the praises of The Wok even if the author didn't list The Mala Market as one of his top recommended online resources for Chinese ingredients. But we admit it's a thrill every time we run across our store name in the text— recommending our Sichuan pepper, chilies and cooking oil (caiziyou), for example. In fact, there's almost no ingredient at The Mala Market that this book doesn't utilize.
Premium brands of the sauces he notes as essential for wok cooking in the book:
Dry aromatics he recommends:
Format: Hardback, 658 pages
Price: MSRP $50; $40 when purchased with ingredients