But after that, how to get cooking if you’ve never used a wok? Or how to hone your skills and explore a new regional cuisine if you can already stir-fry with the best of them?
Let one or more of these 10 cookbooks — some new, others classics — guide you.
‘EVERY GRAIN OF RICE: SIMPLE CHINESE HOME COOKING’
Fuchsia Dunlop (Norton, $35)
You can’t go wrong with a book by Fuchsia Dunlop, one of the most accomplished Chinese cooking authorities writing for home cooks in America, the winner of four James Beard Awards (and she’s nominated for a fifth this year).
Her 2012 book is a great one to start with if you’re just diving in. Its pages are filled with beautifully photographed dishes that are simple, approachable and enticing; the recipes, from a variety of regions, are “a tribute to China’s rich tradition of frugal, healthy and delicious home cooking.” Dunlop includes a concise introductory section on knife cuts, ingredients, equipment, planning a Chinese meal and the like, and includes menu ideas.
‘ALL UNDER HEAVEN: RECIPES FROM THE 35 CUISINES OF CHINA’
Carolyn Phillips (McSweeney’s/Ten Speed Press, $40)
This comprehensive, 514-page book, a finalist for a 2017 James Beard Award, provides an excellent roadmap to the cooking of each of China’s regions. Illustrated with Phillips’ own charming line drawings rather than photos, the recipes are clear, with lots of step-by-step visual explanation. Because it covers all the regions and explains what characterizes them, Phillips’ book is also a great resource for those who love exploring regional Chinese restaurants.
‘LUCKY PEACH 101 EASY ASIAN RECIPES’
Peter Meehan and the editors of Lucky Peach (Potter, $35)
Fun, approachable and irreverent, this 2015 title includes dishes from all over east Asia, including lots of terrific ones from China, and fusion dishes as well. I’ve cooked widely from the book, and recommend it highly. Lacquered Roast Chicken, Chinese Sausage Fried Rice, Chineasy Cucumber Salad, Shrimp and Chive Dumplings and Greens with Whole Garlic are great places to start.
‘LAND OF FISH AND RICE: RECIPES FROM THE CULINARY HEART OF CHINA’
Fuchsia Dunlop (Norton, $35)
Dunlop’s newest title — the one that’s up for a 2017 James Beard Award — focuses on the cooking of China’s southern Jiangnan region, which includes Shanghai. “Local people believe they enjoy the finest food in the country,” Dunlop writes in her intro. “Whereas Cantonese food, they say, is too raw and wild, Sichuanese is too hot and northern cooking is too salty, the food of Jiangnan is both so varied that one never tires of it and so harmonious it calms the mind as well as the palate.”
I’ve only made one dish from the book so far: sweet-and-sour radishes (a super-easy appetizer that turned out great). But my copy is tagged with a dozen Post-its for recipes I’m eager to try. Shanghai pork and vegetable wontons. Chrysanthemum leaves with pine nuts. Green bok choy with dried shrimp. Slivered pork with flowering chives. Tofu ribbons with salt pork and green bok choy. I can pretty much open the book anywhere, and Yuki Sugiura’s appetizing photos make me eager to dive in.
‘MY GRANDMOTHER’S CHINESE KITCHEN: 100 FAMILY RECIPES AND LIFE LESSONS’
Eileen Yin-Fei Lo (Penguin, $18.99)
Published in 2006, Eileen Yin-Fei Lo’s sweet, personal book about learning to cook with her grandmother is a lovely way in to the world of Chinese cooking, especially for nervous beginners. I cooked widely from it when I reviewed it shortly after it was published, and found quite a few ambiguities (things like cooking temperatures); nevertheless, everything I made was wonderful, from pork-and-shrimp won tons with vinegar dip to chives stir-fried with bean sprouts to a whole steamed fish with scallion oil.
‘LAND OF PLENTY: AUTHENTIC SICHUAN RECIPES PERSONALLY GATHERED IN THE CHINESE PROVINCE OF SICHUAN’
Fuchsia Dunlop (Norton, $30)
Dunlop’s 2001 cookbook, which quickly became a classic, focuses on the region that has become super hot (in more ways than one) in America in recent years. Those exploring Sichuan food in restaurants have lots to learn in its pages, which include a section on “Eating the Sichuanese way.” In restaurants, she writes, “cold food is served first, and then the hot dishes emerge from the kitchen one by one until the whole table is laden with food.” (And no, every dish isn’t supposed to be fiery-hot or mouth-numbingly spicy!)
Of course, if you’re cooking, you’re really in business. You might start a dinner with “Glassy” steamed dumplings or spicy cucumber salad, then serve twice-cooked pork, maybe with dry-fried green beans or zucchini slivers with garlic. A simple soup, such as a chicken soup with pickled mustard greens or simple bean curd soup, comes at the end. Land of Plenty, with 16 pages of color photos and maps, is more sparsely photographed than Dunlop’s more recent works.
‘THE BREATH OF A WOK: UNLOCKING THE SPIRIT OF CHINESE WOK COOKING THROUGH RECIPES AND LORE’
Grace Young and Alan Richardson (Simon & Schuster, $37.50)
Winner of an IACP Cookbook Award, Grace Young’s 2004 book, gorgeously photographed by Alan Richardson, is the place to start if you like to approach cooking as a poet might, understanding the soul of a cuisine, or if you really want to geek out. Young walks readers through everything about the wok, from finding the right one to “opening” the wok to seasoning it with dishes early in its life. And then, of course, there is much discussion to learning to stir-fry with wok hay — that ineffable “breath of a wok” that distinguishes the best Chinese cooking. A classic, to be sure.
‘CHINA: THE COOKBOOK’
Kei Lum Chan and Diora Fong Chan (Phaidon, $49.95)
At 720 pages, this 2016 title from Phaidon is an encyclopedic tome, covering and explaining all the regions of China and their cuisine; it also touches on eating culture, cooking techniques and equipment.
While I strongly recommended China: The Cookbook as a reference and source of inspiration for cooks, I haven’t yet cooked from it. Based on my past experiences with encyclopedic cookbooks from Phaidon’s national cuisine series, in my estimation its more than 650 often-enticing recipes may be best suited to cooks with some Chinese cooking know-how, rather than beginners. Meanwhile, thanks to its comprehensiveness, I’m thrilled to have it in my collection.
‘MASTERING THE ART OF CHINESE COOKING’
Eileen Yin-Fei Lo (Chronicle Books, $50)
I have cooked from Eileen Yin-Fe Lo’s authoritative and comprehensive 2009 book, always with excellent results. It’s structured like a Chinese cooking school, in series of lessons, all centered around the Chinese market. Particularly useful are smart sidebars on techniques and tricks: water-blanching vegetables, how to prepare fresh bamboo shoots, how to grind your own five-spice powder, how to store wontons, how to make a dipping sauce for meats leftover from making stock. A section on ingredients helps the shopper figure out which kind of wonton wrappers, choose ginger root (“a wrinkled and rough skin indicates age”) and find a suitable substitute for fresh water chestnuts (fresh jicama beats canned water chestnuts).
With more than 150 recipes and beautiful photos throughout, it’s a classic.
‘The Mission Chinese Food Cookbook’
Danny Bowien and Chris Ying (Ecco, $34.99)
Danny Bowien, chef and co-founder of the cult-favorite Mission Chinese Food restaurants, teamed up with Chris Ying, co-founder of Lucky Peach, to write this exuberant, colorful romp through the dishes that have been hits at the three restaurants. The recipes are uber-cheffy, to be sure, often calling for ingredients that require recipes on their own (chile-pickled long beans, mackerel confit, bone-marrow broth). But the salt-cod fried rice is one of the best things ever to come out of my kitchen. If you like rolling up your sleeves and geeking out chef-style, this is the book for you.
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