Stir-Frying to the Sky's Edge
The Ultimate Guide to Mastery, with Authentic Recipes and Stories
By Grace Young
(Simon & Schuster, Hardcover, 9781416580577, 336pp.)
Publication Date: May 4, 2010
Winner of the 2011 James Beard Foundation Award for International Cooking
The stir-fry is all things: refined, improvisational, adaptable, and inventive. It is the rare culinary practice that makes less seem like more, and by which small amounts of food feed many.
For centuries the Chinese have carried their woks to all corners of the earth and re-created stir-fry dishes, using local and sometimes nontraditional ingredients. The old expression: "One wok runs to the sky’s edge" means "one who uses the wok becomes master of the cooking world." And as the wok user becomes master of the cooking world, so does he become master of the stir-fry, one of the greatest techniques of Chinese cookery.
The technique and tradition of stir-frying, which is at once simple yet subtly complex, is as vital today as it has been for hundreds of years. In Stir-Frying to the Sky’s Edge, James Beard Award-winning author Grace Young shares more than 100 classic stir-fry recipes that sizzle with heat and pop with flavor, from the great Cantonese stir-fry masters to the culinary customs of Sichuan, Hunan, Shanghai, Beijing, Fujian, Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, Singapore, and Malaysia, as well as other countries around the world. With more than 80 stunning full-color photographs, Young’s definitive work illustrates the innumerable, easy-to-learn possibilities the technique offers—dry stir-fries, moist stir-fries, clear stir-fries, velvet stir-fries—and weaves the insights of Chinese cooking philosophy into the preparation of such beloved dishes as Kung Pao Chicken, Stir-Fried Beef and Broccoli, Chicken Lo Mein with Ginger Mushrooms, and Dry-Fried Sichuan Beans. In honoring the traditions of her cultural ancestors who traveled the globe, Young offers delectable crossover recipes for Chinese Jamaican Jerk Chicken Fried Rice, Chinese Trinidadian Stir-Fried Shrimp with Rum, Chinese Burmese Chili Chicken, and Chinese American Shrimp with Lobster Sauce.
Expert home cooks and professional chefs teach you the foundations of stir-fry mastery in the modern kitchen—everything from how to choose, season, and care for a wok and the best skillet alternative; the importance of marinades and the proper technique for slicing meat and poultry for optimum tenderness; to how to select and handle Asian vegetables; ways to shortcut labor-intensive preparations; and tips on how to control heat and choose the best cooking oil.
Fascinating personal portraits illustrate how stir-frying is not just a cooking technique but a vital element of China’s rich culture. With this book, Grace Young has created the authoritative guide to stir-frying, a work that is at once rewarding and beautiful, much like the technique of stir-frying itself.
I grew up in San Francisco surrounded, on the one hand, by the immigrant Chinese traditions of my family and relatives, and, on the other, by an innovative American culinary culture. My earliest memories of food are of the extraordinary meals my mother and father prepared for us (my brother and me) and of the efforts they made to ensure that we ate well. Their care was not only a matter of selecting the freshest ingredients, but also for the authenticity with which they replicated the traditional Cantonese dishes of their youth in China during the 1930s and forties. This connection to the cooking of old-world China coupled with the discovery of Julia Child on television (and her “exotic” dishes) shaped my lifelong affair with food and cooking. At the age of thirteen I began an apprenticeship with Josephine Araldo, a French cooking teacher. Those lessons initiated an exploration of other cuisines and led me, eventually, to my career in food.
I spent much of my early professional life as the test kitchen director for over forty cookbooks published by Time Life Books. In the early nineties, after growing weary of producing what had become soulless work with formulaic recipes, I developed a yearning to reconnect to the tastes and foods of my childhood. Over the next few years, I made numerous trips back to San Francisco from my home in New York to cook with my 70-year old mother and 82-year old father. It took much cajoling and great persistence to convince them to teach me their recipes. At the beginning, my focus was on a precise recording of the recipes. Eventually, and to my great surprise, as we cooked my parents, who had always been reticent about their past, began to share memories of their lives in China and accounts of their early days in America. This is how I came to learn a large part of my family’s history. What started as a little recipe project soon blossomed into a memoir cookbook, The Wisdom of the Chinese Kitchen, which was published by Simon & Schuster [simonandschuster.com] in 1999. The book was awarded the IACP [iacp.com] Le Cordon Bleu Best International Cookbook Award, in addition to being a finalist for an IACP First Cookbook Award, and a James Beard [jamesbeard.org] World International Cookbook Award. It was also featured in a special segment on CBS Sunday Morning. Many of the relatives and friends who taught me their recipes and shared their stories have since passed away. The Wisdom of the Chinese Kitchen feels to me now almost like a treasured family album.
My second cookbook, The Breath of a Wok, grew out of the realization that most Chinese Americans know little about their own culinary traditions, specifically wok cooking. I had become aware also of how cooks in China were abandoning their classic, well-seasoned iron woks for inferior nonstick cookware. In a tribute to wok cookery and out of a desire to reignite its popularity, I partnered with Alan Richardson to create what the acclaimed food historian and author Betty Fussell described as, “a bridge between cultures for a Chinese-American in search of history and destiny. It is a remarkable collaboration between a writer and a photographer that reveals what the wok symbolizes---a craft, an art, a container of communal harmony and balance.” That book won the IACP Le Cordon Bleu Best International Cookbook Award, the Jane Grigson Award for Distinguished Scholarship, and the World Food Media Awards’ Best Food Book [worldfoodmediaawards.com]. It was also featured in the New York Times [http://tinyurl.com/y93gbj], on NPR’s All Things Considered [http://tinyurl.com/ddj2pv] and was selected as one of the best cookbooks of the year by Food & Wine[foodandwine.com], Fine Cooking [finecooking.com], Bon Appétit [bonappetit.com], and Epicurious[epicurious.com].
The Breath of a Wok led me to the adventure of traveling with my carbon-steel wok (in my hand-carry baggage) on a 25-city tour for the culinary retailer Sur la Table [surlatable.com] to teach the art of wok cooking. I published further articles on Chinese cooking in Gourmet, Bon Appétit, Eating Well [eatingwell.com], and Saveur [saveur.com], where I am a contributing editor. The book also brought me speaking engagements at the Culinary Institute at Greystone [ciachef.edu/California], China Institute [chinainstitute.org], New York University Asian/Pacific/American Institute [nyu-apastudies.org/new/index.php], the San Francisco Asian Art Museum [asianart.org], The French Culinary Institute [frenchculinary.com], and the Chinese Historical Society of America [chsa.org].
In 2006 I began work on Stir-Frying to the Sky’s Edge. This effort was dedicated to the effort of empowering home cooks to stir-fry with confidence. It explores everything from the origins and health benefits of stir-frying to the technique’s great economy of time and fuel. In 2011, the book won a James Beard Foundation Award for best international cookbook. I was also awarded an IACP Culinary Trust [theculinarytrust.org] eGullet Society for Culinary Arts & Letters Culinary Journalist Independent Study Scholarship which funded my research travel to Trinidad, Germany, Holland, Canada, and the United States to study the stir-fries of the Chinese diaspora. While Stir-Frying to the Sky’s Edge concentrates on traditional stir-fries, it is also filled with remarkable stories of how this simple, beloved cooking technique has enabled generations of Chinese around the world to eat well and with exquisite economy. My interview subjects include Chinese who grew up in such far-flung locations as Peru, Jamaica, Burma, Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan, Vietnam, Macau, India, Indonesia, South Africa, and the Mississippi Delta.
My passion for recording and preserving Chinese culinary traditions continues to lead me in quest of home cooks who understand and enjoy the benefits Chinese cooking. If you have a comfort food that is at risk of being lost or a story to share, it would be my great delight to learn of them. Please feel free to contact me: www.graceyoung.com.
"With this extraordinarily inspiring and comprehensive book, Grace Young establishes herself not only as one of the world’s great experts in Chinese cooking but as one of its few genuine masters. Buy it, read it, cook from it—and soon you will be on your way to becoming a stir-frying master yourself."
--James Oseland, editor-in-chief of Saveur and author of Cradle of Flavor: Home Cooking from the Sipce Islands of Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore
“For Grace Young, poet-laureate of the wok, a way of cooking is a way of life. Through stories, practical kitchen advice, and eminently doable recipes, Stir-Frying to the Sky’s Edge takes the art of stir-frying to a new level."
--Betty Fussell, author of Raising Steaks: The Life & Times of American Beef
“Stir-Frying to the Sky's Edge is the essential cookbook for anyone who wants to stir-fry with confidence, even mastery. Grace Young has interviewed exceptional Chinese cooks from all over the world to document their stories and recipes and to reveal the many ways in which stir-frying has sustained the Chinese in cultures as far-flung as India, Trinidad, Jamaica, Cuba, Peru, France, and America. Whether you are seeking a practical and inspiring Chinese cookbook or a beautiful culinary history, look no further."
--Paula Wolfert, author of Mediterranean Clay Pot Cooking
"Trying to flip quickly through this book is impossible. Nearly every page turn caught me up with something I had to read. Grace Young brings us the entire being of the wok. Yes, she’s a gifted recipe writer, hand holding through each step, so success comes pretty effortlessly. But the revelation with Grace goes further. The wok is probably the most underrated (and underpriced) piece of equipment we have. Grace knows its life, its place not solely in China, but in the world. The wok is immediacy, tradition and maybe even an instrument of life force. Did I get carried away? Maybe, but that’s where Grace can take you. Follow her, you’ll love the trip."
--Lynne Rossetto Kasper, host of Public Radio’s national food show, The Splendid Table®, from American Public Media
"Grace Young's masterful book reveals stir-frying as 'a cooking method of great subtlety and sophistication.' She provides a sense of spirit, of excitement, that makes stir-frying delicious fun. Recipes are clearly written and detailed; you'll get the requisite hand-holding to stir-fry your way to a delicious dinner....Young has done an admirable job showing how this ancient technique can be deliciously new and cool."
--Bill Daley, Chicago Tribune
"Young, whose expertise in wok technique has already enlightened American cooks, has now gathered recipes for stir-frying reflecting culinary traditions as far-flung as Indonesia and Peru.For the novice, Young offers lots of basic yet learned advice on shopping for unfamiliar ingredients and on assembling a Chinese pantry. Photographs and step-by-step instructions make fundamental wok tools and techniques accessible to even the least experienced. Her sidebars featuring talented stir-frying masters from all over the world add human dimension to the recipes."
— Mark Knoblauch, Booklist
"If you've ever spent much time with the award-winning The Breath of a Wok, you know that Grace Young's cookbooks feel as personal as they are practical. Her latest is no exception. And if you're expecting food a la Panda Express, this book will be a revelation. Stir-fries, it turns out, can come from almost every continent, and a good one is no slapdash affair. Young reveals the many small techniques that add up to excellence."
--Katherine Miller Fran Walden, The Oregonian
"Grace Young is one of the very best cookbook authors writing today. Her newest book, Stir-Frying to the Sky's Edge: The Ultimate Guide to Mastery, With Authentic Recipes and Stories is essential reading for anyone interested in Chinese cooking."
--Erica Marcus, Newsday
"The new cookbook by Grace Young is an extended love poem to the wok. It has more than 100 fab recipes, from classics such as Stir-Fried Beef and Broccoli to delicious hybrids like Chinese Jamaican Jerk Chicken Fried Rice and Chinese Trinidadian Stir-Fried Shrimp and Rum. Young's travels take her around the globe and along the way, fortunate readers will learn how to rock the wok."
--Matt Schaffer, The Boston Herald