Book Review: Yan-kit’s Classic Chinese Cookbook by Yan-kit So
February 24, 2012 § 1 Comment
A book I have been spending a lot of time with recently is Yan-kit’s Classic Chinese Cookbook by Yan-kit So (part of the reason I haven’t been posting too much recently!). I’ve found it to be a great, easy to read book that manages to be authentic, comprehensive and accessible. I have made a good dozen or so recipes from this book, and all have been tasty, and many have been completely, outrageously good.
Some of the favorites so far have been the Kung Pao chicken, willow chicken in black bean sauce, beef with preserved tangerine peel and braised fish Hunan-Szechwan style. The Kung Pao chicken is a scaled back version of what you see in many restaurants – no onions, bell peppers or jalapenos here. It’s dried red chilies, peanuts and sauce. And it’s so much better for it. The chicken in black bean sauce calls for fermented black beans, not that gloopy black sauce at the grocery store, which makes for a dish that is still pungent and flavorful, but also light. The beef with preserved tangerine peel is fragrant with orange without being syrupy or overly sweet, and is a great way to use those dried tangerine peels. And braised whole trout in a spicy broth really just sells itself, doesn’t it?
While it’s daunting to look at some of the recipes and see a list of unfamiliar products or techniques, there is a huge index of ingredients and methods with photos for everything, along with thorough instructions. Vegetables, sauces, and dried products, along with knife techniques and kitchen equipment are all dealt with. It is simple enough that you can jump in knowing nothing, but also deep enough that you can find something new every time you look at it.
The indexes are very helpful, because if you decide you want to cook Chinese food, there are some things that you will need to buy. The good news is that many items you purchase are one time or infrequent expenses. A wok should last you for years, a bag of rice and many sauces for months. After a couple of initial investments, you’ll only need to buy meat and vegetables to execute the recipes, and perhaps the occasional sauce for a new recipe.
Additionally, once you have made a few of the recipes, they don’t seem as intimidating as on first glance. Many of the ingredients show up in just about every recipe – garlic, ginger, green onions (the trinity of Chinese cooking), Shaoxing cooking wine, soy sauce, sugar – and many recipes follow a similar sequence of steps. Once you’re familiar with these ingredients, the recipes seem shorter, simpler and much more manageable.
There are also many simple recipes that require few ingredients and little preparation, such as basic steamed Chinese broccoli with oyster sauce or stir-fried cabbage with dried shrimp. These complement the more complex dishes, so you don’t have to spend three hours in the kitchen preparing a meal. Although, I’ve had fun doing that as well.
As with any cookbook, you’ll want to keep notes on the recipes so you can adjust them to your preferences the second time around. I’ve found the sauces to be a bit runnier than I like, and a touch under seasoned. However, it is easy to a bit of extra potato flour and a bit of extra soy sauce or salt. Your tastes may vary, but I’ve found that my best success comes from minor experimenting around these recipes.
For anyone interested in learning how to cook authentic Chinese food at home, I cannot recommend Yan-kit’s Classic Chinese Cookbook enough. It’s filled with such wonderful information presented in such an easy to understand manner that just about anyone can start cooking Chinese with great success. My friends have told me I make great Chinese food, and that’s partially true. But mostly, I just have a great Chinese cookbook, and you should too.