A complete guide on stir-fry in one neat package
Reviewed in Canada on 9 February 2015
Over the last little while, it seems that quick meal books have been all the rage. You know the ones, 30-minute meals or even 15 minute meals. But after spending some time with Stir-Frying to the Sky's Edge, a thought popped into my head: stir fries could be the original 15 minute meal!
This particular cookbook isn't just a compilation of recipes, but also a collection of stories. Grace Young interviewed people in any area where stir fry can be found. You'd expect stir fry to be popular in China, but it can also be found in some unlikely places. Jamaica? Sure, why not? Through the stories of the people who have settled there, we learn how they adapted to their new environments through the lens of those who continued to stir fry in an effort to hold on to their cultural identity.
In addition to the stories, the book also segues into other topics such as a history of chop suey, or the healthiness of stir fry as a cooking method, and other topics of interest These might be considered fluff by those just looking for good recipes, but I think it would be worth your while to read them. The author has taken the time to not only provide us with stir fry recipes, but also anything that has to do with stir fry: it's history, it's culture, it's people. The non-recipe parts are not only educational, but for me, it invoked almost a sense of romanticism when cooking after I've read through all the book had to offer.
Before getting into the recipes, the author guides you in the necessary preparation: how to purchase and prepare a wok for its upcoming use, and how to identify Asian ingredients that you'll need. If you have an Asian grocery store nearby, you will likely find all that you need to prepare everything in the book. If not, the author suggests some substitutions where appropriate.
The recipes cover what I think is the standard sections: meat, seafood, and vegetables. There's also a section for fried rice and noodles. No dessert section, though. I don't think stir frying quite lends itself to making desserts. I tried about a dozen recipes in all. Some recipes require only ingredients that you would be able to find in any regular grocery store. Others require more specialized ingredients such as lotus root, or straw mushrooms. I personally found the recipes that require special ingredients more interesting: they added a special flavour, and made the dish more authentic. I think it's worth seeking them out if you can. A lot of the recipes do use the same ingredients, so if you can at least obtain the basic ingredients (soy sauce, rice wine, and sesame oil would be my top three), you'll be ready to tackle a number of recipes.
The recipes all worked as written, though I found some variation in the salt levels. Some seemed to need a bit more saltiness, and some recipes had too much. But the author does advise us in the beginning that some experimentation could be necessary. Some dishes may not look like the greatest thing, but rest assured, they all taste great. I would also take seriously any tips offered in the book: when the author says that once the stir frying starts, there won't be time do more prep work, she's not joking! The prep work may take a little bit of time depending on your knife skills, but the cooking itself is definitely fast and furious.
All in all, I think this is a fabulous book extolling the virtues of stir fry. It's obvious the author is knowledgeable about the subject and is eager to share her passion for stir fry with us. The recipes are delicious and the side stories add a wonderful flavour, making this a really complete book in my eyes. Definitely recommended!
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