How and why to cook with a wok

THE WOK, RECIPES AND TECHNIQUES

By J. Kenji López-Alt (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2022, 666 pp., $49.50, hardcover)

If you have a more-than-casual interest in cooking, or look for recipes with search engine phrases that begin with “the best recipe for,” or “the best way to,” chances are, you have come across the name J. Kenji López-Alt.
Chief culinary advisor for Serious Eats, food columnist, chef and cookbook author, López-Alt has gained his reputation in the food world as a culinary expert with his thoroughly tested recipes and scientifically backed explanations, reasonings and methods when preparing food.

This is López-Alt’s second book, following his publication of “The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking Through Science.” Like “Food Lab,” “The Wok: Recipes and Techniques” is comprehensive. The book is substantial, and its weight will remind you of a high school biology textbook, but if you’re curious and willing, López-Alt will take you on a deep-dive into all the whys and hows of cooking with a wok. While every recipe uses a wok, the book will also deepen your overall knowledge around culinary techniques, such as step-by-step knife skills and how to prepare ingredients and handle tools, to set the stage for optimal cooking.

Don’t be fooled by thinking that this book only has Chinese recipes because it features the wok. Far from it. López-Alt shows that the wok, a champion when it comes to stir frys, can also be a versatile workhorse of the kitchen. From boiling eggs to deep frying chicken to making noodles and congee, López-Alt includes more than 200 recipes that range from simple, quick meals like Home-style Tomato and Scrambled Eggs or Yakisoba to big beautiful show-stopping main dishes, like Cantonese Stir-fried Lobster with Ginger and Scallions. His recipe for Extra-Crispy Korean Fried Chicken, while a little time consuming, is well worth the work.

López-Alt uses a range of formats to give comprehensive information on the choices you will encounter. Aside from the expected recipes and accompanying color photographs, López-Alt includes tables with detailed comparison between ingredients to temperatures, Q-and-As and narratives that share his process and reasoning for determining his recommended method. Whether it’s reading about his obsession with finding the best method to make a perfect peelable boiled egg, or spending nine pages just discussing stock, López-Alt leaves no stone unturned for readers. But despite his clear expertise on cooking, López-Alt’s style of writing is not authoritative or snobby. Sharing personal anecdotes, and even a few dad-jokes, the Wok is written in a way that is approachable, even for more casual cooks.

By breaking down the results of all the different experiments he has done, López-Alt demystifies even the most seemingly complicated foods and techniques, essentially showing us that the best cooking isn’t magic or just blindly following steps. It’s about really understanding how food responds to what you’re doing to it, and being able to employ the best method possible. “The Wok” is a book that will enable readers and home cooks to do both.

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