I’ve been a fan of chef and culinary scientist J. Kenji Lopez-Alt ever since his first bestselling cookbook, “The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking Through Science”, was published in 2015. So like so many others I could not wait to get his fingers in his long-awaited sequel, “The Wok: Recipes and Techniques” (Norton, $ 50), which hit store shelves on March 8th.
It was worth the wait.
The 658-page cookbook is a compelling example of the fact that when it comes to producing fast, tasty and versatile meals, there is nothing that beats stir-frying in the traditional Chinese cookware.
Along with an introductory chapter on how to buy, season, clean and maintain a wok, it includes instructions on knife skills and easy-to-understand wok techniques for a variety of meats and vegetables. It also boasts more than 200 recipes – many with mouth-watering images – for stir-fried fries, rice, noodles and simple accessories that don’t need to be cooked, such as smashed cucumber salad.
I tried out the cookbook with one of my favorite Chinese recipes, Dan Dan Noodles, which Lopez-Alt writes “is for Sichuan what the hamburger is for the US: They are ubiquitous, there are certain expectations, but there are no hard and fast rules in addition to the basic ingredients ”- noodles, chili oil, pickled Sichuan vegetables, vinegar and lip- and tongue-numbing Sichuan peppercorns.
Like many traditional Chinese foods, this dish involves more than a few ingredients, but not as much as being scary. Some may be unknown; it was the first time I cooked with canned mustard root, for example.
The crushed Sichuan peppercorns will add a tingling, numbing sensation to the tongue and lips known as “ma” in Chinese.
DAN AND NUDLES
2 t. Red Sichuan peppercorns
For the sauce:
2 t. Chinese sesame paste or 4 t. Tahini or unsweetened peanut butter mixed with 2
t. roasted sesame oil
2 T. hot water
2 T. let sojasovs
2 T. Chinkiang or balsamic vinegar
2 t. Sugar
1/2 c. Sichuan chile oil with its sediment
2 t. Chopped fresh garlic (approx. 2 medium cloves)
1 T. peanut oil or other neutral oil
6 oz. minced or finely chopped pork
2 oz. chopped canned mustard root or stalk
1 T. Shaoxing vin
1 T. light soy sauce or shoyu
1 lb. fresh wheat noodles
4 oz. fresh vegetables, such as spinach or baby bok choy, optional
2 oz. mung bean sprouts, optional
1/4 c. Roasted or fried peanuts, gently crushed in a mortar and pestle
4 to 5 spit bowl, cut into thin slices
Roast Sichuan peppercorns in a dry wok over high heat until fragrant, about 1 minute. Transfer to mortar and pestle or spice grinder and grind to a fine powder; set aside.
Make the sauce: Put sesame paste and water in a medium bowl and stir until completely smooth.
Add soy sauce, vinegar, sugar, chili oil, garlic and half of the ground Sichuan peppercorns and stir until homogeneous and the sugar is dissolved. Distribute the sauce evenly between 4 individual bowls or pour into a large serving bowl for sharing.
Make the pork: Heat the wok over high heat until lightly smoky. Add 1 tablespoon oil and swirl for coating. Add pork and cook, stirring and turning and use a spatula to break up the pork until it is no longer pink, about 1 minute.
Add canned mustard root and cook, stirring and turning until all excess moisture has evaporated and the mixture begins to stick to the wok, about 1 minute longer. Add a large pinch of ground Sichuan peppercorns and turn over.
Stir wine vinegar and soy sauce around the edges of the wok and continue to boil, stirring and turning until wine and soy sauce have completely evaporated, about 3 minutes. Transfer the pork mixture to a small bowl.
Prepare the noodles: Bring 3 liters of lightly salted water to a boil in the wok or in a large saucepan over high heat. When the water boils, add the noodles, vegetables and bean sprouts, if used, and cook according to the package instructions until almost done, just a few minutes.
Drain the noodles, save some of the cooking liquid, and distribute evenly between the individual bowls or transfer to the large serving bowl. Add a few tablespoons of cooking liquid to each bowl. Pour the pork mixture on top.
Sprinkle with the remaining ground Sichuan peppercorns and the sliced scallions. Serve immediately. Serves 4.
(Recipe from “The Wok: Recipes and Techniques” by J. Kenji Lopez-Alt; Norton, $ 50)
– Tribune News Service