Friday, September 17, 2010

Cooking Cucumbers with Grace Young, Chinese Cookbook Author

Photograph and Recipe Courtesy of Grace Young

A few months back, I helped out Grace Young, award-winning author of The Wisdom of the Chinese Kitchen and The Breath of a Wok. Grace was making her rounds promoting her newest book Stir-Frying to the Sky's Edge and was organizing a media trip to Chicago. Knowing a thing or two about both the Chicago food loving and food cooking community, I gave her a few names of people to contact in conjunction with a lecture she was giving in Chinatown. To thank me, she sent me a copy of her new book.

Like The Breath of a Wok, Grace starts out with an expert review of the wok itself, making me again realize how foolish (and overpriced) my stainless steel lined, copper wok purchase was. In the introductory sections, she gives a terrific and compelling explanation of how how best to season and maintain a wok. Then, for cooks new to Chinese cuisine, she gives a terrific overview of ingredients, technique, and equipment. And in these seemingly mundane topics, Grace brings the wok to life and it then in turn compels the reader to respect it. But, in this beautifully photographed and illustrated book, the real alchemy occurs in the stories. Grace follows the wok as it crisscrosses the globe, from the Yunnan Province to Alabama, from Shanghai to Trinidad, creating new combinations and transforming local ingredients into dishes comforting and familiar to its itinerant, immigrant owners.

At the very minimum, a cookbook should provide consistent recipes for delicious food. Grace does that with ease. A great cookbook engages not just the stomach, but the mind. With her gift of story telling and ability to teach, Grace has written another book that does just that.

What Grace has also done is give me another way to use up my cucumbers. As I explained in my last post, I've had to contend with a bumper crop of cucumber this year. I was, thus, thankful to find Grace's recipe for Stir-Fried Cucumber and Pork with Golden Garlic. Thankful too was Little Locathor for whom the cucumber is a great favorite. He gave the dish an enthusiastic thumbs up.

Grace Young will be in Chicago again next weekend speaking for Culinary Historians of Chicago Saturday, Sept 25th at Kendall College at 10 am.

Stir-Fried Cucumber and Pork with Golden Garlic

1/4 cup peanut or vegetable oil
3 tablespoons chopped garlic
12 ounces lean pork shoulder, cut into 1/4-inch thick bite-sized slices
1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch
3 teaspoons soy sauce
1/4 teaspoon sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 large seedless cucumber ends trimmed, halved lengthwise, and cut on the diagonal into 1/4-inch slices (about 3 cups)

In a 1-quart saucepan or a 14-inch flat-bottomed wok heat the oil over high heat until the oil registers 280 F on a deep-frying thermometer. Carefully add the garlic. Cook, stirring 30 seconds to 1 minute or until the garlic is slightly golden. Remove the saucepan from the heat. Remove the garlic with a metal skimmer and put on a plate lined with paper towels. Careful remove the oil from the wok and reserve. Wash the wok and dry it thoroughly.

In a shallow bowl combine the pork, cornstarch 1 1/2 teaspoons soy sauce and sugar and 1/4teaspoon of the salt in a small bowl combine the remaining 1 1/2 teaspoon soy sauce and 1 tablespoon cold water.

Heat 14-inch flat bottomed or 12-inch skillet over high heat until a bead of water vaporizes within 1 or 2 second of contact. Swirl in 2 tablespoons of the reserved garlic oil, add the ginger slices, then, using a metal spatula, stir-fry 30 seconds or until the ginger is fragrant. Push the ginger to the sides of the wok, carefully add the pork, and spread it evenly in one layer in the wok. Cook undisturbed 1 minute, letting the pork begin to sear. Then stir-fry 1 minute or until the pork is lightly browned but not cooked through. Add the cucumber and stir-fry 30 seconds or until well combined. Sprinkle on the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt, swirl the reserved soy sauce mixture into the wok and sit fry 1 minute or until the pork is just cooked and the cucumber begins to wilt. Stir in the reserved garlic.

Serve warm over rice.

1 comment:

  1. The Breath of a Wok is one of my favorite cookbooks. The photography is gorgeous. Will have to pick up the new book. I've been stir frying cucumber with shrimp, but this sounds like a good change of pace to use up some of our last cukes.


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