by Lee Hwa Lin
1996, We-Chuan Publishing, ISBN-13: 978-0941676694
Since starting this blog, I have posted several reviews of cookery books from Wei-Chuan publishing. I generally like of all the books I have purchased so far and this latest one, which I only recently acquired, is one of the best I have come across yet…
The book contains 89 recipes generally organized according to major ingredient. There is however, an understandable overlap in the categories, as many recipes under one heading will contain major ingredient that would properly allow the dish to be categorized elsewhere as well. This is hardly a problem except in the limited case where the reader may miss a dish or two while consulting the index for recipes containing a specific foodstuff.
As with virtually all the Wei-Chuan books, all the recipes are illustrated and, at the beginning of the book, there is a short series of very nicely arranged platters featuring various combinations of different appetizers. In addition to this, there are also three pages featuring photographs of some of the different foodstuffs employed in some of the recipes. This is quite helpful but could, in my opinion, be a little more comprehensive.
Although there are many classic Chinese appetizers in this book, ‘Drunken Chicken’ or ‘Spicy Pig Ear’, for example, there are a few, like the Korean Kimchi, or deep-fried Karasumi, which are directly drawn from other cultural cuisines. The rest of the recipes, as the book title suggests, are not classics as such, but are very recognizably created in Chinese style. Many, like the ‘Egg and Seaweed Rolls’ featured on the cover, and the ‘Chicken and Apple Salad’, are very innovative and nicely put together.
One of the nicest features of this book, to my mind, is that it contains an impressive number of recipes featuring certain ingredients that will be considered exotic by most non-Chinese. There dishes containing pig tripe, beef tendon, chickens feet and, best of all, no less than four recipes using salted jellyfish.
The book does, however, suffer from a few limitations… Some of the recipes are quite brief in their instructions and it is not always clear what is intended. The recipe for ‘Three color eggs’ for example, lists the ingredients and tells the reader to combine and steam them, but then fails to give clear instruction on how to produce the attractive slices appeared in the accompanying illustration. Likewise, the book deals with a number of ingredients that are not always clearly identified. Two recipes, for instance, call for ‘Soaked Squid’ and then give soaking instructions that require the use of baking soda. Another recipe calls for dried squid and provides alternate instructions for salting it and, ultimately, it is not clear whether ‘Soaked squid’ means dry or fresh quid which is then soaked according to the provided instructions, or one of the pre-soaked varieties that are available commercially.
Aside from the minor criticisms I mention above, I like this book very much and highly recommend it to those interested in Chinese cookery. There is a wide and interesting range of different recipes, all of which would not only be fun to recreate exactly, but which also provide great sources of inspiration. You can be sure that I will be using many of them in the upcoming months as the starting point for a number of experiments in my kitchen…