December 1, 2022

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Simple Impartial Cooking

Recipes and techniques courtesy of fusion cooking in Chef James Kenji Lopez-Alt book

Have you ever eaten a chili pepper that started a 4-alarm fire in your mouth? Here’s a tip on taming the flame from American chef James Kenji López-Alt, from his new book “The Wok: Recipes and Techniques:”

“Capsaicin, the chemical responsible for chili heat, doesn’t dissolve in water, so fighting fat-soluble capsaicin by drinking plain water is like trying wash Vaseline off your hands without soap. Milk, especially full-fat milk, will work better (don’t try it with skim!). Cream, even better. In my own personal testing (the sacrifices I make for science!), I found that creamy Greek yogurt was the most pleasant way to fight off too much chili heat, while swishing a bit of olive oil in my mouth—while not altogether pleasant—was the most effective.”

What other tips does Chef Kenji offer? As you might expect, since his book is about wok cooking, you’ll find a lot of techniques, recipes, and advice for stir frying food. Early on in the book, he shares his best tips for buying, using, and maintaining a wok. (He mentions he is still using the same wok he bought in the early 2000s.) When purchasing, look for carbon steel, he says. “Modern carbon steel pans are made of spun steel that is quite durable and unlikely to crack or break. A 14-gauge (about 2 mm thick) is thick enough for searing, but thin enough that it will react to changes in heat quickly,” he writes, adding that “when properly used it will end up with a practically nonstick surface.” He also feels it’s important to use a wok that isn’t too heavy.

If you haven’t done much wok cooking before, Chef Kenji takes you through all the steps in learning this fun cooking technique, including photos and detailed instructions, and offers readers a basic overview of how to stir-fry different types of meats and vegetables successfully. He shows how to slice and prepare each ingredient from fresh to get the best result. The reason for this is to liberate home cooks from following recipes, allowing them to get creative in kitchen.

“Don’t get me wrong,” says Chef Kenji. “There are plenty of recipes in the book, and if you’re the type who just wants to follow instructions and leave the planning to someone else, that’s totally fine. But if, on the other hand, you have that desire to be in charge of your own destiny, to cook that meal that’s custom-suited for you, then I hope you’ll find the lengthy in-between-the-recipes sections of this book even more interesting.”

Readers will get some great tips on kitchen gadgets, sauces to keep on hand, and a big selection of recipes from Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese, Thai, and Korean traditions, from Kung Pao Shrimp to Pad Thai, Tempura, Sesame Chicken, and more.

Both beginners and experienced cooks can find great information in this book—no matter what level you’re at, Chef Kenji can show you how to cook some delicious meals. His book is available to check out at Carlsbad Public Library.

This article originally appeared on Carlsbad Current-Argus: Recipes and techniques courtesy of fusion cooking in Chef James Kenji Lopez-Alt book