Explanations of Chinese cooking techniques and tools also show how to adapt them to the contemporary American kitchen, while recipes encompass the full range of main dishes, appetizers, dim-sum, and soupsThere are many fine books on Chinese cooking. Among them, Barbara Tropp’s the Modern Art of Chinese Cooking stands out for its grounding in the underlying philosophy of this sophisticated cuisine. Tropp explores the yin and yang, the harmony of opposites underlying all aspects of Chinese life. Relating them particularly to cooking, she illustrates how seasoning with both chiles and sugar gives a dish fullness of flavor that is more than just hot and sweet. The author gives much attention to equipment and techniques–this is an in-depth manual as well a recipe book. Ever practical, she is not too shy to advise readers about using a Western-style skillet for stir frying, along with advice on using woks, cleavers, and steamers.
The recipe section opens with assorted nibbles. Dishes range from spicy Szechuan Ma-La Cold Chicken to Rice-Coated Pork Pearl Balls, ideal for serving at parties. There are red-cooked stewed meats and juicy Pot Sticker Dumplings. Recipes are as simple as Spinach Stir-Fried with Garlic and Salt, and as complex as Pressed Birthday Duck, which takes up to four days to make and involves three cooking techniques. The dishes come from various regions of China, with an emphasis on those with bold flavors. Tropp adds technique notes to her already detailed instructions, and even recommends what serving dishes to use, whether to heat them, and the best wines to accompany dishes.
Ultimately, the wealth of information, Tropp’s charming voice, and the creative touches she adds in crunchy Cinnamon Bark Chicken, Ginger-Infused Crème Caramel and other recipes make Barbara Tropp’s The Modern Art of Chinese Cooking a necessary book for anyone serious about Chinese food. –Dana Jacobi