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Cookbooks in the Pantry: The Breath of a Wok


When we moved from log house to city apartment, I downsized my large cookbook collection, and kept fewer than 100 cookbooks. What made the cut, and why? 

The Breath of a Wok: Unlocking the Spirit of Chinese Wok Cooking Through Recipes and Lore, by Grace Young and Alan Richardson (2004)

Why I've kept it: To understand why I will never, ever, ever let this book go, you need to read the backstory about the wok on the cover, and the wok maker, and the search by my friend Marcia through the alleys of Shanghai for my wok, made by the same wok maker.

I fell in love with The Breath of a Wok at first sight, and I promise that you will, too. Read about the workings of a traditional Chinese kitchen, techniques passed down from masters (and favorite uncles), and feast your eyes on the sumptuous photography. Learn about wok hay, the magic that happens in your wok when you learn how to stir-fry properly, as I did from reading this amazing book. Then peruse the chapter filled with recipes -- yes, recipes -- for how to season your wok, with oil, or in the oven, and how to clean a wok properly.

And, of course, there is the food. My favorite recipes are the ones for stir-frying vegetables. Both stir-fried garlic lettuce, which I'd never have thought of cooking before reading this book, and stir-fried corn and red pepper with ginger, another Grace Young recipe, have made frequent appearances on our table. I've also made Uncle Sherman's Home-Style Chicken and Vegetables, and Martin Yan's Genghis Khan Beef. 

Readers of The Perfect Pantry will already have all of the Asian pantry ingredients needed for the recipes in this book, including sesame oil, several types of soy sauce, shao hsing wine, cornstarch, and lots of ginger and garlic. 

Bookmarked, to try next: Cousin Judy's tofu with black bean sauce, stir-fried shrimp with garlic sauce, Che Chung Ng's scallops with asparagus.

Do you have The Breath of a Wok, or Grace Young's more recent Stir-Frying to the Sky's Edge, on your cookbook shelf?

Disclosure: The Perfect Pantry earns a few pennies on purchases made through the Amazon.com links in this post. Thank you for supporting this site when you start your shopping here.


This is an amazing book. I got to meet Grace Young once at IACP and she was just as charming as the book. I think you were the one who told me to buy this, and I have loved it.

Each week I look forward to reading about you most beloved cookbooks. I have an extensive collection myself, but I can always find room for one more! I have ordered several of your suggested books. This one has already made my list!

I recently downsized too. I did take the doors off one closet and turn it into a cookbook library and a home for my vintage kitchen linens. It makes me smile every time I pass it!

I have also found many other great cooking blogs from your recipe suggestions.

I feel like I know you!

I love this book second hand, from your posts and the recipes you've shared. Her spicy garlic eggplant is still a favorite - since the original 2007 post. My comment then ( this was the best Chinese recipe ever) is still true.
Oh, no! Do I feel a craving for another cookbook?

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