I received this book a little before it's official release date (Whoops, Amazon!) - so I had the chance to try out a few recipes before reviewing (this is a cookbook after all).
Now, I own a number of cookbooks, from Chinese, to Japanese, to Thai, and the reason why I bought yet another Chinese cookbook is because I admit it, I was in a bit of a rut, and it's always good to have a wider pool of ideas to dip into. The deciding point, for me, was when I saw a sneak preview of a Dim Sum recipe or two, and I couldn't believe they were from Gok Wan - so I thought I would give this a go and see what else he could do.
Now, the book is laid out in a non-intimidating, and logical way, with Takeaway Classics to dip your toe into, progressing through to some wonderfully adventurous, and modern dishes which you can build up to when you gain more confidence. Chinese food isn't all about chow mein, don't you know?
The book also presents us with a list of cupboard essentials and equipment, which is very handy for the Chinese cooking novice, and these are things you will be using again, and again (yes, you will use Fish sauce over and over again, and Sesame Oil will quickly become your best kitchen buddy). Almost all of these items could be reasonably found in a kitchen where a wok is used a lot, and can be found in most supermarkets, or bought online if you're out in the sticks - nothing too daunting or scary, here.
One thing that's good for someone new to Chinese cooking - if you do need to buy equipment, Gok offers some handy advice, and the essential items can be bought without too much expense (unlike a certain cookbook, by a celebrity chef, which initially had a half hour time limit, and gave you list of electrical equipment which would make any bank manager cry) - there is nothing worse than trying to learn to cook, when the initial outlay is off-putting. This is not such a problem here.
Lets try the food! The recipes are rather easy to follow, and the timings are about right. Gok offers advice on what can be substituted (if something just cannot be sourced) and what really shouldn't. As much as I love Chinese takeaway classics, I am here for the family dishes and Dim Sum and party food! There are dishes that have wowed my friends when presented to them this weekend, but they were ludicrously simple to make, such as the Soy Glazed Chicken - for the love of God, try the chicken! Sesame Prawn balls are perfect for those who love their prawn toast, but want to do without the stodgy, greasy bread bit (try these, you might need to practice getting the texture right, but once you do, you will never go back!). Pork and Prawn Pot Stickers and Prawn and Scallop moneybag dumplings, was a little fiddly, but they all had a wonderful taste and "Blimey, you must have worked so hard on these" payoff! Mercifully, a lot (if not all) of the dim sum can be made in advance, so no last minute panicking - you can take your time to get these lovely bites perfect (again, a great dish for novices who want to gain confidence). I didn't get much of a chance to present the dishes as beautifully as in the book before ravenous friends descended on the food like a pack of hungry wolves - and believe me, I made plenty!
The Hot and Sour soup is divine! It is better than anything I have tried at any take-out, and I am another advocate of the Steamed Cod with Tenderstem Broccoli dish as a must-try, for something tasty, different, satisfying and healthy. All the dishes I have tried were fresh, tasty and beautiful, oh, and not a whiff of MSG in sight.
If the book is so brilliant, why the 4 stars, and not 5? Well, I am a greedy little madam, and I couldn't help but want a little more... like a dessert or two! (hint, hint), maybe there's more to come from Mr Wan's Wok if this takes off?
All in all, a very good book, with familiar and achievable (and all the more important, tasty!) dishes for novices, and ideas to stimulate and inspire more experienced Wok Wielding Warriors - just remember to provide your own pudding if you're planning on entertaining.