Forty years and 27 cookbooks into Ken Hom’s cooking, teaching and writing career–that's how many years in the making his latest, Complete Chinese Cooking, a kind of "best of" for readers familiar with his work both in print and on television.
Many of Hom’s earlier books treated a single subject: wok cooking, vegetarian, Thai, noodles, fusion, stir-fry. His more comprehensive books such as Ken Hom’s Chinese Kitchen offered a choice selection of carefully curated recipes in each category that only hinted at the breadth of his cooking knowledge. Cooking a sampling of Hom’s recipes left cooks hoping for a bigger slice of his encyclopedic grasp of Chinese cookery. Complete Chinese Cookbook collects some of his “greatest hits,” includes some newly developed recipes, and a few he's discovered as China's cuisine evolves. The result is a collection that's fun and satisfying to cook from, sometimes traditional, sometimes innovative, and for some cooks, all the Chinese recipes they may ever need.
Hom writes nostalgically of Chinese home-cooking such as Steeped Chicken and Steamed Chicken with Chinese Sausage and Chicken, Sausage and Rice Casserole. There are plenty of American restaurant favorites, too,including Mu Shu Pork with Chinese Pancakes, Shrimp Toast and Black Bean Chicken.
Plenty of "new Chinese" recipes earn a spot in Hom’s selection. Deep-Fried Milk and Firecracker Corn are definitely not traditional to Chinese cooking. And Whole Stuffed Chicken Skin is “the most spectacular recipe in the book,” according to Hom.
Chinese cookbooks, like Chinese cooking and Chinese meals, are usually short on desserts. Hom addresses this oversight with an entire chapter of custards, puddings, sweet soups and fruit desserts tempting enough to lure a cook to the kitchen to make Cold Honeydew Melon and Coconut Soup or Warm Banana Compote in Plum Wine with Candied Ginger.
For cooks new to the Chinese market and Chinese ingredients, Hom’s books often include a useful guide to selecting Chinese ingredients. Suggestions for basic prep de-mystify the produce department and spice aisle of the Chinese market.
Complete Chinese Cookbook goes further, with a very brief history of the four main culinary regions and a quick update on recent trends in Chinese cooking.
These recent trends include fresh flavors and nontraditional ingredients, part of China’s increasingly global outlook. It’s a trend we love, and we think there’s as much appeal in these three new style recipes—Chicken and Spinach Soup, Walnut Chicken and Mango Chicken–as any of China’s traditional dishes.
Ken Hom's Complete Chinese Cookbook (Firefly Books, 2011)
–By Nicki Pendleton Wood