Chef and food writer J.Kenji López-Alt believes there’s something in your kitchen that you don’t use near a skillet—the skillet.
The Asian Deep Bottom Pot is his versatile cooking tool for everything from Korean-style pancakes to bacon and egg fried rice.
“Obviously, people know them for the quick fries,” he says. “But it’s also great for simmering, great for cooking, and great for steaming. I think it’s the best tool for steaming and deep frying. You can make rice. There’s just a massive, huge amount of things you can do in this one pan.”
After spending a lot of fixing the epidemic, López-Alt offers his wisdom in “The Wok: Recipes and Techniques” from WW Norton & Company, a book with helpful tips, great side dishes and nearly 200 dishes.
“I think there is only one recipe that even requires turning on the oven. Everything else is done 100% in one skillet on your stovetop,” he says.
The Wok gives advice on the best oils to use, how to boil eggs, and how to eat stews and curries. It dispels some myths, like the one that says that only one-day-old rice makes good fried rice. There’s even a section for making soup in the pan, including egg drop, wonton, and hot and sour.
Lopez-Alt advises home cooks to get what he has—a 14-inch, flat-bottomed, carbon-steel skillet, and says if you paid more than $50, you likely overcharged. He bought it at Target in the early 2000s.
That frying pan has adapted to every stage of his life. He bought it as a college student living with his roommates, kept using it after moving in with his soon-to-be wife, and continues to cook with her now as a father. He says he pulls out the pan three or four times a week.
López-Alt is also the author of “The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking Through Science,” a textbook-like cookbook with roots in the scientific mind. The new book contains similar rigorous tests, with great shifts in when rice is rinsed, whether to use MSG, how to shop for shrimp and how different types of pasta behave.
“I find that learning things are a lot easier when I learn the basic principles behind them. And so I learned why I do something as well as how to do it,” he said.
López-Alt compares the following recipes in a cookbook by asking directions on your phone from Siri — you can get from point A to point B, but you don’t know anything about neighborhoods or how they connect.
“I think knowing the techniques and science is what gives me the confidence to walk away from recipes and know I still won’t waste and (will) end up with something edible and hopefully delicious,” he says.
His new book has earned the blessing of Grace Young, the fierce advocate of Wok, who has authored the award-winning books “The Breath of a Wok” and “Stir Frying to the Sky’s Edge.” She welcomes the pan’s beloved reinforcements, and fears that pot is at a crossroads, especially with the advent of non-stick, non-original versions.
“I am really grateful to Kenji for writing this book because it can appeal to a much wider and smaller audience than I can,” she says. “This means that more pans are getting homes, more people are curious, and more people appreciate the fact that this pan is so special and unique.”
The pan’s flared shape gives chefs a better angle to handle food compared to the vertical walls of traditional pans, and it reduces food spatter. Its sides can either be used to protect food from the heat in the middle or alternatively a place that gets really hot and sizzles.
López-Alt wrote in the Kitchen Equipment chapter of “The Food Lab” that the frying pan was his go-to frying pan, but the last book never had recipes or tips because that section was freed up for space.
So when he began to engage with the second volume of “The Food Lab,” he began revisiting Wok’s class and began to expand it. Then it took on a life of its own.
“I was at 200 pages and didn’t finish the fries. So I felt like, ‘Hey, this is something I’m excited about and have found useful in my life, so maybe I should write an entire book and then others find it useful as well,'” he says.
It dispels some of the wrong impressions about wok cooking: It’s not true, he says, that you need jet flames, and high-powered restaurant-style stoves to cook properly with a wok.
“I go to Peter Luger in New York, right? And they have a steak they cook under a 1600-degree grill. It’s a certain experience, right? I wouldn’t expect to be able to go home and cook steaks the exact same way,” he says.
“This is just like a very special restaurant style of cooking steak. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t many other ways I can cook delicious steak at home.”