Kian Lam Kho talks about his Phoenix Claws and Jade Trees, his award-winning cookbook about Chinese cookery that dispels the myths about stir-frying.
I learned how to make stir-fry in Grade 7 home ec class.
Technically, it was family studies class. That’s what they called it back then for whatever reason. A life skills class by any other name is still a life skills class, and in the more than 25 years since walking into that kitchen at Stanley Park Senior Public School in Kitchener, I’ve never forgotten what I was told about how to make a stir-fry. Heat oil in a wok. Add your protein. When it’s mostly cooked, add your hardest vegetables — the carrots, broccoli stems and cauliflowers of the world. Then add the next hardest until you get to the softest; those that need the least amount of time cook. Douse with sauce, serve on rice and voila, you have dinner. Or something. Turns out, I’ve been doing it wrong all these years. It was in late June when I found myself in a half-pint-sized condominium in downtown Toronto to have lunch with the who’s who of food journalists (my heroes! Bonnie Stern! Lucy Waverman!). This wasn’t any lunch, however. It was prepared for us by New York-based food writer and cooking instructor Kian Lam Kho.
An Authority on Chinese Cookery
Kian has written the book on stir-frying — the wet and the dry kind, a revelation that made my post-Grade 7 family studies head spin. It’s called Phoenix Claws and Jade Trees: Essential Techniques of Authentic Chinese Cooking. Consider it the James Beard Award-nominated blogger’s attempt to right the Chinese food wrongs of people like me, misguided so many years ago in junior high. Also consider it a beautiful book, filled with scientific and cultural morsels that show Chinese food to be so much more than the chop suey that ultimately inspired Kian to write about the techniques of proper Chinese cooking. I took a few minutes with Kian after lunch that day to find out more about his mission, and to discover how to make a proper stir-fry.
You can hear our conversation in the latest episode of Grub: A Podcast about Food, available on iTunes, Google Play, Soundcloud and Podbean. Spoiler alert: You only par-cook the meat initially, then add it back at the end. So forget what your home ec/family studies/human ecology teacher told you, and sit back and listen.