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August 08, 2014

In the Kitchen: A Dim Sum Cookbook

By Sasha Levine | Books, Food

Photo courtesy of Kevin Koh / Lighted Pixels

In today’s world of gluten hostility, it almost feels rebellious to handle a cookbook exalting flour in all its glutinous forms. But chefs Janice Wong (2am:dessertbar in Singapore) and Ma Jian Jun have delivered exactly that in their collaborative (and now English-translated) effort, Dim Sum (Gatehouse). The subtitle itself, “A Flour-forward Approach to Traditional Favorites and Contemporary Creations,” might as well be a warning label.

Here, however, flour is key as the cause behind the consistency, appearance and flavor of each mouthwatering dumpling, bun and pastry featured. (There’s even a flowchart that explains the connection between them: high gluten = elastic skin = shao mai.) Consider the number of flour casings (“skins”) that are listed—crystal, elastic, chewy, matte, stretchable, transparent and sticky—not to mention the cloud-like buns and flaky pancakes that appear across these pages.

Equally important, however, is the latter half of the book’s subtitle, which declares the chefs’ quest to rethink traditional dim sum dishes for a modern palate and sensibility. While classic flavors are ever-present—shrimp, pork, crab and custard appear throughout—their inventive combinations of dill and turbot, foie gras and cognac, anchovy and scallop, tripe and yuzu have likely never appeared on the menu at your local Chinatown tea parlor.

The result is an elevated approach to an unctuous dining experience and a collection of 90 edibles as beautiful to look at as they are tasty to imagine. Though each dish’s recipe fits on a single page—the design and layout of the book are as modern as its culinary mindset—do not be fooled by the brevity. These dishes call for techniques, proper equipment and patience—and maybe a new appreciation for gluten—that will likely take time to master. gatehouse.com.