The trick to Vietnamese cooking lies in technique, not recipes, says Charles Phan, the chef behind San Francisco's award-winning Slanted Door restaurant. Take stir-frying, the signature high-heat cooking method used by chefs and home cooks throughout China and Vietnam. It's not the shape of the wok or some esoteric ingredient that makes the difference, it's the patience of the cook -- and the understanding, he writes in his new cookbook, "Vietnamese Home Cooking" (Ten Speed Press, $35, 226 pages), that "a wok is not a salad bowl with a heat source under it. You can't just dump everything into it at once and hope for the best."

1. You don't need a wok to stir-fry, but if you're buying one, choose a 14-inch spun-steel wok, not a nonstick. "You want a surface that is friendly to oil, not one that repels it," Phan says. If it is round-bottomed, you'll need a wok ring, too. Clean and season your wok.

2. Cut and prepare all the ingredients before you begin, and place them within arm's reach. Cutting everything into small pieces means ingredients cook faster -- and can be eaten with chopsticks.

3. Be prepared to cook in batches. Home stoves don't get as hot as restaurant ranges. Add too many ingredients, and you lower the temperature further, which results in soggy food.


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4. Stir-fry in a blazingly hot wok. Place your empty wok on the stove's hottest burner, set at its highest setting and wait. A spun-steel wok, Phan says, will take on "a matte appearance. A drop of two of water flicked onto the surface should evaporate immediately on contact." Then add the oil and your ingredients.