Wednesday, November 17, 2010


A post I wrote a while back about unusual ingredients used in Chinese cooking prompted fretfulness from some of my readers.

One person asked "what if I don't WANT to spend an arm and a leg feeding my family?!?"

Another asked whether there was something less likely to prompt his kids in demanding Jaws I, II, and II as movie rentals, and a third asked if Chinese people also ate normal food.

Those are interesting questions.

"What if I don't WANT to spend an arm and a leg feeding my family?!?"

If you don't feel like spending inordinate amounts of money feeding your family there is NO reason why you should, really. Especially if they are children. Children don't have any taste - that is why despite the crappy toy that they are forced to accept, they still love happy meals. Children are nasty little barbarians who just don't appreciate any effort at all; you might as well neglect the little buggers until they're college age, when you can safely get rid of them. They'll eat pizza and burgers once they're finally out of your sight anyhow. Screw them.

And I understand that you don't want to see any of the Jaws movies ever again. They were very silly, the music was bad, and the happy endings stank.
Rent a Chow Yun-fat (周潤發) gangster movie instead.
I suggest 'A Better Tomorrow' (英雄本色 'Ying Hong Pun Sek').

Chinese people eat normal food. Yes. Where are you from?


But, for those readers who really do want to cook something Chinese without losing their mind, here are some recipes.

Hot and sour soup

Two cups chicken stock.
Two cups water.
¼ - ½ cup meat - chopped chicken or pork.
¼ - ½ cup bamboo shoots; rinsed and drained, shredded.
¼ - ½ cup tofu, small chunk cut.
¼ - ½ cup cucumber; peeled, seeded, chopped.
3 - 4 black mushrooms; soaked, drained, stemmed, sliced thin.
2 TBS wood ear (木耳 'muk yi'), soaked and drained.
Quarter cup sherry.
1 TBS soy sauce.
1 TBS vinegar.
1 TBS equal mixture cornstarch and water.
1 Tsp. hot toban sauce (辣豆瓣酱 'laat touban jeung').
¼ - 1 Tsp. ground white pepper.
Pinches five spice powder, sugar.
Two or three drops Tabasco.
A little slivered ginger.
One egg, beaten.
Finely chopped scallion.
Sesame oil.

Bring liquids to a boil. Add meat, mushrooms, shoots, tofu, and wood ears. Reboil. Add everything else except the beaten egg, cornstarch water and scallion. Bring back to a boil, and while stirring soup, mix in the cornstarch water and drizzle in the beaten egg.
Add a few drops sesame oil, apportion into bowls, and strew the chopped scallion over.

This soup is incredibly popular, not only among white people. The reason is that it is actually very tasty, and warms you up nicely on a cold autumn night.
Some ingredient quantities are very flexible, depending on how filling you want this to be, and how hot. The heat should be primarily dependent on the white pepper, not on the toban sauce (which can be left out) or the Tabasco (which can also be left out).
The amount of vinegar can be increased. The addition of chopped cucumber is not traditional.

Dressed bitter melon.

2 TBS dry shrimp (海米 'hoi may').
2 TBS sherry.
2 TBS soy sauce.
2 TBS lime juice or vinegar.
2 TBS sugar.
2 TBS oil.
A little finely minced garlic, ginger, and green chili.

Two or three bitter melons (苦瓜 'fu gwa').

Mix everything except the bitter melon and the oil, and let stand for 2 or 3 hours. Heat the oil in a pan and sizzle the steeped shrimp and their liquid. After a few seconds, decant. It is now a dressing that can be used for blanched vegetables.

Cut the bitter melons in half, remove the pith and seeds. Slice across into thick slivers. Blanch in some boiling salted water, drain, and toss with the dressing. Let stand half an hour, retoss before serving.

Stirfried flowering mustard.

One bunch choisum (菜心), root end trimmed, rinsed.
Half a cup finely chopped meat.
Two TBS sherry.
Two TBS stock.
Two Tsp equal parts cornstarch and water mixed.
A small amount of minced garlic and ginger.
Pinch salt.
Pinch sugar.

Heat wok with a little oil. Stirfry the vegetable for one minute with the pinch salt. Add a splash of liquid to steam-flash the vegetable, stir two minutes more, and remove from heat. Arrange on a plate as if it were asparagus.

Stirfry the meat with the salt, garlic, and ginger till fragrant and no longer raw, about a minute or so. Sizzle with the sherry, add the stock and starch water, cook till it becomes glossy, and pour over the choisum, leaving ends bare.

Double mushroom casserole.

12 black mushrooms.
12 fresh champignons.
One small can bamboo shoot shreds, rinsed.
One cup stock.
3 TBS oil.
2 TBS. soy sauce.
1 TBS. equal parts cornstarch and water mixed.
2 Tsp. sugar
Sesame oil for drizzling.

Soak the black mushrooms for an hour in a little water with a pinch of sugar.
Meanwhile simmer the cleaned champignons in the stock on low heat.
Drain the black mushrooms (trim the stems) and the champignons, reserving liquids.
Heat the oil in a pan, add both sets of mushrooms and the bamboo shoots. Stirfry briefly, add the liquids and sugar. Cook on high till toasty hot, about three minutes. And the cornstarch water to thicken and velvetize, drizzle a little sesame oil over to finish.

Braised chicken wings.

A dozen chicken wings.
A dozen black mushrooms.
One cup stock.
Quarter cup soy sauce.
Quarter cup sherry.
Two TBS sugar.
Two scallions, coarse cut.
A little minced ginger.

Trim the tips off the wings, and cut them in two at the joints. Soak the mushrooms for thirty or forty minutes in a little water with a pinch of sugar. Drain, reserve liquid.

Lightly stirfry ginger and scallion, then add the wings, sugar, and half of the soy sauce. Once the wings have darkened, add everything else, and simmer for half an hour.

Clams in saté (peanut) sauce.

One pound of clams, scrubbed and rinsed.
One scallion, coarse cut.
One garlic glove, chopped.
Quarter cup stock.
Two TBS sherry.
Two TBS. oil.
One TBS. smooth peanut butter.
Dash of Tabasco.
1 Tsp. Sugar.
1 Tsp. cornstarch.

Mix the stock, sherry, peanut butter, Tabasco, sugar, and cornstarch till smooth.
Put clams, scallion, oil, and a jigger of water into a saucepan. Cook on moderate heat with the lid on till the clams open, agitating occasionally. When the shell are open, add everything else. While stirring, bring to a boil. Simmer shortly, remove unopened shells, and serve.

Twice-cooked pork.

Half a pound of streaky pork.
One green bell pepper, chunked.
One Jalapeño, seeded and rinsed in hot water.
2 or 3 cloves garlic.
2 or 3 slices of ginger.
2 or 3 scallions, coarse cut.
Quarter cup stock.
2 TBS. sherry.
1 TBS. toban sauce (豆瓣酱 'touban jeung').

Simmer the pork whole with ginger and scallion, in lightly salted water to cover for half an hour.
Drain, slice thin.

Crisp the pork and bell pepper in a hot pan with some oil. Add the garlic and Jalapeño, toss briefly, and sizzle with the sherry. Add the stock and toban sauce, and turn over high heat to coat the meat. Remove to a serving plate.

[The reason why twice-cooked pork in most Chinese restaurants tastes so miserable is because they substituted lean meat. White folks often panic when fatty pork is used, you see. But it really doesn't work with loin, it needs the streaky stuff.]

Stir-fried meat shreds.

One pound lean meat, matchstick cut across grain.
One bell pepper, cut similarly.
Two TBS. wood ear (木耳 'muk yi').
A little chopped garlic and ginger.
Tabasco and sesame oil.


Half TBS. soy sauce.
Half TBS. sherry.
1 Tsp. cornstarch
1 Tsp. oil.
Generous pinch of sugar.


Half TBS. soy sauce.
Half TBS. sherry.
1 Tsp. sugar.

Soak the wood ear for 30 or 40 minutes and drain.
Marinate meat while the wood ear is soaking, then stirfry briefly in a hot pan to change the colour and remove from to plate.
Gild the wood ear, bell pepper, garlic, and ginger. Before the garlic turns evil, sizzle in the sauce ingredients. Add the meat, toss to mix and mingle, add a dash of Tabasco and a drizzle of sesame oil, and plate it.


When stirfrying, the wok should be smoking, the hand quick. As with everything else, pre-prep is everything. The actual cooking time is very short, but you should have all ingredients ready before you turn up the heat.

These eight dishes are authentic, although the addition of Tabasco is, of course, a heterodox touch. Real Chinese cooking would use 辣酱 (laat jeung) instead, and Cantonese people would eschew even that.
Sherry is a more than reasonable substitute for Chinese rice wine, having the same strength and an almost identical taste. Here in California sherry is native, but rice wine isn't - so why not?

If you want to go the whole nine yards, prepare most or all of these dishes as a full meal for your friends. Or do a few of them, and get some roast duck from a Chinatown takeout, along with some charsiu or siuyiuk.
Remember to send your kids off to Mickey D's for a happy meal in the meantime. They'll be happier. So will your friends.

NOTE: Readers may contact me directly:
All correspondence will be kept in confidence.


Tzipporah said...

Hmm, instead of Jaws, should I show my 4 year old Shaolin Soccer?

The back of the hill said...

Hmm, instead of Jaws, should I show my 4 year old Shaolin Soccer?

Yes. He wouldn’t have much use for any Chow Yun-fat movies till he was older. You would. Chow Yun-fat is not only a fine actor, but has an almost Irish devilishness to him in several movies. And you would probably be fascinated by Anna And The King, in which he plays the monarch of Siam opposite Jodie Foster. For one thing, the actors actually speak royal or court Thai when appropriate.
On a related note, you might also like The Legend of Suriyothai, even though its connection to the subject at hand is slight - anybody who has read Geertz will undoubtedly be able to appreciate the movie.

Tzipporah said...

Oh yes, I love Chow Yun Fat, and have seen that version of Anna and the King. Thanks for the reccy on Suriyothai - I remember noticing it when it came out, but wasn't it several hours long?

I'll have to go look for it.

The back of the hill said...

Yes, Suriyothai is longer - nearly two and a half hours in the US release, shortened from the three hours for the Thai release.

The back of the hill said...

Please note - new shark fin post:

Mmmm, delicious shark fin!

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