Mention Beijing cuisine and Peking duck immediately comes to mind. It conjures the image of sumptuous palace fare and complex cooking techniques. This dish is considered the ultimate of Chinese cooking wisdom and knowhow. Perfectly roasted duck with a lacquer-like glaze covering the skin is the definitive Beijing delicacy prized by connoisseurs. But one would be hard pressed to find another dish from Beijing cuisine that stands out like the duck.
My family is originally from the coastal Chinese province of Fujian. Traditionally our noodles are cooked in soup, boiled unadorned except for seasonings, or stir-fried in a wok with a thin sauce. When I was about ten years old my family went to a Cantonese dim sum house in Singapore, which at that time was an exotic excursion for a family accustomed to mostly eating Fujianese food. We were served a pan-fried noodles dish of delicious seafood vegetable sauce dripping all over thin golden brown crispy noodles. That was the beginning of my life long love affair with Hong Kong pan-fried noodles.
As promised I have randomly selected a winner, or rather Warren did, for Diana Kaun’s new book The Chinese Takeout Cookbook. The winner is “gryhndldy.” Let me congratulate “gryhndldy” and I will be contacting you for your mailing information. Diana’s book is a wonderful collection of classic Chinese takeout recipes that you can reproduce at home. Diana’s recipes are easy to follow and use ingredients readily available in your local markets. For those who did not win the book go out and buy a copy. Make takeout Chinese food you can enjoy while controlling the quality of the ingredients, and not worrying about whether your neighborhood restaurant slipped in some MSG unannounced.
For millenniums the Chinese prepared their meals with the express purpose of maintaining a healthy constitution. In fact the earliest texts of Chinese cookery read more like a pharmacologist’s guide than recipe book. It is not surprising that this practice has become a formalized discipline known as food therapy, and making herbal soup one of its best-developed aspects.
In 1953 Admiral Arthur W. Radford, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, visited Taiwan for talks with President Chiang Kai-Shek. The presidential palace chef, Peng Chang-Kuei (彭長貴), was asked to create a banquet to entertain the illustrious guest. After planning some traditional Hunan dishes, he decided to create a few new dishes for the menu. One of them was General Tso’s Chicken. Thus the world’s most famous Chinese dish was born.
For Warren and me Chinese New Year has always meant family and friends. To express our love and affection we do what we do best: offer good food. For many years our Chinese New Year celebration centered on a ten-course banquet. Our nieces would invariably be the focus of the evening. But this year was different. One of our nieces is now living in Singapore and the other one is off in college at Cornell University. Fortunately we live in a Harlem apartment building full of young and lively families. They have become our extended family, so our Chinese New Year tradition continues with them.
The last six months of 2012 passed by me stealthily without my realizing it. The new year is here and I find I have neglected Red Cook during those months. But I’ve not abandoned Red Cook, so the report of Red Cook’s death was an exaggeration. With another Chinese New Year coming up, I am determined to restart my blogging effort. Please accept my apology for this interruption and I hope to engage you in Chinese cooking once again.