During Christmas, or Thanksgiving for that matter, many Chinese immigrant families like mine face a dilemma. Should we serve turkey or just simply make a Chinese meal? Turkey has always been an iconic American foods that the Chinese never embraced. Jeff Yang wrote in a Wall Street Journal blog post that his family serves both the big bird and “a long buffet line” of other Chinese dishes. This seems to be the most common solution for satisfying both the family’s preference for Chinese food and our desire to assimilate into the American culinary tradition.
“Why don’t they remove the bones before they serve the fish?” is a common question I hear from friends whenever we go to Chinese restaurants. In fact on one occasion after finishing a steamed striped bass at a popular Cantonese seafood restaurant in Chinatown a fellow diner jested that the remains of our dish looked like Felix the Cat had swallowed the fish whole and pulled out a completely cleaned skeleton with just the head and tail left on. So why do the Chinese like to keep the bones in the dishes they cook?
Now that farmers’ market season is in full swing we are spoiled by an abundance of fresh produce. Lettuces, summer squashes and radishes cram the stalls of just about every green market. Sold in a variety of rainbow colors, radishes are especially plentiful, and they’re almost always sold with their greens attached. Most Americans, however, routinely ask the vendors to cut off the greens or they discard them at home. It’s unfortunate because these greens are delicious and nutritious. In northeastern China the slightly peppery leaves are used in many different ways, including in stir-fries, salads and steamed buns.
A month ago Sabino from Baltimore submitted a comment on the Red Cooked Pork Redux post. It was a comment like I have never seen before. Not only was it voluminous it was also very insightful. He asked detailed questions on cooking and serving red cooked pork. I’m gratified that my readers are actually making authentic Chinese food and are sharing their experiences along the way. I feel compelled to devote an entire post to address the issues brought up in his comments. So here I am writing my third post on the subject of red cooked pork.
When I lived there during much of the 1970’s, Boston was not known for its culinary prowess. It was way before Todd English or Barbara Lynch appeared on the scene. The plain, or rather bland, New England cooking tradition offered little stimulation for my Asian palate that’s used to a spicy array of flavors. I couldn’t quite adjust to the pure taste of the food. That is until I discovered the fiddlehead fern, a native delicacy. It completely changed my view of the New England cooking approach. It is not about creating flavors for the sake of flavors, but rather to maximize the flavor of what’s already in nature.
Also known as the Spring Festival, Chinese New Year marks the beginning of the spring solar term in the Chinese calendar. In spite of the name for the festival we are still in the coldest period of the year. So it is appropriate that during this time of year we consume many of the foods preserved after the autumn harvest and hunting season during the twelfth month of the previous year.
I first encountered sea intestine (海腸) last January while dining at the M & T Restaurant in Flushing, a section of Queens in New York. The owner, James Tang, a native of Qingdao, was not able to articulate exactly what sea intestine is. I’d simply assumed it to be some sort of sea animal and thought it best to leave it at that. Little did I know it was to be such an integral part of modern Qingdao cooking.
Think of sweet potatoes and you probably think of starchy roots candied or French-fried as side dishes. Or may be a dessert such as sweet potato pie to end a hearty meal. For many Chinese, however, sweet potato greens would also come to mind. These leaves are commonly used as a vegetable in Chinese home cooking. Sweet potato greens are just one out of multitude of Asian produce you can get in many Asian markets throughout New York City. On Labor Day (September 6th) you can learn how to identify and to cook this and other Asian vegetables at the first Asian Feastival in Flushing.
Two weeks ago I went to a Dongbei (or Northeastern China) restaurant in Flushing for lunch with a group of Chinese food enthusiasts. I glanced through the menu, but like many seasoned Chinese diners I asked the owner if they had any special seasonal dishes from the kitchen. As it turned out they had young tender garlic scapes, which are the stalks of garlic blossom, and she suggested we ordered them stir-fried with pork slices. I was thrilled to know they’re still available during this late in the season.
Arriving in America in the 1970’s I was introduced to a few American Chinese restaurants that still served chop suey and chow mein. I remembered that one particular item on the menu aroused my curiosity. It was Moo Goo Gai Pan. Expecting a dish with mushrooms and chicken I ordered it. Imagine my horror when the dish arrived displaying a rainbow array of vegetables with pork slices. There was no Moo Goo. There was no Gai Pan.