In our household Thanksgiving dinner is a sacred tradition. My partner Warren insists that we only serve his mother’s New England Thanksgiving dinner. For years I’ve not strayed from her traditional menu, which includes roast turkey with oyster stuffing, orange cranberry sauce, homemade pickles, creamed peas and onions, mashed Butternut squash and turnip, and mashed potato. For dessert we routinely serve apple and pumpkin pie. At the end of the meal there’s usually rarely any apple pie left but plenty of pumpkin pie. And there’s always uncooked pumpkin left from making the pie. This year I decided to use it to make a very traditional Chinese stir-fry.
A few days ago I received a bagful of freshly picked long beans (豇豆) from a friend’s rooftop garden. They were bi-color, crisp and just absolutely gorgeous. Legumes are at their peak during late summer, and I was once again reminded of how we’ve lost the custom of eating locally grown food in season.
Guess what I found when I was in New York’s Chinatown last week. This beautiful looking hulu! I’ve not seen them before in New York nor anywhere in the U.S. Hulu (葫蘆) is a bottle shaped gourd often seen in Chinese brush paintings. Sages or monks carrying hulu flask are common themes in Chinese art. But these sinuous shaped gourds are also delicious as vegetables.
Do you remember in March I let the garlic in my kitchen sprout? Yes, it’s been almost three months and no news about the shoots. I am guilty of being neglectful with you, my readers. The fact is I’ve harvested the garlic shoots (蒜苗) twice but I was not motivated enough to record the events. This weekend however I collected another batch of these flavorful young shoots and made the classic twice cooked pork (回鍋肉). This time I am determined to share the marvelous herb and dish with you.
Last Wednesday The New York Times published an article by Kim Severson about “Recipe Deal Breakers.” In it she asked if there is an ingredient or a technique that would stop you from using a recipe. The article was humorous and light-hearted, which I enjoyed immensely. However, that didn’t stop a firestorm of reactions from spreading all over the culinary blogosphere. Michael Ruhlman joined in the fray with his blog post the next day. Kate Hopkins at Accidental Hedonist continued the discussion with a poll. Now it’s my turn to ask a similar question. What is a deal breaker for creating authentic Chinese food in an American Kitchen?
Many Chinese vegetables are known to Americans as bok choy or simply Chinese cabbage. Although there is a wide variety of these “Chinese cabbages,” they all have a very similar, neutral, non-threatening taste recognizable to the American palate. But don’t be fooled, not all Chinese vegetables are bland and blah. There is also a large selection of mustard greens, not commonly known by Americans, that have much more distinct bitter and spicy flavors.
Yes, you can make red cooked beef. But the recipe is slightly modified from red cooked pork so as to add extra spices for reducing the gaminess of beef. Well, the Chinese do consider beef gamey. In fact they think “foreign savages” who eat beef and consume dairy products smell like stale butter. Yet many areas in China have large repertoire of beef dishes, especially in the Northern and Western regions. Go figure!
A month after I started my blog Bev Sansom posted a comment wanting to know how Asian stocks are made. I was pleased to know that readers like Bev are interested in proper cooking techniques.
Photography by Ron Boszko
When I order live fish at a restaurant in China it is customary for the kitchen staff to present the live fish tableside for inspection in a basket or plastic bag. (And sometime on an elegant silvery stainless platter in upscale restaurants.) The fish invariably flips and flops, and gasps for its last breath. The Asian and European diners amongst us would nod approvingly except of course for the Americans. They would shake their heads in disbelief. Twenty minutes later a beautifully fried or steamed fish is served, and everyone ooohs and aaahs except for the Americans. By this time they are so completely revolted they’d just sit and smile politely, believing PETA evangelists are about to materialize and surround the table with police tape. The different reactions remind me of what I recently read in The Fortune Cookie Chronicles by Jennifer 8. Lee. She wrote that Americans don’t want their food to look like real animals. Here lies the root of the culinary culture difference.
It is an invaluable tool in a Chinese kitchen: a plate lifter. Steaming is one of the most common techniques in Chinese cooking. A plate or a bowl is often buried deep in a steamer to cook food. This tool can safely lift a hot container out of the steamer without burning your hands.
Also posted in Steaming, Tools
Tagged Steaming, Tools