Chinese Food


This post is one of my early ones (from ages ago) and most popular ones, but I’ve always hated that it was full of typos (I’m a typo machine).  As such, and to satisfy myself that I’ve done this amazing recipe justice, I’ve decided to re-post it, as well as the explanation of the name.

Fish-Fragrant Pork SliversThe recipe below is my take on the one from a book called Sichuan Cookery by Fuchsia Dunlop, an authority on Chinese cooking in the West. I can honestly say that the result is fabulous – as is the cultural and culinary explanations that precede every recipe in her excellent book – however I found her writing to be imprecise and the instructions sloppy. The key to cooking this recipe (and most Chinese dishes, I imagine) is mise-en-place; you need to have your little bowls of seasoning and ingredients waiting to be tossed into the wok or frying pan (I use the latter).

So, where does the name come from?  According to Fuchia Dunlop’s book:

The so-called fish-fragrant is one of Sichuan’s most famous culinary creations, and it epitomizes the Sichauanese love for audacious combinations of flavour.  It is salty, sweet, sour, and spicy…  This delicious combination of flavours is thought to have originated in traditional Sichuanese fish cooking, which would explain why other ingredients prepared in teh same way would have instantly recalled the taste of fish, hence the name.  Some food experts, like the famous chef Xiao Jianming of Piaoxiang Restaurant in Chengdu, say the flavours conjure up the actual taste of tiny crucian carp (ji yu), which are widely eaten in Sichuan…  The term may also be connected with the fact that whole crucian carp, which are particularly delicious, are sometimes actually added to vats of pickling chillies to improve their taste.

Here’s what you need for this recipe (serves 3):

INGREDIENTS (BROKEN DOWN INTO HANDY BOWLS)

75ml of cooking oil (groundnut or peanut oil, or corn oil)

Pork
300g of lean pork, cut into thin 3mm x 3mm x 3cm slivers (“julienne” them)

Marinade
¼ teaspoon of salt
1 teaspoon of light soy sauce
1 tablespoon of cold water
1 tablespoon of potato flour (potato starch is a decent substitute)
1 teaspoon of Shaoxing wine (if you don’t have any, use sherry)

Sauce
1½ teaspoons of white sugar
1½ teaspoons of Chinkiang or black Chinese vinegar (balsamic vinegar will do)
¾ teaspoons of light soy sauce
½ teaspoons of salt
¾ teaspoon of potato flour (again, potato starch will do in a pinch)
3 tablespoons of stock (chicken) or water

Bowl 1
2 tablespoons of chilli paste

Bowl 2
2 teaspoons of finely chopped garlic
2 teaspoons of finely chopped ginger

Bowl 3
75g of bamboo shoots
1 handful of cloud-ear mushrooms

Bowl 4
1 spring onion, chopped

INSTRUCTIONS

Ok…get to work. First, chop up your meat, make the marinade, and then combine the two. Make sure to thoroughly coat your meat and let your it marinade for at least 30 minutes. If you have a rice cooker (if you don’t, buy one!) you can start making the rice.

Next, take your cloud-ear mushrooms (which will likely be dehydrated) and soak them in very hot water for 30 minutes. While the mushroom are hydrating, boil some more salted water and blanch the bamboo shoots for about a minute or so. Rinse them in cold water and then julienne them in slices similar in size to the pork.

Now, get to work preparing the contents of the other bowls, which should be self explanatory. Once the mushroom are ready, chop off any hard, nubby bits, and then slice them into strips the size of the pork and bamboo shots.

You should now be locked and loaded – which is good because the next step will be fast and furious. Season your wok (if you don’t your meat will stick) and heat up the 75ml of oil over high heat.

Once the oil is nice and hot, throw in your marinating meat and cook until the pieces are white on all sides (about 1-2 minutes). Then, keeping your wok over the heat, push your meat to one side of the wok and tilt the wok at about 30° so that the oil pools opposite the meat. Put your chilli paste into the oil (but not the meat). Mix up your paste/oil mix until well incorporated in the oil (about 30 seconds) and try not to let any meat drop into it.

Next, add the garlic and ginger in the chilli-oil mix until you can smell them.

This is the home stretch. Level your wok and rest it on the heating element. Throw in the bamboo shoots and cloud-ear mushrooms, and fry for 30 seconds. Stir in the sauce and mix quickly, then toss in the spring onions. Mix for about 10-20 seconds and serve immediately.

Living in downtown (University and Dundas) Toronto is like living on the moon: It is grey, the concrete makes it rock-like, and there’s very little in the way of atmosphere. This is not to say that there’s no cachet. Indeed, I relish the neighbourhoods that add spice to the otherwise uninteresting corporate epicentre. One of those neighbourhoods is Chinatown, where I got the General Tso Chicken
spices and inspiration for this well loved staple of Chinese cooking: General Tso Chicken.

This dish is also known as General Tsao, General Taso, General Toa, General Cho, General Gau, General Ching, General Kung and General Tseng (according to Eileen Yin-Fei Lo in The Chinese Kitchen, at 416). No matter what it’s called, it is rightly a popular addition to any Chinese restaurant’s menu and a crackerjack head turner at a dinner party. The versions I have here is adapted from Fuchsia Dunlop’s incredibly second oeuvre, Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook: Recipes from Hunan Province – a book I highly recommend for anyone interesting in Chinese cooking, culture, folklore and foodlore. Here’s what you’ll need to make her “Changsha version”

INGREDIENTS

Peanut oil for deep/shallow frying

Bowl 1 (chicken and marinade)
12oz. of boned chicken thigh, skin on, and chopped into bite sized morcels
2 teaspoons of soy sauce (dark or light, but if you’re using dark try cutting it with ½ tablespoon of water or chicken stock)
4 tablespoons of potato flour (rice flour will do in a pinch)
1 egg yolk

Bowl 2 (chillies)
8 dried red chillies, seeds removed and chopped up (roughly should do the trick)

Bowl 3 (ginger)
1½ tablespoons of ginger, chopped finely

Bowl 4 (tomato paste)
1 tablespoon of tomato paste

Bowl 5 (sauce)
2 teaspoons of soy sauce (dark or light, it’s as you like)
3½ tablespoon of stock
2 teaspoons of Chinkiang vinegar (if you’re unable to find this type of vinegar, you can cheat and use balsamic vinegar)
2 teaspoons of white sugar
½ teaspoon of potato flour

Bowl 6 (scallions)
3 scallions (green part only) sliced

1. First, mix together the ingredients of your marinade (bowl 1) and put in your chicken to soak up all the lovely flavour.

2. While you chicken is enjoying its bath, put enough peanut oil in a sturdy pot and heat it up to 180-200C (350-400F). (NB: I usually find that this requires too much expensive peanut oil, so I actually heat up a baby finger’s-worth of peanut oil in a frying pan and shallow fry the chicken. It doesn’t seem to mind.)

3. While your peanut oil is heating up, you can prepare your bowls of goods.

4. Once the oil is at the appropriate temperature, take your chicken out of the marinade and deep fry it until golden and crispy. Set it aside. (NB: My cheater’s shortcut of shallow frying in a frying pan, of course, affects the crispiness of the chicken as it reduces the oil temperature, so I try to split the difference and do small batches at a time).

Now, for the big show.

5. Put in 1-2 tablespoons of oil in your frying pan/wok and heat on medium-high heat. Add your chopped dried chillies (Bowl 2) and stir-fry for 30-45 seconds, making sure they don’t burn.

6. Next, add your ginger (Bowl 3) to the frying pan/wok and stir fry for about 1 minute or just long enough for the ginger to begin to release its delicious fragrance. Again, be careful not to burn it.

7. Add your tomato paste (Bowl 4)

8. Now, add your sauce (Bowl 5) to the frying pan/wok and mix it up, combining all the ingredients. Add your deep/shallow fried chicken and coat it well with the sauce. Throw in the scallions, mix them into your sauce, and then turn out the mixture into a bowl. Serve immediately.

This is really a great dish, and leftovers (a rare occurrence in my house, I assure you) can be used for a great lunch bento. This is truly a fabulous recipe, and so simple you’ll wonder why you haven’t made it before.

I recently got my Toronto Public Library Card, and have gone hog wild borrowing recipe books. On the top of my list were some Chinese cookbooks I’ve been meaning to check out, but haven’t seen at my local book stores. One such book, entitled The Chinese Kitchen, by Eileen Yin-Fei Lo was near the top of my list. After flipping through the book, I came across Mah Paw Dau Fu, a Sichuan classic Mah Paw Do Fu
that I knew under its Japanese moniker, “Mabo Dofu”.The version in Yin-Fei Lo’s book is slightly sweeter than the Japanese version my wife loves to make (in fact, I’m glad to say that it’s her signature dish) and reminded me of a kind of Chinese BBQ sauce, but with an Asian twist. When I sat down to make it tonight, I didn’t have any tofu, so I tweaked the recipe a bit and replaced the tofu with eggplant. Here is my version of Mah Paw Dau Fu. I made it in a frying pan, for which I’m sure I’ll be branded heretic by Chinese cooking purists.

INGREDIENTS

SAUCE
1 1/3 cup of Chicken Stock (homemade, please!)
3½ teaspoons of soy sauce
3 teaspoons of white vinegar (or Chinese rice wine vinegar, if you can get your hands on it)
1 tablespoon of Chinese cooking wine
1 tablespoon of sugar
¼ teaspoon of salt
¼ cup of ketchup (this is quite a sweet dish, so feel free to reduce this ketchup to 1/8 cup)
2 tablespoons of cornstarch (in a pinch, you can use rice flour)
1 tablespoon of sesame oil

EGGPLANT
1 large eggplant (two or three handfuls worth) chopped up in bigg’ish bite sized pieces
¼ cup of vegetable oil

BOWL 1
2 teaspoons of minced ginger
3 red Thai chillies, finely chopped

BOWL 2
2 teaspoons of minced garlic

BOWL 3
½ pound of lean ground pork

BOWL 4
2 tablespoons of Chili Sauce

CONDIMENTS
½ cup of scallions

RECIPE
1. First off, chop up your eggplant, rinse the pieces lightly in water, put the pieces in a bowl, and salt them. Let them sit in the bowl for about 20 minutes while you prepare the rest of the dish. The salt will draw out the bitterness of the eggplant, as well as the water. While that’s going on, set up your rice cooker and chop up the ingredients in all of your bowls. I use the bowl method because it is really the simplest way to plan your work (and then work your plan).

2. After your eggplant has sat in the salt for 20 minutes, rinse it down, drain off any liquid, and pat the eggplant dry – this will prevent the oil from “spitting” at you when you fry the eggplants. Next, heat up a frying pan to medium-high, and put in your vegetable oil. Once the oil begins to look hazy and hot (even a bit smoky is ok), carefully toss in a pan-full of eggplant and fry them until they are golden. Repeat as often as required. Remember not to crowd your eggplant pieces; this will steam them more than fry them. Once you’ve fried all your eggplant pieces, set them aside in a bowl (and keep them warm, if you can).

3. Clean out your frying pan, turn down the heat slightly, and put in the peanut oil (mmm….I love that smell). Once the oil is hot (but not too hot, you don’t want to burn your ingredients) toss in the Bowl 1 ingredients (ginger and chilli) for 1 minute to soften them up.

4. Next, throw in the contents of Bowl 2 (garlic) and fry for 30 seconds. Then, toss in your pork (Bowl 3) and break it up with a wooden spoon as it cooks. Once the pork is cooked and no longer pink, add the chilli sauce (Bowl 4) and combine it will with the contents of the pan. Now, add the eggplant, mix it up, turn up the heat to medium-high, and dump in your lovely sauce. Let the sauce simmer for about 3-5 minutes – just long enough to heat up and thicken to your liking.

5. Pour out the lovely mah paw dau fu into a large bowl, sprinkle with your scallions, and serve immediately with your rice.

One of the great things about Yin-Fei Lo’s book is how she compliments some of her recipes with the stories behind the dishes. The story of mah paw dau fu is interesting. According to legend, a woman with pockmarked skin started up a restaurant and served the dish to her customers. She did not, however, name the dish but the somewhat insensitive customers decided to name it after her: “the pockmarked grand-mother’s tofu”. It is truly a testament to the deliciousness of this dish that despite such an unpalatable name it should be as popular as it is.

For the past few months my friend Jannes has been talking about his love of Chinese food and his new passion for Chinese cooking. Now, for the vast majority of us who have never been to China, our idea of Chinese cooking is limited to chicken balls, cherry sauces, and spring rolls. Consequently, it was a pleasure when Jannes invited me down to learn how to cook some more traditional Sichuan dishes. During our cooking  
clinic, I was put in charge of a dish called Fish-Fragrant Pork Slivers (yu xiang rou si) – a mind-blowingly delicious dish that I can hardly wait to make again.

The recipe is from a book called Sichuan Cookery by Fuchsia Dunlop, an authority on Chinese cooking in the West. I can honestly say that the result is fabulous – as is the cultural and culinary explanations that precede every recipe in her excellent book – however I found her writing to be imprecise and the instructions sloppy. The key to cooking this recipe (and most Chinese dishes, I imagine) is mise-en-place; you need to have your little bowls of seasoning and ingredients waiting to be tossed into the wok. Dunlop’s book, however, does not break down its instructions into the contents of each bowl. Rather, it is a mishmash of sometimes confusing directives.

In my humble opinion, my instructions on the dish are clearer, though I cannot claim to improve upon what is an incredible recipe.

Here’s what you need for this recipe (serves 3):

75ml of cooking oil (groundnut or peanut oil, or corn oil)

300g of lean pork, cut into thin 3mm x 3mm x 3cm slivers (“julienne” them)

Marinade
¼ teaspoon of salt
1 teaspoon of light soy sauce
1 tablespoon of cold water
1 tablespoon of potato flour (potato starch is a decent substitute)
1 teaspoon of Shaoxing wine (if you don’t have any, use sherry)

Sauce
1½ teaspoons of white sugar
1½ teaspoons of Chinkiang or black Chinese vinegar (balsamic vinegar will do)
¾ teaspoons of light soy sauce
½ teaspoons of salt
¾ teaspoon of potato flour (again, potato starch will do in a pinch)
3 tablespoons of stock (chicken) or water

Bowl 1
2 tablespoons of chilli paste

Bowl 2
2 teaspoons of finely chopped garlic
2 teaspoons of finely chopped ginger

Bowl 3
75g of bamboo shoots
1 handful of cloud-ear mushrooms

Bowl 4
1 spring onion, chopped

Ok…get to work. First, chop up your meat, make the marinade, and then combine the two. Make sure to thoroughly coat your meat and let your it marinade for at least 30 minutes. If you have a rice cooker (if you don’t, buy one!) you can start making the rice.

Next, take your cloud-ear mushrooms (which will likely be dehydrated) and soak them in very hot water for 30 minutes. While the mushroom are hydrating, boil some more salted water and blanch the bamboo shoots for about a minute or so. Rinse them in cold water and then julienne them in slices similar in size to the pork.

Now, get to work preparing the contents of the other bowls, which should be self explanatory. Once the mushroom are ready, chop off any hard, nubby bits, and then slice them into strips the size of the pork and bamboo shots.

You should now be locked and loaded – which is good because the next step will be fast and furious. Season your wok (if you don’t your meat will stick) and heat up the 75ml of oil over high heat.

Once the oil is nice and hot, throw in your marinating meat and cook until the pieces are white on all sides (about 1-2 minutes). Then, keeping your wok over the heat, push your meat to one side of the wok and tilt the wok at about 30° so that the oil pools opposite the meat. Put your chilli paste into the oil (but not the meat). Mix up your paste/oil mix until well incorporated in the oil (about 30 seconds) and try not to let any meat drop into it.

Next, add the garlic and ginger in the chilli-oil mix until you can smell them.

This is the home stretch. Level your wok and rest it on the heating element. Throw in the bamboo shoots and cloud-ear mushrooms, and fry for 30 seconds. Stir in the sauce and mix quickly, then toss in the spring onions. Mix for about 10-20 seconds and serve immediately.