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Complete Chinese Cookbook
by: Ken Hom
BBC Books an imprint of Ebury 2011, $35.00, Hardbound
Reviewed by: Jacqueline M. Newman
Summer Volume: 2013 Issue: 20(2) page(s): 17
The last page of this book lists twenty-seven others this author wrote. We bet there are others, too. The cover, says Hom is "The unrivaled authority on Chinese cookery." We believe he surely is one of the best. He has taught Chinese cookery for more than forty years, sometimes to other world experts. As the honorary chairperson of this magazine's parent organization, The Institute for the Advancement of the Science and Art of Chinese Cuisine, that is the ISACC you often see, we really know he is.
Hom says this book contains memories of recipes from his family home, from his mother, his village in China, the first Chinese restaurant he worked in, the countless Chinese meals eaten in China, and in Chinese restaurants world-wide. That is quite a batch of great experiences he shares between its pages.
We surely do know how great he is, were always delighted to read, learn, and cook his food, and we still are. The rear cover indicates he has sold more than two million cookbooks in the last thirty years, Chinaphiles can brag if they own them all; we truly wish we did. We get so excited reading his books, we even goofed big time and reviewed his Classic Chinese Recipes book twice, once in Volume 19(4) on page 37 and a second time in Volume 20(1) on page 21. Not only that, we did not even realize we made that error.
In this volume, before the recipes are fifty pages of information about culinary regions, yin and yang, the Chinese diet, Chinese ingredients, equipment, techniques, menus, how to eat Chinese food, and so much more. What great information!
The recipes, in Appetizers; Soups; Meat; Poultry; Fish & Shellfish; Vegetables; Rice, Noodles & Dough; and Desserts chapters are great, too. Following them is a fantastic cross-referenced index, and a few conversion tables for weights, volume, measures, and oven temperatures. As his books hit the shelves worldwide, these are important and useful for Chinese cooks worldwide.
Every recipe begins with a paragraph of background, all are clear, on white paper, easy to read and easy to prepare. The color photographs are phenomenal, though too few for the more than two hundred fifty recipes in this book's three hundred and fifty-plus pages. Some wll say this is understandable because if any bigger, holding and cooking it would be neither comfortable nor safe.
The selection of recipes includes items from China's past and present, even some looking into her future. Readers should love them, we did. Ingredients are listed. Almost all his preparation methods are in three paragraphs. Selecting just one recipe to share was difficult, but his Shanghai-inspired Smoked Fish, which is subtle and super, won out as it is great as a cold dish, and when warm or hot. Actually, we did prefer it soon after completing it and have given its ingredients in American measures, though the book gives them two ways. We bet you will lovethis book as we do!
1 and 1/2 pounds firm white fish such as cod or turbot, whole with scales and gills removed, or as fillets, pat dry with paper towels
1 and 1/2 Tablespoons chopped fresh ginger
1 and 1/2 Tablespoons Shao Xing rice wine
2 Tablespoons light soy sauce
3 Tablespoons finely chopped scallions
peanut or vegetable oil to lubricate the pan
3 Tablespoons brown sugar
3 Tablespoons uncooked long-grain uncooked rice
3 Tablespoons black tea leaves
3 whole star anise, broken into sections
2 teaspoons five-spice powder
2 Tablespoons Sichuan peppercorns
2 pieces Chinese cinnamon bark broken into pieces
1. In a small bowl, mix ginger, rice wine, soy sauce, and scallions and mix until almost a paste or put them in a blender or food processor to make the paste. Rub this on all sides of the fish, and set aside for half an hour.
2. In a steamer, wok, or a saucepan, fill with two-inches of water, and put a heat-proof plate on a grate over it. Then bring the water to the boil. Put the fish on lightly oiled heat-proof plate on the grate and carefully lower it onto the grate over the water after it boils. Cover tightly and steam for five minutes. Then remove the plate with the fish, and allow to cool slightly.
3. Line the inside of a wok or fry pan with foil. Mix the sugar, rice, tea, star anise, five-spice powder, Sichuan peppercorns, and the cinnamon, and spread this on the foil. Rub a rack with a little oil and place it over the ingredients, and put the fish on the rack. Heat the wok or pan on high and when the mixture in the bottom starts to smoke, turn the heat down to moderate, cover, and leave fish there for five minutes. Then remove the fish and discard all the smoking ingredients and foil, and serve the fish.