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Blue Ginger

by: Tsai, Ming and Boehm, Arthur

New York NY: Clarkson Potter 1999, $32.50, Hardbound
ISBN: 0-609-60530-5

Reviewed by: Jacqueline M. Newman
Fall Volume: 2000 Issue: 7(3) page(s): 19

East-West marriages of cuisine continue. One of the best to share this technical and philosophical marriage is the Wellesley Massachusetts’ well-known restauranteur, Ming Tsai. His eatery’s moniker and the book title are one and the same. The latter, authored with Arthur Boehm, tells of his American birth to Chinese parents, growing up in Ohio as the son of restaurant owners, education in mechanical engineering, learning and loving French cuisine, and finally his marriage to a Caucasian and learning about her favorite foods.

In this book and at the restaurant, which will be reviewed in the next issue, Tsai returns to his roots, marrying technique and foods, Chinese with western counterparts. In East Meets West, the ingredient pantry, a detailed glossary of sorts, is at the beginning of the book. You notice emphasis on things Chinese there and throughout the book; and you see and taste their excellence. Tsai says that when a black bean buerre rouge sauce he made in a Paris restaurant was a hit, he knew the way to combine French and Chinese cooking traditions.

In Blue Ginger’s Steamed Chicken and Shiitake Buns, the traditional pork gets two legs, and the truffle oil makes its Chinese flavor even wealthier. Pan-Fried Chive and Shrimp Buns remind him of his Taiwanese grandparents, they remind me of things delicious. Ditto for the Pork and Ginger Pot Stickers and the Mushroom and Leek Spring Rolls. For the first time, culinary marriages with western cuisine make sense to me. In Seafood Spring Roll Sticks with shrimp, sea bass and bay scallops, mixed seafood and mixed culture do so wonderfully and are another case in point.

A culinary marriage everyone should try is the fried Asparagus-Crusted Ahi Tuna appetizers. Their color, texture and taste is love universal. The Rice and Noodle chapter, begins Japanese but returns to updated Chinese ways in Traditional Mandarin Fried Rice. His thinking to freeze freshly made rice is pure genius. No need to ever again make fried rice with leftover rice. In that same chapter, the Sticky Rice Pouches may be a tribute to his grandmother, but to anyone making them, they are easier than traditional Chinese lotus-leaf-wrapped rice and a great item to freeze and have on hand for unexpected guests.

Wasabi Seafood Salad with lobster, shrimp, and crabmeat is another winner; the Crispy Scallops likewise. The carrot syrup may be Southeast Asian and sweet, with a taste of India, but the adoration for the dish is universal. While the effort to make them is considerable, the results are phenomenal. If you only have time or energy for one recipe, try Pomegranate-Marinated Squab. You can make it in any season because the recipe calls for pomegranate molasses, not listed in his pantry, but easily available year-round at middle-eastern stores. He recommends them with Roasted Garlic and Sweet Potato Hash, a half-hour culinary winner that I would recommend with any main dish.

Also try his Beef and Shiitake Stew, Aromatic Braised Short Ribs, and Hoisin Marinated Chicken. Do not miss Tea-Smoked Salmon with Wasabi Potato Latkes, nor Fuji Apple Salad, not even his Five-Spice Apples. So many items are so good that we are off to Massachusetts to see and taste his other creations. Another talented chef, Sam Choy, calls this book a "melodious marriage of flavors from the East and the West." We find it an inspiration.
Seafood Spring Rolls
1 pound regular or rock shrimp, shells and veins removed
1/2 pound Chilean sea bass fillet, cut into one-inch squares
1/2 pound bay scallops
1 egg
1 Tablespoon finely chopped fresh ginger
1 teaspoon sesame oil
5 scallions, cut into thin slices
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
1/4 teaspoon salt, or to taste
a dash of ground white pepper, or to taste
20 spring roll wrappers
Egg wash made by beating one egg and one-quarter cup water
2 cups corn oil
1. Mix the three sea foods, egg, ginger, and sesame oil in a food processor by turning the machine on and off several times; do not puree them.
2. Add scallions, cilantro, and salt and pepper to taste, and mix this filling gently.
3. Put two tablespoons of filling just inside a corner of one spring roll wrapper. Wrap and seal with a drop of the egg wash. Repeat until all rolled sticks have been made, putting them on a platter seam side down. Then brush their tops with the rest of the egg wash.
4. Heat the oil in a large deep pan until the oil is 315 degrees Fahrenheit. Fry one third of the rolls for about five minutes until golden brown, then drain on paper towels. Repeat until all are fried.
Stand the rolls in glasses and serve with a dipping sauce.
Note: Makes twenty spring rolls.

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