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Shanghai Cuisine

by: Li-jung Chen

Taipei Taiwan: Culture & Life Publishing Company 2001, Paperback
ISBN: 970-630-651-5

Reviewed by: Jacqueline M. Newman
Fall Volume: 2002 Issue: 9(3) page(s): 20

The author is a chef whose family comes from an hour away from Shanghai. Clearly he has the foods of the region in his blood. He has excellent skills, been a chef on two continents, owned a restaurant on Long Island New York, and now owns one in Taiwan. The former still exists, is run by relatives, and is called The Garden of Plenty. The latter does, as well, and has the name of Shanghai Chi Pin Hsuan. We ate at the former, the most spotless Chinese restaurant ever, but it is no candle to this great book. From this Shanghai Cuisine, we recommend making a meal from this fantastic first book with recipes in Chinese and English. Each has a large color photograph of the completed dish and several of steps or ingredients used to make it. Some provide background, each tale fascinating, albeit too short. And all of them inspire you to try them. Many of us did with outstanding results.

The section about poultry has a wonderful recipe for Concubine Chicken. Read it and learn that there are two versions, one each from Beijing and Shanghai. In Beijing, it was called Crock Pot Chicken Wings, while in Shanghai it is known as Stewed Flying Chicken. His tale about them continues with much beauty, as do their recipes. One of them describes resemblance to the soft flesh of a beautiful woman's arm. To get that texture, Chen debones the wings and describes the effort, which is worth the results. This otherwise easy dish will delight all who are fortunate enough to make it. For the lazy at heart, seek out an Asian market; they sell them deboned.

The Rose Soup Dumpling, equally beautiful, teach a technique easier to grasp. Chen makes a filling for dumplings from candied fruit, sesame seeds, and osmanthus sauce. The amount of seasonings in this recipe and many others are omitted. It took us a while to note that the picture clarifies the amount in this one, not so in all others. Clearly, amounts of small things are in the author's head, as they are with most chefs who adjust to differences, as needed. This can be a problem for less-talented folk. Do not let this intimidate you. The amount of salt and wine, and other seasonings are often best left to taste; but the amounts of the important ingredients are not and in this book, those are always included.

John Chen, his given English name, has the nickname of 'small stuffed dumpling.' That may explain the small number of dumplings in this wonderful collection of recipes from Shanghai. We love the dozen we made, a selection from meat, poultry, sea food, and vegetable recipes. Do hope his next book concentrates just on dumplings, those we tasted were terrific. Also hope his next book recommends amounts for those whose expertise is in development. From the reviewer's seat, that is the way to go John!
Concubine Chicken
6 large chicken wings, cut into three pieces, tails discarded
2 shiitake mushrooms, soaked in warm water until sof
1 cup corn oil
4 ounces bamboo, cut into strips
3 scallions, cut into one-inch pieces
1 small knob of fresh ginger
1 fresh hot red chili pepper
4 small pieces of rock sugar
3 Tablespoons thin soy sauce
2 Tablespoons rice wine
1. Debone chicken wings by cutting around edges and pulling out the bones. (They and the tails can be saved for making soup, if desired.)
2. Cut mushrooms in half, remove and discard the stem.
3. Heat oil and deep fry wing meat until golden brown, drain on paper towels and set oil aside for another use, reserving one tablespoon.
4. Heat reserved tablespoon of oil and fry ginger and scallion half a minute,, then add chili pepper. Bamboo pieces and rock sugar. Cook another minute and add the chicken wings and one cup of water, soy sauce, and wine. Cover and simmer for fifteen minutes. Remove chili pepper and discard. Take everything out with a slotted spoon and put it into a warmed serving bowl and serve.

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